Torah Portion

The Portion of Lech Lecha

Genesis 12:1-17:27
Bible Portion
The Portion of Lech Lecha

The Portion of Lech Lecha

Genesis 12:1-17:27

The Torah portion of Lech Lecha is a busy one! Abram is commanded by God to leave the land he knows and journey to a place “that I will show thee”. Once there, Abram almost immediately experiences famine, family tension and war. Through it all, however, God is with him, promising him greatness. At the end of the portion, God commands Abram to circumcise himself and the members of his household. He renames him Abraham, which is how he is known to this day.

Abram: A Journey and a Promise

(Genesis 12:1-13:18)

God tells Abram to journey to a land that He shall show him and there He will make him into a great nation. The Israel Bible cites Rashi, who explains God’s unusual phrasing: Go for you. According to the sage, it is for Abram’s benefit that he make this journey, even though he is giving up nearly everything familiar. God vows that if Abram does as he is told, God will be with him, blessing those who bless him and cursing those who curse him. As the Israel Bible points out, the evidence of this promise can be seen to this day.

Abram takes his wife Sarai and his nephew Lot and does as he is told, arriving in the land of Canaan — what is today Israel. Once there, God promises him the land for his descendants, and Abram builds an altar. Although at the age of 75 Abram still has no children, he trusts in God’s promise. As the Israel Bible relates, Abram’s patience (it took 400 years for the promises God makes in this portion to be fulfilled!) set an example for his children. After 2,000 years of exile, they have returned to the State of Israel.

Almost immediately upon Abram’s arrival, a famine descends upon the land. Abram and Sarai travel to Egypt, where there is food, but Abram asks her to tell everyone they are brother and sister, lest the locals kill him and take her. Their subterfuge is successful, and Abram is given great wealth on account of his “sister”, who is taken to Pharaoh. God protects Sarai, however, and Pharaoh quickly figures out the truth. He sends the couple on their way, along with the riches they have acquired.

Upon their return to the Promised Land, Abram’s great wealth becomes a source of tension with his nephew, who is also very well-to-do. Abram suggests that the two part ways, offering Lot the choice of destination. Lot chooses the lush, though wicked, region of Sodom and Gomorrah, while Abram remains in the Holy Land. The Israel Bible relates that although other places look attractive, there is no place full of sanctity and Godliness like the Land of Israel.

Once the two have separated, God again reiterates His commitment to giving Abram and his descendants the Land of Israel.

Points to Ponder

Why do you think God chose to leave Abram in suspense about his destination?

War of the Four Kings vs. the Five Kings

(Genesis 14:1-14:24)

The Torah now provides some political background to Abram’s life. An alliance of four kings waged war against five kings, oppressing them. The five kings fought back, briefly gaining the upper hand, but by the time Abram — or more precisely, his nephew, Lot — arrives on the scene, the four have beaten down the five again. They take the local population as prisoners, Lot among them.

When Abram hears the fate of his nephew, he springs into action. With just 318 men, Abram defeats the four kings and frees the prisoners. The newly-rescued king of Sodom offers Abram a reward, but Abram refuses to give the king the chance to say he made Abram rich. Instead, he asks only that his allies be recompensed for their efforts.

Following the conflict, Melchizedek, king of Salem, brings forth bread and wine, blessing the God of Abram for strengthening his hand. The Israel Bible cites the Sages, who identify Melchizedek as Shem, son of Noah, and Salem as the future site of Jerusalem. Even before knowledge of God was widespread in the Land, the concept of divine justice was present in Jerusalem.

Points to Ponder

Why do you think Abram refused to accept gifts from the king of Sodom, but took them willingly from Pharaoh earlier?

The Covenant Between the Parts

(Genesis 15:1-15:21)

After the war, God reinforces his promises to Abram. He assures him that even though he is childless now, his descendants will one day be as numerous as the stars in heaven. Before that happens, though, God tells Abram, his children will be strangers in a strange land.

God tells Abram to take three heifers, three goats, three rams, a turtledove and a pigeon, cut the larger animals in half, and lay out the animals on two sides to create an aisle between them. A deep sleep falls over Abram, and God tells him that his children will suffer in exile for 400 years before God brings them back to Israel with great wealth, punishing the nation that oppresses them. A torch of fire passes between the animal parts to seal the covenant, and God vows that the entirety of the land, from river to sea, will be for Abram’s children.

The Israel Bible notes that the verb used in God’s promise, natati, is in the past tense, even though Abram’s descendants have not yet been born and others are still living in the land. Rashi explains that this is not a contradiction, as God is eternal, and His promise is truth.

Points to Ponder

Why do you think God chooses to tell Abram about his children’s future suffering?

Hagar and Ishmael

(Genesis 16:1-16:16)

Abram’s wife Sarai realizes that she is barren, and wants her husband to father children. She therefore gives him her handmaid, Hagar, as a surrogate womb. When Hagar quickly gets pregnant, however, she loses respect for her mistress, and Sarai punishes her. Hagar runs away.

At an oasis in the desert, Hagar is met by an angel, who sends her back to submit to her mistress, promising that her child is destined for greatness. In fact, the son she bears is Ishmael, father of the Arab nations.

Hagar names the oasis where she encounters the angel Be’er-lahai-roi, which means “the well of the Living One who sees me”. The Israel Bible cites Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, who points out Hagar came to the realization that one can never run from God’s sight. This is especially evident in the Land of Israel, which the Torah describes as “the eyes of the Lord thy God are always upon it.” (Deuteronomy 11:12)

Points to Ponder

Why do you think God, through the angel, sent Hagar back to Sarai?

Circumcision and a New Lease on Life

(Genesis 17:1-17:27)

When Abram is 99 years old, and Sarai is 89, God appears to Abram and once again promises him many descendants to inherit the land. He tells Abram that from now on, he will be known as Abraham, meaning father of many nations, and his wife’s name will change to Sarah (which means princess, but is not defined by the text).

God instructs Abraham to circumcise himself and all male members of his household. From this point forward, all males born into Abraham’s family will be circumcised on the eighth day after their birth. He promises that with these changes, he and Sarah will have a son.

Incredulous, Abraham expresses the hope that Ishmael would walk in God’s ways, but God insists it is from Sarah, whose son will be called Isaac, that God’s promise to Abraham’s descendants will be fulfilled.

Points to Ponder

Why do you think God changes Abraham and Sarah’s names?

The Israel Bible Team

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By: The Israel Bible Team


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