Parashat Lekh Lekha 5770/ October 31, 2009
the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of
The Covenant of the Pieces and its Ramifications
The Institute for Jewish Bible Interpretation
Chapter 15 of this week’s reading, which begins by promising Abraham progeny and continues with a promise to give the land of Canaan to his descendants, comes right after the story (chapter 14) about the war of the four kings against the five.
In the wake of Abraham’s involvement in that war, chapter
15 begins with the Lord's words to Abraham: “Fear not, Abram, I am a shield to
you; your reward shall be very great” (v. 1). The commentators explain: “Fear
not” lest the four kings in the Mesopotamian coalition come back to take
vengeance on Abraham for beating them off and taking their booty;
refusing to derive any benefit from the booty which he seized from the kings,
the Lord promises to compensate him – “your reward shall be very great.”
If we want to be exacting about the
the scriptural formulation, we might explain as follows: as
against Abraham’s words to the king of Sodom, “you shall not say, ‘It is I who
made Abram rich’” (Gen. 14:23) from the dirty wealth of
Clearly this argument is based on Lot having parted from
Abraham, as recounted in chapter 13 –Lot, whom Abraham, husband of the barren
Sarah (Gen. 11:30), had taken with him to raise in his home and had assumed
that through him, his nephew, the destiny promised him by the Lord would be
This, too, ties in with chapter 14, for why
did Abraham intervene in a battle between kings that did not involve him?
In order to rescue Lot from the captivity
into which the residents of
After all of this,
the Lord promises Abraham offspring of his own:
“none but your very own issue shall be your heir” (Gen. 15:4).
This is a surprising and wondrous promise for
a man of 99 years, and for the barren Sarah who in the end will give birth at
age 90; therefore Scripture emphasizes that nevertheless Abraham believed G-d
and “put his trust in the Lord” (Gen. 15:6).
This is different from Abraham’s trust when he was commanded to “go
forth” at the beginning of this week’s reading (Gen. 12:1-3), i.e., to go by
himself, only with his family and household servants.
Abraham, childless, took his nephew
The second passage in the chapter – the promise that his
offspring will inherit the land – continues the theme of the war between the
kings in chapter 14. The coalition of
the four great kings conquered extensive parts of the
The solution to this quandary is that as foreigners and slaves Abraham’s offspring would increase into a people “in a land not theirs” (loc. sit.). “In a land not theirs” – since only a centralized power like Egypt could enslave a people whose population was ever increasing, but not a place such as Canaan, which was split into small city-states. There was a hidden blessing in this prophecy (Gen. 15:13): The inferior status of enslaved strangers in Egypt would prevent them from becoming assimilated in the foreign land, as they would have assimilated into the peoples of Canaan had they remained and increased in numbers there, as is evidenced by the stories of Dinah, who got involved with a local Canaanite (Gen. 34), and of Judah, who married the daughter of a Canaanite (Gen. 38). These incidents took place when Abraham’s household was growing from a small family into a clan.
When a people takes possession of a settled land there is another people who become dispossessed; the continuation of the Lord’s words are directed at this moral difficulty: “for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete” (Gen 15:16). Here the Torah establishes an important principle: this land, sanctified to the worship of the Creator, may only be inhabited by those who indeed worship the Lord and stay away from abomination.
The patriarchs, as well as Moses and the Israelites prior to the giving of the Torah  were given promises about inheriting the land, without stipulating any restrictions or limitations, for the details and terms of this condition had not yet been formulated. However the condition of religious obligation is hinted at, and one of these intimations is found here. Mention of the iniquity of the Amorites indicates that “the land, which belongs to the Venerated One, will spew out all that makes it impure and will not suffer idolaters and those who engage in illicit sexual activity,” as Nahmanides put it in his commentary on Leviticus 18:25. The decree about spewing out its inhabitants applies not only to Canaanites and Amorites, but also to Israelites, as explicitly stated in Leviticus (18:24-30).
Even though Abraham was destined only to see the
Indeed, such a thing happens and is recounted in the story
of the concubine at Gibeah, at the end of Judges
(chapters 19-21). The collective sin
committed there is not only similar and parallel to the sins of
 Hizkuni, Nahmanides, Abarbanel and Sforno.
 Hizkuni’s interpretation is in this direction, and Abarbanel writes: It is unbefitting for a person who has received a present from a great king to receive something paltry from another person.
 In the opinion of Rabbi Nehemiah, Genesis Rabbah 41.8.
 Thus one can read the syntax of this passage, on the basis of Psalms 106:31. Those who read the syntax differently, such as Nahmanides and Hizkuni, can argue that the psalmist’s understanding of the verse in the Torah is not binding upon them.
eastern side of the
 Such an interpretation was given by the admor, Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum, in Yismah Moshe. See M. Ben- Yashar, “Brit bein ha- Betarim,” Beit Mikra 23-24, 2005, pp. 98-102.
 Exodus 3:5, 6:2-8.
 More explicitly, 13:14-17.
 In telling about Isaac’s life, primarily characterized by his destiny as the patriarch known for settling the land and remaining on the soil, the Torah mentions (Gen. 26:15, 18) many wells dug by Abraham and even given names by him as a sign of ownership.
 It is
surprising that this was only due to Abraham’s merit, for Lot himself was
righteous, at least in a legal sense (=not deserving the death sentence):
he hosted the guests-angels, and even
attempted to protect them. Perhaps the
angels forcefully removed him from
 Judges 19:15-28. There are substantive parallels between the two stories, both in the introductory material to the stories and in their epilogues. Before the stories: Abraham’s hosting of his angel-guests is characterized by hastening to welcome them (Gen. 18:3-8), “refresh yourselves; then go on” (Gen. 18:5). The men were on there way to a specific place, and having been greatly delayed, risked the danger of being caught by the dark while still en route. The irony is that they did reach their destination in the evening (Gen. 19:1), before nightfall, yet nevertheless found themselves in dire danger. In the book of Judges, however, the father-in-law delays his guest, his son-in-law, numerous times, until finally the latter sets out on his way towards evening, afraid of the dangers that night holds in store (Judges 19:3-12). Again there is the irony of his misfortune being not in the dangers of the way but actually in the Israelite city where he seeks haven. The epilogue is somewhat parallel, in that a vestige of the seed of the smitten city remains: in Sodom, through the illicit sexual act of Lot’s two daughters, on two successive nights (Gen. 19:30-38), and in the tribal land of Benjamin, by two acts of violence, first by killing the inhabitants of Jabesh-Gilead and later by kidnapping the maidens of Shiloh (Judges 21).