"Lech Lecha" (Beresheet/ Genesis 12:1 - 17:27) The Torah portion Noach showed how the LORD miraculously preserved Noah and his family from cataclysmic judgment. Just as there were ten generations from Adam to Noah, so there were also ten generations from Noah to Abram. And just as Noah became the father of 70 nations, so Abram would become the father of the Jewish people, through whom the Promised Seed - the Messiah and Savior of the world - would eventually come.
In this week’s portion, Lech Lecha, Abram was 75 years old, married to (his half-sister) Sarai, and guardian of his nephew Lot (his deceased brother Haran’s son) when he received the promise of divine inheritance. In obedience to God’s call, he left Charan, journeyed to the land of Canaan, and there built an altar to the LORD (between Bethel and Ai). Shortly afterward, however, Abraham’s faith was tested, since a severe famine in the Promised Land forced him to go south to Egypt for food. To protect himself, Abram conspired with Sarai to pretend to be brother and sister (rather than husband and wife) so that he would not be killed for her sake. Sure enough, Sarai was taken to Pharaoh’s palace to be part of the royal harem, and Pharaoh gave Abram livestock, camels and servants for her sake. However, the LORD sent “great plagues” to Pharaoh’s household until it was known that the reason for the trouble was that Sarai was Abram’s wife. Pharaoh then released Sarai and dismissed Abram with his all his possessions. After Abram returned to the land of Canaan, his nephew Lot separated from him and chose to settle in the evil city of Sodom, where he later became a captive during war in the Sodom Valley. Upon learning that his nephew was a prisoner, Abram set out with a small band and rescued him, miraculously defeating the kings. After his victory, Abram was met by the mysterious Malki-Tzedek (Melchizedek), the King of Salem and priest of the Most High God (El Elyon), who brought him bread and wine, and who blessed him. In response, Abram gave Malki-Tzedek a tenth (i.e., ma’aser) of everything. Abram was then given a vision from the Word of the LORD wherein he was reassured that, despite his great age, he would father a child and indeed be the forefather of a great multitude of people. “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be. And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness” (Gen. 15:5-6).
The LORD then sealed His promise to Abram with the (unilateral) “Covenant Between the Parts,” and then foretold of the 400 year long exile of Israel (in Egypt). Nevertheless, the LORD swore to give to his descendants the Promised Land, which extended “from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates.” Ten years passed, and Abram and Sarai were still childless. In a lapse of faith, Sarai urged Abram to sleep with her Egyptian maidservant, Hagar, in order to produce the family heir. Abram agreed, but soon afterward Hagar became disrespectful toward her mistress and finally fled the family when Sarai began treating her harshly. However, the Angel of the LORD (malakh Adonai) intervened and told her to return to Sarai. Indeed, the Angel told her that she was pregnant with a son, called Ishmael (“God will hear”), who would be the forefather of a great nation. Hagar believed the promise, returned home, and called the LORD El Roi (the God who sees me). Abram was 86 years old when his son was born. Another thirteen years passed, Abram was now 99 years old, and the LORD appeared to him again to reaffirm His covenant promise to make him the father of a multitude of nations. The LORD symbolized His commitment by renaming Abram (“exalted father”) to Abraham (“father of multitudes”) - adding the letter Hey to his name. The LORD also changed Sarai’s name (“princess”) to Sarah (“noblewoman”), and again promised that a son would be born to them. Upon hearing this, Abraham laughed, and wondered how a man who was 100 years old might father a child with a woman who was 90, but the LORD told him that the promised child - whose name would be called Yitzchak (“he laughs”) - would be Abraham’s rightful heir with whom the LORD would establish His covenant.