This portion is rich in narrative: the famous command to “go forth [lekh lekha]” (Genesis/Breishit 12:1ff), the “say you’re my sister” episode in Egypt (12:10-13:2), Abraham’s parting with his nephew Lot and then rescuing Lot from captivity (13:3-14:24), the story of Hagar (chapter 16), and the announcement of Sarah’s pregnancy (17:15-22).

In between, however, are other noteworthy passages:

In this portion (14:13) and nowhere else, Abraham is called “Abram ha-ivri” — “the Hebrew,” or maybe, “descendant of Eber” (see Genesis/Breishit 10:24-25 and forward for this lineage).

In this portion Abram becomes Abraham (17:5) and Sarai becomes Sarah (17:15). There are many commentaries on the addition of this letter heh to their names. Schwartz’s Tree of Souls* discusses several. in addition, Michal Shekel discusses the heh in Hagar’s name in her dvar Torah in The Women’s Torah Commentary.*

In addition to the promises at the opening of this portion and the covenant of circumcision at the close (17:9ff), Lekh Lekha also includes “The Covenant of the Pieces” (chapter 15). In the center of a portion framed by God’s promises is imagery that puts God’s promise, literally, at the center of the story: Abraham sees a smoking oven and fiery torch (15:17) pass between the pieces of his sacrifices and hears God’s covenantal announcement. Amid the strange imagery, by the way, God tells Abraham that the Israelites “shall be strangers in a land not theirs,” afflicted for 400 years, but “go out with many possessions.”

In Egypt In her book, The Murmuring Deep,* Avivah Zornberg discusses the smoking oven Abraham sees here from a psychological perspective. She also links this episode and the Akedah (chapter 22; in next week’s portion) — both of which are introduced with the phrase “after these things [achar ha-devarim ha-eleh] — and with a midrashic episode from Abraham’s youth. (See also Look Behind You.)

* For complete citations and more references, please see Source Materials.

Click on the “WeeklyTorah” tag for more resources on the weekly portion throughout the year, or on a portion name for parashah-specific notes. (The series began with Numbers; posts for Genesis, Exodus and Leviticus are being drafted, week-by-week.) You can also zero-in on particular types of “Opening the Book” posts by clicking Language and Translation, Something to Notice, a Path to Follow, or Great Source in the tag cloud.

The “Opening the Book” series is presented in cooperation with the independent, cross-community Jewish Study Center and with Kol Isha, an open group pursuing spirituality from a woman’s perspective at Temple Micah (Reform). “A Song Every Day” is an independent blog, however, and all views, mistakes, etc. are the author’s.

Posted by vspatz

Virginia blogs on Jewish topics at "A Song Every Day" and manages the Education Town Hall and #WeLuvBooks sites. More at

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