Shalom y’all and welcome to this week’s edition of Better Know a Parsha!
This week we’re visiting Parshat Lech L’cha: The fightin’ skidaddle!
This is another long one, these early Parshas are heavy on narrative.
The parsha opens with God telling Abram to leave his homeland—Ur—and his father’s house to a land that he will show him—Canaan, modern day Israel/Palestine.
Important side note: Not trying to get political, which is why I referred to it as Israel/Palestine. Both Jews and Muslims view Abraham as a father of their faiths, and therefore both peoples have strong attachments to the historical land of Canaan. Wherever you fall on the political spectrum, let’s not belittle the attachment either faith feels towards the land.
In return, God promised to make Abram a great nation, telling him that all who blessed him would be bless and all who cursed him would be cursed. Abram was all like:
Now, one might be wondering why Abram was just down to pack up and scram without much of an intro or back story. In order to explain questions like this, the Rabbis developed what are known as “Midrash,” or non-canonical stories about the Torah’s characters.
So the story goes that before we ever meet Abram, he was working for his dad in an idol shop in Ur and everything was honkey dory:
Anyway, one day Abram realized this whole idol thing was kinda bogus (sorry if you’re into idol worship) and smashed all the idols!
He then put the stick he used to smash them in the hands of the largest idol, which he left standing. When his dad Tahor came back and asked what happened Abram said the big idol had smashed all the little ones:
When Tahor said that was ridiculous, that an idol couldn’t have possibly done it, Abram pointed out that it was then silly to believe that an idol could have power over our lives.
So, Abram believes in God, picks up everything and moves to Canaan. Once he’s there, God promises him the land will eventually belong to him and his descendants.
Unfortunately at that point there’s a famine, so Abram and his wife Sarai make moves.
Now some weird stuff happens. Sarai was a babe so Abram pretends to be her brother in order to not be killed by Pharaoh when he wants to take her as a wife.
Lo and behold, Pharaoh does want to get jiggy with Sarai and takes her to him and instead of killing Abram gives him all sorts of gifts.
Well God wasn’t so happy about this whole thing, so he struck Pharaoh’s whole house with a plague. So then Pharaoh was all:
For whatever reason, he very nicely let Sarai leave with Abram. They headed back to Canaan with all the cattle, silver and gold Pharaoh had given them.
When they get back, Abram and his nephew Lot have trouble living so close to each other because they have large herds. After their shepherds get into it, Abram takes the high road and tells Lot he can have whatever land he wants and Abram will go the other way.
In a departure from the main narrative, we now get a big war between a lot of different kings with names that are very difficult to pronounce. Imagine most of the Hobbit compressed into about 15 sentences.
Once the dust clears, Abram hears that Lot has been taken captive.
So he arms up his small band of men, attacks at night and rescues Lot!
At this point, Abram starts to worry about his legacy. He’s childless despite repeated assurances from God that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sands on the beach.
And God’s all like:
So then for some reason Abraham takes a bunch of animals and cuts them in half. Once he did that, he fell into a deep sleep and God came at him with some serious foreshadowing, telling him that his descendants will go down to a land not their own and be enslaved for 400 years. But then they’ll come back and the land will be theirs!
Sarai has also realized that she and Abram haven’t had any children, so she offers her servant Hagar to Abram as a concubine.
So Hagar gets pregnant, which leads to plenty of bad feelings between her and Sarai. Abram is very hands off about the whole thing and Hagar ends up running away.
An angel comes to her and tells her to get her tushy back there and that her son will also be the father of a great people. So she goes back and bears Abram a son and they name him Ishmael. He is believed to be the father of the Muslim/Arab inhabitants of the Middle East.
The Parsha wraps up with some nice light circumcision.
Abram and Sarai get some new letters to their name making them Abraham and Sarah, Abraham circumcises himself at the age of 99, Ishmael undergoes the process at 13 and the precedent is set that all of Abraham’s decedents will be snipped at 8 days old.
Wow, that was a lot of information. Hope you enjoyed!
Tune in next week on As The Torah Turns for Vayeira!