The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit
Introduction to Parashat Hashavua
Yeshivat Har Etzion
The Unexpected Fulfillment of God's Pledge
By Rav Michael Hattin
the reading of Parashat Lekh Lekha, the Torah's focus suddenly and
unexpectedly converges onto Avram and Sarai, the progenitors of the people of
Israel. The preceding narratives of
Parashat Bereishit, read scarcely a fortnight ago, boldly considered the
place of humanity in the cosmic scheme of creation; those of Parashat
Noach, more anthropocentric in scope, confined the discussion to the
moral failures of the societies that early man had constructed. But Parashat Lekh Lekha begins
neither with a discussion of the universe at large nor with an account of
corrupt civilization gone astray but rather with the personal story of a husband
and his wife and the God that they had come to revere.
said to Avram: Go forth from your land, from your birthplace and from your
father's house, to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and
I will bless you and I will make your name great, and you shall be a source of
blessing. I will bless those that
bless you and curse the one that curses you, and all of the peoples of the world
will be blessed on your account…(Bereishit 12:1-3).
TRIALS OF CANAAN
are the hurdles to be overcome between the Divine pronouncement and its
fulfillment, between God's laden promise and man's realization. Leaving behind their families and their
cultural heritage, their native land and their origins, Avram and Sarai journey
forth, taking with them from among their extended kin only their orphaned nephew
Lot. But having arrived in Canaan
and commenced to nomadically wander its rocky and expansive hills, they are soon
forced to leave, by one of the periodic famines that visit the more arid
southwestern portions of the great arc that has been called by modern scholars
the "Fertile Crescent." Going down
to Egypt, they encounter the mercurial Pharaoh who seizes beautiful but barren
Sarai; if not for the grievous Divine intervention that thwarts his covetous
plans, then Avram and Sarai would have perished.
from Egypt and returning to Canaan, conflict soon breaks out between the
shepherds of Avram and those of Lot.
Amicably and at Avram's generous invitation, the two part ways, with
Avram remaining in the sparsely settled hill country while Lot descends to the
verdant but sinful valley of Sodom.
There he is incrementally drawn towards and eventually pulled under by
the beguiling but violent vortex that is Sodomite society. It is only then, with great pain and
disappointment, that Avram and Sarai come to understand that the recurring
Divine pledge of offspring and national future, repeatedly vouchsafed to them
since the eve of their abrupt departure from Charan, will not be realized
through the agency of their adopted son Lot.
a fleeting dream, ten years quickly pass after the arrival of Avram and Sarai in
their new land of Canaan, but the aging couple, though blessed with great flocks
and material wealth, remains bereft of children. Sarai, however, will neither be
dismayed nor dissuaded. Hoping to
secure her future and the fulfillment of God's word, she agonizingly offers her
own handmaiden Hagar to her husband Avram, "so that I might be built up through
her" (Bereishit 16:2). How
difficult it must have been for her to share her life partner's warm embrace
with a younger woman, but Sarai is prepared to bear the grief in order to
triumph in the end. Once again,
however, she is disappointed, for Hagar and her young son Yishma'el show no
inclination to continue the spiritual legacy that she and Avram hold so
dear. And though Yishma'el is
guaranteed by God a bright future of his own, his descendents will not be
designated by the Deity for the special role that He had declared would belong
to the offspring of Avram and Sarai.
THE END OF THE PARASHA
it is that after a further thirteen years elapse and the section of Lekh
Lekha nears its end, Avram and Sarai still have no child of their own. He is now ninety-nine years old while
she, though ten years younger than him, is long past being fertile. Can we not imagine them, with the bulk
of their productive lives well behind them and infirmity and death soon
beckoning, now engaging wistfully in the occasional reminisce? In their mind's eye, they think back to
the momentous events of a quarter century earlier, when they had so
optimistically left Charan for fertile Canaan, imagining all the way that
adopted Lot would be their future.
But that possibility was later negated by Lot's desertion, and so they
eventually came to pin their hopes on Yishma'el, the biological son of
Avram. How else could they
reconcile the recurring Divine promises of fashioning a nation, the precise
mechanism of which had never been adequately spelled out by God, with the
concrete reality of Sarai's barrenness?
But Yishma'el had proven himself unworthy and hostile Hagar unwilling to
accept the yoke of God's commands.
Now what were they to do, old and barren, tired and despondent?!
as the parasha winds down and the reader's hopes begin to ebb, God
appears to Avram. In short order,
He presents Avram with a name change to signify a change in his destiny, as well
as with the command of the covenantal sign of circumcision. Most shockingly, God indicates – for the
first time in the parasha - that it will be THROUGH SARAI – henceforth to
be known as Sarah – that the new nation will be founded:
Avram was ninety-nine years old, God appeared to him and said to him: "I am
Almighty God, walk before Me and be wholehearted. I will seal My covenant between Me and
between you, and I will multiply you exceedingly…your name shall no longer be
Avram, but rather Avraham will be your name, for I have designated you as the
father of many nations…This is My covenant that you shall observe between Me and
you and your descendents after you, to circumcise every male. You shall cut off the flesh of the
foreskin as a sign of the covenant between Me and you"…The Lord further said to
Avraham: "Sarai your wife shall no longer be called by you Sarai, for Sarah is
her name. I shall bless her and I
shall give you a son by her, and I shall bless her and she shall become nations,
for kings of peoples shall descend from her"…(Bereishit
Avraham is skeptical of God's pronouncement concerning Sarah having a child, He
fell down upon his face and laughed.
He said to himself: "shall a man who is one hundred years old have a
child, and as for Sarah, shall a woman of ninety years give birth?"…The Lord
responded: "But Sarah your wife shall have a son and you shall name him
Yitzchak. I shall establish My
covenant with him as an everlasting covenant with his descendents after him…"
progression of the narratives is therefore this: the parasha begins with
great promise as God calls upon Avram and Sarai to journey forth from Charan,
invoking countless blessings for the nation that they will found: "I will make
you into a great nation, and I will BLESS you and I will make your name great,
and you shall be a source of BLESSING.
I will BLESS those that BLESS you and curse the one that curses you, and
all of the peoples of the world will be BLESSED on your account…" But nowhere in that communication or in
the multiple later ones does He indicate precisely how that nation will come
into being, and as time goes on, the old couple (Sarai's barrenness already
acknowledged – see Bereishit 11:30) naturally nurture in their minds many
different scenarios to explain God's promise.
the parasha concludes, the promise remains unfulfilled, while every one
of their feverish hopes has been dashed in the process. But now God announces His true intent,
utilizing the very same key words that had announced the journey's commencement
some twenty-five years earlier: "The Lord further said to Avraham: "Sarai your
wife shall no longer be called by you Sarai, for Sarah is her name. I shall BLESS her and I shall give you a
son by her, and I shall BLESS her and she shall become nations, for kings of
peoples shall descend from her"…(Bereishit 17:1-16). Countless blessings twinned with
nationhood, the very linkage spelled out much earlier at the parasha's
outset, are here associated with Sarah and with the son that she will
EXAMPLE OF OUR FOREBEARS
in our tradition, Avraham and Sarah are regarded as unique and singular
paradigms. While they are
considered to be the biological progenitors of the people of Israel, they are,
more importantly, also our spiritual forebears. Unlike the "founding fathers" of other
nations that leave memorable maxims to their descendents and multiple myths of
grandiose exploits, Avraham and Sarah bequeath to us nothing more or less than
the concrete example of their own lives.
Their heroism is expressed through their steadfast faith, and their
fearlessness and courage through trust in God. Though they cannot fathom the meaning of
His pledge, mistakenly (but not unreasonably) at first assuming that it refers
to Lot and then supposing that it relates to Yishma'el, they will not surrender
their belief in its fulfillment.
Even as the years slip away and God's words remain unfulfilled, they
continue to hope. And with each
disappointment comes another realization, another deeper insight into the true
nature of trust. They trust in God
against all odds, even as the reality mocks them and grinds their dreams into
the dust. Perhaps, then, the
provision to name Sarah's child "Yitzchak" or "laughter" is not only an
expression of the great unbounded joy that will accompany his birth but also a
pointed refutation of fate's vagaries that laugh uproariously at our own naïve
hopes and aspirations!
not the strength of spirit that characterizes Avraham and Sarah the very thing
that will be required by their descendents, by the nation that will introduce to
a skeptical world the saving truth of the One God's instruction? Will not that nation also be confronted
throughout their long history with disappointments and reversals, unexpected
failures and no shortage of setbacks?
How often will we imagine that we have plumbed the depth of God's
thoughts and understood His plans, only to painfully discover that "His thoughts
are not our thoughts nor are His ways our ways" (Yeshayahu 55:8)? It seems, if we are to honestly accept
the implications of our parasha, that only one thing is certain: the
ultimate fulfillment of God's promise.
The people of Israel will survive and will complete their mission to
"restore the world to the sovereignty of the Almighty." But scarcely can we imagine, anymore
than could Avraham and Sarah, the convoluted path of the journey that still lies
before us. Nevertheless, we have trust in the realization of the pledge that was
made to our ancestors over three thousand years ago: "I will make you into a
great nation, and I will bless you and I will make your name great, and you
shall be a source of blessing. I
will bless those that bless you and curse the one that curses you, and all of
the peoples of the world will be blessed on your account…" (Bereishit