Lech-Lecha (לך לך)
The Weekly Torah portion in synagogues on Shabbat, Saturday, 11 Cheshvan, 5776; October 24, 2015
“The Lord said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.’” (Genesis 12:1.)
God told Abram to leave his native land and his father’s house for a land that God would show him, promising to make of him a great nation, bless him, make his name great, bless those who blessed him, and curse those who cursed him. Following God’s command, at age 75, Abram took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, and the wealth and persons that they had acquired in Haran, and traveled to the terebinth of Moreh, at Shechem in Canaan.
Abraham Journeying into the Land of Canaan (illustration by Gustave Doré)
God appeared to Abram to tell him that God would assign the land to his heirs, and Abram built an altar to God. Abram then moved to the hill country east of Bethel and built an altar to God there and invoked God by name. Then Abram journeyed toward the Negeb.
Famine struck the land, so Abram went down to Egypt, asking Sarai to say that she was his sister so that the Egyptians would not kill him. When they entered Egypt, Pharaoh’s courtiers praised her beauty to Pharaoh, and she was taken into Pharaoh’s palace. Because of her, Abram acquired sheep, oxen, donkeys, slaves, and camels, but God afflicted Pharaoh and his household with mighty plagues. Pharaoh questioned Abram why he had not told Pharaoh that Sarai was Abram’s wife, but had said that she was his sister, so that Pharaoh took her as his wife. Pharaoh returned Sarai to Abram and had his men take them away with all they possessions.
Abram, Sarai, and Lot returned to the altar near Bethel.
Abram and Lot now had so many sheep and cattle that the land could not support them both, and their herdsmen quarreled. Abram proposed to Lot that they separate, inviting Lot to choose which land he would take. Lot saw how well watered the plain of the Jordan was, so he chose it for himself, and journeyed eastward, settling near Sodom, a city of very wicked sinners, while Abram remained in Canaan.
God promised to give all the land that Abram could see to him and his offspring forever, and to make his offspring as numerous as the dust of the earth. Abram moved to the terebinths of Mamre in Hebron, and built an altar there to God.
The Mesopotamian Kings Amraphel of Shinar, Arioch of Ellasar, Chedorlaomer of Elam, and Tidal of Goiim made war on the Canaanite kings of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Zoar, who joined forces at the Valley of Siddim, now the Dead Sea. The Canaanite kings had served Chedorlaomer for twelve years, but rebelled in the thirteenth year. In the fourteenth year, Chedorlaomer and the Mesopotamian kings with him went on a military campaign and defeated several peoples in and around Canaan: the Rephaim, the Zuzim, the Emim, the Horites, the Amalekites, and the Amorites. Then the kings of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Zoar engaged the four Mesopotamian kings in battle in the Valley of Siddim. The Mesopotamians routed the Canaanites, and the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled into bitumen pits in the valley, while the rest escaped to the hill country. The Mesopotamians seized all the wealth of Sodom and Gomorrah, as well as Lot and his possessions, and departed.
A fugitive brought the news to Abram, who mustered his 318 retainers, and pursued the invaders north to Dan. Abram and his servants defeated them at night, chased them north of Damascus, and brought back all the people and possessions, including Lot and his possessions.
When Abram returned, the king of Sodom came out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh, the Valley of the King. King Melchizedek of Salem (Jerusalem), a priest of God Most High, brought out bread and wine and blessed Abram and God Most High, and Abram gave him a tenth of everything. The king of Sodom offered Abram to keep all the possessions if he would merely return the people, but Abram swore to God Most High not to take so much as a thread or a sandal strap from Sodom, but would take only shares for the men who went with him.
Some time later, the word of God appeared to Abram, saying not to fear, for his reward would be very great, but Abram questioned what God could give him, as he was destined to die childless, and his steward Eliezer of Damascus would be his heir. The word of God replied that Eliezer would not be his heir, Abram’s own son would. God took Abram outside and bade him to count the stars, for so numerous would his offspring be, and because Abram put his trust in God, God reckoned it to his merit. God directed Abram to bring a heifer, a goat, a ram, a turtledove, and a bird, to cut them in two, and to place each half opposite the other. Abram drove away birds of prey that came down upon the carcasses, and as the sun was about to set, he fell into a deep sleep. God told Abram that his offspring would be strangers in a land not theirs, and be enslaved 400 years, but God would execute judgment on the nation they were to serve, and in the end they would go free with great wealth and return in the fourth generation, after the iniquity of the Amorites was complete. And there appeared a smoking oven, and a flaming torch, which passed between the pieces. And God made a covenant with Abram to assign to his offspring the land from the river of Egypt to the Euphrates: the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.
Having borne no children after 10 years in Canaan, Sarai bade Abram to consort with her Egyptian maidservant Hagar, so that Sarai might have a son through her, and Abram did as Sarai requested. When Hagar saw that she had conceived, Sarai was lowered in her esteem, and Sarai complained to Abram. Abram told Sarai that her maid was in her hands, and Sarai treated her harshly, so Hagar ran away.
An angel of God found Hagar by a spring of water in the wilderness, and asked her where she came from and where she was going, and she replied that she was running away from her mistress. The angel told her to go back to her mistress and submit to her harsh treatment, for God would make Hagar’s offspring too numerous to count; she would bear a son whom she should name Ishmael, for God had paid heed to her suffering. Ishmael would be a wild ass of a man, with his hand against everyone, and everyone’s hand against him, but he would dwell alongside his kinsmen. Hagar called God “El-roi,” meaning that she had gone on seeing after God saw her, and the well was called Beer-lahai-roi. And when Abram was 86 years old, Hagar bore him a son, and Abram gave him the name Ishmael.
When Abram was 99 years old, God appeared to Abram as El Shaddai and asked him to walk in God’s ways and be blameless, for God would establish a covenant with him and make him exceedingly numerous. Abram threw himself on his face, and God changed his name from Abram to Abraham, promising to make him the father of a multitude of nations and kings. God promised to maintain the covenant with Abraham and his offspring as an everlasting covenant throughout the ages, and assigned all the land of Canaan to him and his offspring as an everlasting holding. God further told Abraham that he and his offspring throughout the ages were to keep God’s covenant and every male (including every slave) was to be circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin at the age of eight days as a sign of the covenant with God. If any male failed to circumcise the flesh of his foreskin, that person was to be cut off from his kin for having broken God’s covenant.
And God renamed Sarai as Sarah, and told Abraham that God would bless her and give Abraham a son by her so that she would give rise to nations and rulers. Abraham threw himself on his face and laughed at the thought that a child could be born to a man of a hundred and a woman of ninety, and Abraham asked God to bless Ishmael. But God told him that Sarah would bear Abraham a son, and Abraham was to name him Isaac, and God would maintain the everlasting covenant with him and his offspring. In response to Abraham’s prayer, God blessed Ishmael as well and promised to make him exceedingly numerous, the father of twelve chieftains and a great nation. But God would maintain the covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah would bear at the same season the next year. And when God finished speaking, God disappeared. That very day, Abraham circumcised himself at the age of 99, Ishmael at the age of 13, and every male in his household, as God had directed.
Hebrew and English Text
Hear the parshah chanted
Commentary from the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the American Jewish University (Conservative)
Commentary from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (Conservative)
Commentary by the Conservative Yeshiva
Commentary by the Union for Reform Judaism (Reform)
Commentaries from Project Genesis (Orthodox)
Commentaries from Chabad.org (Orthodox)
Commentaries from Aish HaTorah (Orthodox)
Commentaries from the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation (Reconstructionist)
Commentaries from My Jewish Learning (trans-denominational)