Lekh Lekha: Something to Notice

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.

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Virginia blogs on general stuff a vspatz.net and more Jewish topics at "A Song Every Day. Manages WeLuvBooks.org. CommunitythruCovid.com is on hiatus.

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