Weekly Sidra: Lech Lecha (Go for youself)
Torah Portion: Bereshit / Genesis 12:1-17:27
Haftorah: Yeshayhu / Isaiah 40:27-41:16
In this week we find two covenants which God makes with Abraham – the covenant between the pieces and the covenant of circumcision. I will focus on the former covenant.
This covenant was placed after Abraham’s victory over the conquerors of Canaan when he set out to rescue Lot. After the covenant, we find Hashem’s commitments for the Promised Land, pledging its conquest, outlining its boundaries and detailing the people who will be replaced by Abraham’s seed.
“When the sun set and it was very dark, there appeared a smoking oven, and a flaming torch which passed between those pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, "To your offspring I assign this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates: the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, 21the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites." (15:17-21)
Whatever is mentioned in the book of Genesis about the conquests, the stages of travel and the settlements of our forefathers must be understood in the context of “events of the patriarchs –omen for their children.”
In reviewing the list of nations against whom Abraham won his rescue campaign we see a great application of the prior statement. The names of the nations are also elucidated during the travels by Israel from Kadesh-barnea found at the end of Numbers and in Deuteronomy, but in reverse order. This parallelism suggests the purpose of describing Abraham’s actions following the promise of land. Abraham’s victories mean that he took title of the land for himself and his descendants. Thus Israel was exercising an historic ancient right when conquering these lands during the times of Moses and Joshua.
The contextual link between Abraham’s conquests when saving Lot and the Covenant between the pieces is the message of the right to the land derived from the historical fact, confirmed by the right from the Divine covenant. The formal details of this covenant are as follows:
“He answered, "Bring Me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old she-goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young bird." He brought Him all these and cut them in two, placing each half opposite the other; but he did not cut up the bird. Birds of prey came down upon the carcasses, and Abram drove them away. As the sun was about to set, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a great dark dread descended upon him. (15:9-12)
Joseph Albo, in his Book of Principles (4, 45) deals with the symbolism of this covenant. He states “The reason for cutting up the animals is because a covenant is a permanent bond between two parties…that they should be like one body and each take care of the other. For this reason the cut the animal in two and pass between the parts signifying that just as death caused the parts to be separate so too the two parties should live according to the pact and that only death can separate them from it.” It symbolizes the mutuality between God and Abraham.
Yet, it does not explain why the birds were not divided, also why birds of prey came down which Abraham had to drive away. (15:10, 11) To what does this refer? A good explanation is put forth by Benno Jacob relating to verse (15:16) And they shall return here in the fourth generation."
The three animals cut in half refer to the three generations who are cut by toil, persecution and oppression. The fourth generation is likened to a bird which symbolizes freedom. Egypt is seen as the bird of prey swooping down on Abraham’s descendants. Abraham protects them on his merit-by Divine promise-the deliverer will come forth in Messiah.
Tags: book of genesis, canaan, canaanites, circumcision, conquerors, deuteronomy, flaming torch, forefathers, hittites, isaiah 40, jebusites, kadesh barnea, kenites, parallelism, river euphrates, sidra, sun set, torah portion, two covenants
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