Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

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Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Parshat Lech Lecha

The Repeated Promise

At the age of 70, Avraham Avinu begins a new chapter in his life.

God speaks to him for the first time and tells him to go to the land of Canaan and that He will make him a great nation there.

All this is fine, apart from the fact that this promise is repeated a further four times.

The first time: "Go forth from your land … to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation…" (Bereshit 12:1-2)

The second time: Avram passed through the land…and the Canaanites were then in the land. The Lord appeared to Avram, and He said, "To your seed I will give this land" (ibid 6-7).

The third time: "The Lord said to Avram after Lot had parted from him, "Raise your eyes and see... For all the land that you see I will give to you and to your seed to eternity" (13:14-15).

The fourth time: "On that day, the Lord formed a covenant with Avram, saying, "To your seed I have given this land" (ibid 15:18).

The fifth time: "I will give you and your seed after you the land of your sojournings, the entire land of Canaan for an everlasting possession, and I will be to them for a God" (ibid 17:8).

When the word of God was so precious, when God only spoke with Avraham five times over these 29 years, why did He give Avraham exactly the same message each time? Why was it necessary for God to repeat His message four times?

The answer can be found in a close reading of the text.

God had promised Avraham Canaan and that he would become a great nation there. However, when Avraham got there, he had a great shock: "The Canaanites were then in the land". This land was not an empty land waiting for a master. It was already fully inhabited by a strong and mighty nation.

This must have come to Avraham as a great surprise and must have given him doubts. Therefore, God immediately reassured him saying: "To your seed I will give this land". He adds that His promise was not going to be fulfilled immediately, but only in the future. Avraham "built an altar to the Lord" (ibid 12:8), showing that He trusted God.

That reaffirmation satisfied Avraham until he had another major crisis. Avraham had no children. His heir was Lot, his nephew, the man he brought up as his own son. He must have been satisfied that God would maintain his promise through Lot. However, Lot left him. His successor was gone. Therefore, God again reassured Avraham: "All the land that you see I will give to you and to your seed to eternity". God then tells Avraham to: "walk in the land, to its length and to its breadth" signifying his ownership of it. Avraham again shows his faith as "he built an altar to the Lord" (ibid 13:17-18).

Yet some years later, Avraham experienced another crisis. He had defeated a military super-power and was now worried about revenge. God tells Avraham "Fear not, Avram; I am your Shield" (ibid 15:1). At this point Avraham asks what was the point of all this protection when "I am going childless" and "You have given me no seed, and behold, one of my household (Eliezer) will inherit me" (ibid 2-3).

God therefore tells him that Eliezer, the head of his household " will not inherit you, but the one who will spring from your innards-he will inherit you" (ibid 4). But He also goes when one step further than just making a promise; He makes a covenant with Avraham – the "Covenant Between the Pieces", committing Himself to this pact. Avraham once again "believed in the Lord" (ibid 6).

The final time that God makes the promise to Avraham is not the result of any fears that Avraham had expressed. Simply, the time had come for the promise to begin to be fulfilled. Sarah, Avraham's wife was about to conceive. However, before that could happen, Avraham had to have his name changed from Avram to Avraham, signifying his acceptance of his new role, and he had to enter the covenant of circumcision - the Brit Milla.

Just like Avraham had to wait for the promise to be fulfilled, so too his descendants, the Jewish people, had to wait. Just like Avraham had to have blood spilt before he could take possession of the land, so too the Jewish people have experienced blood shed. Nevertheless, God has been faithful and the land of Israel is now our "everlasting possession" (ibid 8).

Last year's Sedra Short for Parshat Lech Lecha, entitled: "The Cannanites Were Then in the Land” appears at

Another Sedra Short for Parshat Lech Lecha, entitled: "Sarah, Wife of Avraham” appears at

Another Sedra Short for Parshat Lech Lecha, entitled: "The Double edge of Circumcision" can be found at

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