Abram in the Land of Israel


12:1 In the year 2023, God said to Abram, "You have already left your homeland and birthplace by moving to Charan. Now go even further away from your land and from your birthplace: go away from your father Terach's house in Charan." Since Terach was only a closet monotheist, outwardly still serving idols and taking no steps to reform his idolatrous society, God told Abram to leave the detrimental environment of his home—even though Abram himself was privy to Terach's secret.1 God continued, "Follow My directions to the land that I will show you." By keeping Abram in suspense over the exact destination, God (a) endeared the Land to him, and (b) enabled him to receive reward for trusting Him implicitly.

2 God said, "I promise that the move will be to your benefit. Firstly, you will enjoy the immediate benefit of distancing yourself from the unwholesome, idolatrous environment of Charan.2 Secondly, even though traveling generally decreases the odds of having children, and since you are childless you are hesitant to undertake a journey, be assured that I will make you and your wife fertile in your new home, whereas if you stay,3 you will continue to remain childless. Thirdly, if you undertake this journey, I will multiply your offspring and thereby make you into a great nation. Fourthly, even though traveling involves many expenses, I will bless you with wealth in your new home. Fifthly, even though traveling usually adversely affects a person's renown, as he is forgotten in his former home and is not yet established in his new home, I will make your name great and famous there. And sixthly, you shall become a source of blessing—I will endow you with the power to bless others, and I promise you that your blessings will be efficacious. In addition, you, your son, and your grandson will be collectively considered the 'patriarchs' of My chosen nation, who henceforth will address their prayers to Me by invoking your names. Nonetheless, even though they will mention all three of you in the first blessing of their prayers, you alone shall be mentioned at the end of this blessing,4 in recognition of the fact that you were the only patriarch whom I required to leave his family.

3 I will bless those who bless you, and, I will curse he who curses you. All the families of the earth will be blessed through, i.e., will be compared to you: when someone wants to bless someone else, he will say, 'May you be like Abram.' "

4 Abram set out as God had directed him, and Lot went with him. Abram was in his seventy-fifth year when he left Charan. Although his father, Terach, was 145 years old at the time and would live for another sixty years, the Torah tells us of his death before it tells us of Abram's departure in order not to highlight the fact that God prevented Abram from fulfilling his filial obligation of parental respect by making him leave his father unattended, to fend for himself in his old age.5

5 Abram took his wife Sarai and his nephew Lot, and all their possessions that they had acquired, as well as the souls they had acquired in Charan—both the followers they had persuaded to accept monotheism as well as the servants they had purchased. They set out, following God's directions and heading toward Canaan, and they entered Canaan.

6 Abram traveled through the land as far as the location of Shechem. He stopped there because he perceived prophetically that his great-grandchildren would wage war in the future against the inhabitants of this city,6 and he prayed for their success. He had come as far as the Plain of Moreh, where Shechem was located, between Mount Gerizim and Mount Eival. God informed him that it would be at this place that his descendants would confirm their acceptance of the Torah upon entering the Land.7 The Canaanites were then in the land, gradually conquering it from the descendants of Shem.

7 God appeared to Abram and said, "Even though, as you see, I am allowing the Canaanites to possess this land for the time being, I will eventually give this land to your offspring, thus returning it to the descendants of Shem, its rightful owners."8 God here promised Abraham and his descendants national ownership of the Land of Israel. So Abram built an altar there and offered up a sacrifice to God, who appeared to him and promised him offspring and the repossession of the Land of Israel. Abram harbored no doubts as to the fulfillment of God's promise.

8 From there he moved on to the mountains east of Bethel and pitched his tent. Although a married couple generally lived together in the same tent, the wife would typically have a second, separate tent in which to do her work.9 Abraham gentlemanly pitched his wife's work-tent first and only then did he set up their common living tent. Bethel was to the west and Ai to the east. He built a second altar there, offered up a sacrifice on it, and invoked God. He perceived prophetically that one of his descendants would commit a sin at this very locale10 that would endanger the entire people, and therefore prayed in advance for mercy. Indeed, when Joshua conquered Jericho, the spoils were given to the treasury of the Tabernacle. An individual named Achan took a valuable garment for himself; because of this sin, God withdrew His supra-natural protection from the people, rendering them vulnerable to their enemies.11

9 Abram then continued on his way, making camp for a month or so in a number of places, but always moving steadily toward the south, in order to eventually reach Mount Moriah, the future site of the Temple.

Abram in Egypt

10 In that same year, there was a famine in the land of Canaan. God wanted to see if Abram would complain about having to leave the land after having exerted so much effort to reach it in the first place, and after God had promised it to him. Abram did not complain; he went down to Egypt to sojourn there for a time, since the famine in the land of Canaan had grown severe. Lot accompanied Abram and Sarai.

11 Abram was always careful not to indulge himself in his wife's beauty. But when they were wading through a stream, he saw her reflection in the water and was reminded how attractive she was. Their extensive travels had not marred her beauty in the least. So, as they approached Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, "Look, I know you to be a woman of beautiful appearance.

12 The Egyptians are not used to beholding such beauty. Their women are all swarthy, and you are fair-skinned. When the Egyptians see you, they will say, 'This is his wife,' and they will kill me, since they will not expect me to surrender you to them,12 and allow you to live.

13 I will try to smuggle you into Egypt in a crate. But if they discover you anyway, if you would, say that you are my sister, so that it may go well with me for your sake. They will try to curry my favor by giving me gifts in order to bribe me into letting one of them marry you. In this way, through you my life will be spared."

Second Reading
14 When Abram came to Egypt,
the customs officials demanded that he open the crate in which he had hidden Sarai, in order to inspect its contents. The Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful.

15 Pharaoh's ministers of state saw her and spoke highly of her, agreeing among themselves that she was fit as a wife for Pharaoh, so the woman was taken into Pharaoh's palace.

16 When questioned, Sarai told Pharaoh that Abram was her brother. Lot did not divulge the truth, either.13 As Abram had predicted, Pharaoh treated Abram well because of her; in this way Abram acquired sheep, cattle, donkeys, servants, handmaids, she-donkeys, and camels.

17 God then struck Pharaoh and his household with severe plagues—skin diseases that made carnal relations extremely painful. This plague was so severe that it even afflicted the walls, pillars, and utensils of Pharaoh's palace. This did not faze Pharaoh however, so God sent Sarai an angel, who was invisible to Pharaoh; the angel struck Pharaoh at the word of Sarai, the wife of Abram, whenever Pharaoh tried to approach her.

18 Pharaoh understood from all this that Sarai must be Abram's wife. He summoned Abram and said, "What is this that you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife?

19 Why did you say, 'She is my sister,' so that I took her to myself as a wife? Now here is your wife; take her and go! You are better off not staying in Egypt, because the Egyptians are a lecherous people and I cannot be held responsible for what might happen to a woman as lovely as your wife."

20 Pharaoh charged men to escort and guard him, and they escorted him together with his wife and all that he possessed. Pharaoh gave his daughter, Hagar, to Sarai as a handmaid, saying that it is preferable for his daughter to be a servant to a woman like Sarai, who is so openly favored by God, than to be a queen elsewhere.14 By the close of this episode, Abram had been in Egypt for a total of three months.15

Lot Leaves Abram

13:1 From Egypt, Abram went up to the Negev desert—he and his wife and everything he owned, and Lot was with him.

2 Abram was heavily laden with wealth: with cattle, silver, and gold.

3 He continued on his travels, retracing his steps and patronizing the same inns at which he had lodged on his way to Egypt, both to (a) avoid suspicion, for not staying at the same inns might be interpreted by others to mean that he had some reason to be embarrassed to be seen where he had been seen before, and to (b) pay off the debts he had incurred on his way to Egypt. He traveled from the Negev toward Bethel, until the place where he originally had his tent, between Bethel and Ai,

4 the site of the altar that he had built there at first16 and where Abram had invoked God. And now again, Abram invoked God there.

Third Reading
5 Lot,
by virtue of the fact that he had accompanied Abram, also acquired flocks of sheep and cattle, and tents.

6 The pasturage of the land between Bethel and Ai could not support them living together, for their possessions were so extensive that they could not remain together.

7 Due to the shortage of pasturable land, Lot's herdsmen began to graze their cattle in other people's fields. Quarreling developed between the herdsmen of Abram's cattle and the herdsmen of Lot's cattle over this issue: Abram's herdsmen accused Lot's herdsmen of robbery, while Lot's herdsmen argued that the land rightfully belonged to Lot since God had promised it to Abram, who had no heir other than Lot. Their argument was faulty, however, since the Canaanites (i.e., some of the nations descended from Canaan) and the Perizites (a non-Canaanite nation) were then living in the land and Abram had not yet acquired it. Nonetheless, Abram could not convince Lot that this argument was erroneous, and that his herdsmen should not let their flocks graze in other people's fields. Despite the fact that he was quite wealthy in his own right, Lot savored the prospect of inheriting Abram's wealth, as well.

8 Abram said to Lot, "Please, let's not have contention between me and you, and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen. After all, we are relatives. The two of us even resemble each other enough to be mistaken for brothers.

9 Look, the whole land is before you. So please, separate yourself from me. If you go to the left, I will go to the right; if you go to the right, I will take the left. Furthermore, wherever you go, I will remain close enough at hand to come to your aid if you are ever in danger."

10 Lot looked up and saw that the entire Jordan Plain was well irrigated. Before God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah,17 it was full of trees like God's own garden and full of vegetation like the land of Egypt, and it extended as far as the city of Bera, which would later become known as Tzoar.18 But Lot also saw that inhabitants of this region indulged in numerous forms of licentious behavior. As Abram's strict standards of morality had begun to seem extreme to Lot, he found the looser, amoral behavioral standards of this region appealing.

11 So Lot chose for himself the entire Jordan Plain. He journeyed from the east, and they separated from one another . Lot's journey was ideological, as well: he had had enough of Abram and his God, and was more than happy to distance himself from them both.

12 Abram lived in Canaan, while Lot dwelt in the Cities of the Plain, and pitched his herdsmen's tents throughout the whole plain, as far as Sodom.

13 Lot did not shy away from living in these cities even though the inhabitants of Sodom and its neighbors were wicked by engaging in immoral practices and sinners in that they also used their possessions for immoral purposes, as well. They sinned against God deliberately, in order to anger Him.

14 Ever since Lot began to resent Abram and his God and to rebel against them both, God refrained from communicating with Abram. But after Lot had separated from him and Lot's negative presence was no longer a factor, God resumed communicating with Abram, reaffirming His promise to grant him offspring and negating the supposition that Lot would inherit him. God said to Abram, "I have already promised you national ownership of the Land of Israel. Now, I wish to confer private ownership of the land upon you and your descendants.19 Therefore, raise your eyes and, from the place from where you are, look to the north, to the south, to the east, and to the west. Examine the land in detail, and see how it has sufficient space for your numerous descendants to each own his own parcel.

15 For all the land that you see, I will give to you and to your offspring forever.

16 I will make your offspring as numerous as the dust of the earth: if a man will be able to count the particles of dust in the world, then your offspring, too, will be countable.

17 In order to legally take private possession of the land, rise, walk through the land, along its length and breadth, for walking through an area of land with the intent of thereby taking possession of it is a legal means of acquisition,20 and thus, by your doing this, I will give it to you."21

18 Abram continued to explore the land, and eventually found a suitable place in which to settle. Abram set up tents, and came and settled in the plains of Mamre the Amorite, in Hebron. There, in appreciation for having begun to dwell permanently in the land, and in thanksgiving for the blessings that God had recently bestowed upon him, he built a third altar to God and offered up a sacrifice on it.22 He made allies of Mamre and his two brothers, Aner and Eshkol.23

The War of the Kings

Fourth Reading
14:1
Despite Lot's desire to be on his own, he soon found himself in need of Abram's assistance. This happened in the days of Amrafel, i.e., Nimrod,24 king of Shinar; Aryoch, king of Elasar; Kedorlaomer, king of Elam; and Tidal, king of Goyim ("[Many] Nations," a poly-national city).

2 Immediately after the dispersion, in the year 1996, they formed an alliance, headed by Kedorlaomer, and waged war against Bera, king of Sodom; Birsha, king of Gomorrah; Shinav, king of Admah; Shemever, king of Tzevoyim; and the king of Bela, which is Tzoar, and subdued them. The king of Sodom was nicknamed Bera, to indicate that he sought to be "evil" (ra) to both God and humanity. The king of Gomorrah was nicknamed Birsha, to indicate that he exceeded Bera "in wickedness" (be-resha) both to God and to humanity.25 The king of Admah was nicknamed Shinav, to indicate that he "hated" (sana) God, his heavenly "father" (av). The king of Tzevoyim was nicknamed Shemever, to indicate that he "set" his "limbs" (sam eiver) to rebel against God. Thus, the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah sought to behave wickedly both towards God and humanity, while the kings of Admah and Tzevoyim only sought to behave wickedly against God. The king of Bela, in contrast, was not as wicked as his comrades; he merely joined in their alliance out of passive convenience. Therefore, no descriptive nickname was applied to him and his city was eventually spared.

3 All the latter joined forces in the Valley of Sidim ("[Many] Fields"), which later, as the Jordan River and other streams emptied into it, became the Dead Sea.

4 For twelve years (1996-2008), the five kings of the Plain served Kedorlaomer and his allies, and for thirteen years (2009-2022) they rebelled.

5 In the fourteenth year of their rebellion (2023, the same year in which Abram and Lot arrived in Canaan, and in which all the events related above took place), Kedorlaomer and the other three kings who were with him came to quell the rebellion. On the way, they defeated the Rephaim in Ashterot-Karnaim,26 the Zuzim (later known as the Zamzumim27) in Ham, and the Emim28 in Shaveh-Kiryataim, wiping out all but one of the giants (whose name was Og) that had survived the Flood.29

6 They also defeated the Horites at their mountain of Seir, as far as the Plain of El-Paran, which borders on the desert. They did not wipe out the Horites, however, so the Horites regained control of Mount Seir after Kedorlaomer and his allies were defeated.30

7 They then turned back and arrived at Ein-Mishpat ("The Well of Judgment"), a spring at whose edge the inhabitants of the area would gather to hold court cases, and where Moses and Aaron would in the future be sentenced to not enter the Land of Israel, which is also known as Kadesh.31 They conquered the entire field that would later be settled by the Amalekites, as well as the Amorites who lived in Chatzatzon-Tamar, later known as Ein-Gedi.32

8 The king of Sodom, the king of Gomorrah, the king of Admah, the king of Tzevoyim, and the king of Bela, which is Tzoar, went forth and engaged them in battle in the Valley of Sidim

9 —against Kedorlaomer, king of Elam; Tidal, king of Goyim; Amrafel, king of Shinar; and Aryoch, king of Elasar; four kings against the five. Despite the fact that these four kings were outnumbered, they nevertheless won the battle.

10 The Valley of Sidim was full of clay pits that supplied the inhabitants of the Plain with clay for building. When the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, they fell there into the quagmire of clay. The king of Sodom escaped miraculously; as a result, the skeptics who had previously cast doubt on the veracity of Abram's miraculous survival from Nimrod's furnace now believed that such miracles are possible. The other survivors fled to the mountains.

11 The four kings seized all the belongings of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their provisions, and they departed.

12 When they left, they also took Abram's nephew Lot and his possessions, since he had been living in Sodom. By choosing to sever himself from God, Lot forfeited God's protection.

13 Og,33 the sole survivor of the battle between the four kings and the Rephaim,34 came and told Abram, the Hebrew [Ivri, "the other-sider," i.e., who came from the East, the other side of the Euphrates River], who was living in the plains of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshkol and brother of Aner, who were Abram's allies.

14 When Abram heard that his kinsman had been taken captive, he armed his chief servant and greatest disciple, Eliezer, putting him in charge of his 318 attendants who had been born in his household.35 Even though the four kings had proven themselves invincible against the five kings of the Plain, Abram nevertheless did not hesitate to go into battle against them. He instructed his allies, Aner, Eshkol, and Mamre, to stay and guard his tents.36 He set out in pursuit as far as Dan, where he prophetically foresaw that his descendants would set up a public idol in competition with the Temple in Jerusalem;37 this disheartening vision sapped his strength, and he had to stop to rest.

15 He and his servants divided themselves, preparing to pursue the four kings should they flee in different directions. They continued their pursuit into the night. Abram attacked before midnight, and pursued them as far as Dan—also known as Chovah ["Guilt," on account of the idolatry that would be practiced there in the future]—which is north of Damascus. Even though he only had 318 soldiers, Abram's strategies and Eliezer's military prowess secured them a miraculous victory. God reserved the second half of the night to be used for the future miraculous deliverance of Abram's descendants from Egypt.38

16 He retrieved all the belongings; he also brought back his kinsman Lot along with all his belongings, as well as the women and the other people .

17 After he returned from his victory over Kedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom came out to greet him at Open Valley, a plain void of trees and other obstacles to movement, which was the king of Sodom's sporting ground. This sporting ground was 180 cubits (88 meters or 290 feet) in length and width (i.e., 7,465 square meters or 1.84 acres in area). There, the survivors of the war unanimously proclaimed Abram their king.

18 Noah's son Shem, who was also known as Malki-Tzedek ("My King is Righteousness"), King of Salem came to Open Valley and brought forth bread and wine; this was the customary way of greeting those who return from battle. In addition, this was Malki-Tzedek's way of demonstrating to Abram that he was not angry with him for having killed his descendants, the Elamites,39 and indicating to Abram that his own descendants would one day offer up grain-offerings and wine-offerings to God at the location of his city, the future Jerusalem. Malki-Tzedek, besides being a king, was also a priest to God, the Most High.

19 He blessed Abram, and said, "Blessed be Abram before God the Most High, owner of heaven and earth.

20 And blessed be God the Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand." Abram then gave Malki-Tzedek a tithe of everything he owned, fulfilling the Torah's requirement to give the priestly caste a tenth of one's produce.40 But whereas the Torah only requires giving a tenth of certain agricultural crops, Abraham went beyond the letter of the law and gave Malki-Tzedek a tenth of all his possessions.41

Fifth Reading
21
Abraham's gift to Malki-Tzedek did not include any of the articles that the four kings had captured and that he had returned.42 Regarding these articles, the king of Sodom said to Abram, "Give me the people you have rescued from my kingdom and keep the belongings you have retrieved for yourself. This will be my reward to you for having come to my aid."

22 Abram said to the king of Sodom, "I have raised my hand and sworn to God, God the Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth,

23 that I shall not even retain a thread or a shoelace from among the returned belongings! Nor will I take anything that you offer me from your treasury as payment, so you will not be able to say, 'It was I who made Abram rich.' God has promised to make me rich;43 I rely solely on His promise.

24 That is, except for what the young men have eaten, and the share due the men who came with me into battle, as well as what is due Aner, Eshkol, and Mamre, who did not accompany me in battle but stayed to guard the camp. All these may take their share." Abram was so insistent that the guards and combatants share equally in the spoils of war that this eventually became a permanent custom among his descendants, and King David eventually gave it force of law.44

The Promise of Offspring

15:1 Abram expressed concern that his miraculous victory in battle represented full compensation for his accrued merits, thereby supplanting the other rewards God previously promised him, namely: offspring and the Land of Israel. These were necessary for him to continue his mission of disseminating Divine consciousness.45 He was also concerned that he would be punished for killing. Therefore, after these words46 of Abram's, God's word came to Abram in a vision, saying, "Do not fear punishment, Abram; I am a shield for you against My attribute of judgment. As for your reward, do not fear that it has already been paid you in full; your reward shall still be very great."

2 Abram said, "O God, what can You give me, seeing that I am childless, and because I have no son, the administrator of my household is Eliezer of Damascus? True, he is a worthy disciple: he skillfully helped me pursue the four kings, and he alone of all my pupils47 has become so dedicated to my cause that he helps me disseminate my teachings.48 But he is not my son."

3 Abram continued, "Look, You have given me no children, and according to the science of astrology—which I learned from those to whom it was passed down from Adam—I foresee that I am destined to never father children! So what good is everything else You have given me? Eliezer, a mere member of my household, will inherit me."

4 At that moment the word of God came to him, saying: "This person will not be your heir! Rather, one born from your own flesh will inherit you."

5 He took him outside his tent and said, "Look towards heaven and count the stars—if you can count them!" And He said to him, "That is how your descendants will be: they will be so numerous that you will not be able to count them.49 And pay no heed to your astrological calculations. I am going to change your name and your wife's name, and this will change your destiny. Moreover, if you are connected to Me, you can transcend the celestial order." To demonstrate this, He miraculously transported him outside the celestial sphere and told him, "You are higher than heaven and should look down at it, not up to it!"

6 Abram believed in God, and did not ask Him for any sign that He would keep His promise. God accounted it for him as an act of righteousness. God would later transform this implicit trust in Him into an inherited character trait in Abram's descendants. Therefore, the belief in God's promises on their part would not be considered a righteous act of free will, as it was for Abram.50

The Covenant between the Halves

Sixth Reading
7
However, Abram had asked God for a sign regarding His promise that He would give him the Land of Israel. When he was in the Land of Israel the first time, on the 15th of Nisan of the year 2018,51 God appeared to Abram and He said to him, "I am God who took you out of Ur of the Kasdites to give you this land to inherit it."

8 "O Lord God," replied Abram, "by what sign can I know that I will inherit it? And by what merit will my descendants be deserving of it?"

9 And He said to him, "By merit of the sacrifices that they will offer up to Me as part of their ongoing enhancement of their relationship with Me. To express this merit tangibly, bring for Me three calves, three goats, three rams, a turtledove, and a young dove. The three calves correspond to (1) the bull offered on Yom Kippur,52 (2) the bull offered when the community innocently acts in accordance with an erroneous ruling of the high court,53 and (3) the calf whose neck must be broken when a murdered body is found and the murderer's identity cannot be determined.54 The three goats correspond to (1) the goat offered on Yom Kippur,55 (2) the goat offered on each of the festivals,56 and (3) the goat offered as a personal sin-offering.57 The three rams correspond to (1) the ram offered when an individual has committed certain specific offenses,58 (2) the ram offered when an individual thinks he might have committed an offense punishable by excision,59 and (3) the lamb (a young ram) offered as a personal sin-offering.60 Slaughter the animals and cut them in half. Then walk between the halves and I shall send a fire to pass between the halves. This will indicate that I am bound by an inviolable covenant to give your descendants the land."

10 Following God's instructions, Abram brought Him all of these, slaughtered the animals, cut them in half, and placed each piece opposite its counterpart. The birds, however, he did not cut in half. The different treatment accorded the animals and the birds indicated the difference between the destinies of the gentile nations and the destiny of the nation that would descend from Abram. In prophetic imagery, the gentile nations are represented by animals, while the Jewish people are represented by birds.61 Dividing the animals thus indicated that the gentile nations will eventually cease to exist as nations; leaving the birds intact indicated that the Jewish people will likewise survive intact into the messianic future.

11 Vultures swooped down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away. This was a prophetic vision of how King David (represented by the vulture) would aspire to do away with the antagonistic gentile nations, but will not be allowed to. Only his descendant, the Messiah, will be allowed to do this.

12 Then, as the sun was about to set, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and he was overwhelmed by a dark and ominous dread, prophetically foreboding the horrors of exile his descendants were destined to experience.

13 And God said to Abram, explaining this dread, "Know for sure that your descendants will be foreigners in a land that is not theirs, and the people will enslave them and oppress them for 400 years. The sufferings of exile will purify and refine them so they will be able to sense and appreciate the holiness of the Promised Land.62 These 400 years will begin as soon as your first descendant, your son, is born, for even now, in Canaan, you are considered a foreign resident.63 Your grandson and his children will actually be exiled to another country altogether, and exactly 400 years after your son's birth, your descendants will leave that land." Abram's son, Isaac, was born on the 15th of Nisan, 2048, and the Exodus from Egypt took place on the 15th of Nisan, 2448.

14 "When they leave that land, I will also execute judgment upon the nation whom they shall serve for having oppressed them cruelly. I will afflict them with ten debilitating plagues. Similarly, in the messianic future, I will execute judgment upon those nations that oppressed them during their other exiles. After that they will leave with great wealth.

15 And as for you, you will not live to see any of this; before it happens you shall join your fathers in the afterlife in peace for, as you know,64 your father, Terach, is no longer an idolater and will therefore be assured a place in the afterlife. And you will be buried after reaching a good old age, i.e., you will live to witness your children and grandchildren remaining loyal to your ideals." Indeed, although Abram's son Ishmael was wicked for much of his life,65 he repented before Abram died.66 Abram's grandson Esau likewise turned wicked only after Abram died.67

16 "The fourth generation after your grandson is exiled to another country will return here, for not until then will the sin of the Amorites—which is the first nation they will conquer68have run its course and will the Amorites have accrued enough demerits to warrant their being supplanted by your descendants."

17 Having informed Abram about the future exile of his descendants, God proceeded to implement the covenant as He promised. The sun set, it became very dark, and behold a smoking furnace and a flaming torch passed between those animal pieces.

18 On that day, after making the furnace and torch pass between the animal halves, God made a covenant with Abram, saying, "To your descendants I have given this land, from the Egyptian River (Wadi el-Arish) to the Euphrates, which, since it is now serving as one of the borders of the Promised Land, can be termed 'the great river.'

19 This Promised Land comprises the territories of the Kenites, the Kenizites, the Kadmonites—which will in the future be occupied respectively by the Ammonites, the Moabites, and the Edomites69

20 the Hittites, the Perizites, part of the territory presently occupied by the Rephaim,70

21 the territory of the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites". I will give the last seven lands to your descendants as soon as they return from their first exile. In the messianic future, they will possess the first three lands.71 In any case, they will acquire legal ownership of the land only when they enter and conquer it.72

The Birth of Ishmael

16:1 Now Sarai, Abram's wife, had not borne him a child. She had an Egyptian handmaid whose name was Hagar.73

2 Sarai said to Abram, "Look, God has kept me from having children through whom I might perpetuate myself after my life in this world is over; my essence is therefore in danger of being lost from this world. Therefore, come to my handmaid, take her as a concubine and engage in marital relations with her; perhaps through the merit of sharing you with her I will bear children of my own and thereby be built up into a matriarch whose essence will be perpetuated." Abram discerned that Sarai was speaking prophetically, so he heeded Sarai's voice.

3 Abram and Sarai knew that the Torah requires a man who has been married for ten years and has not fathered children to take an additional wife to try to have children through her. Although they had been married for a number of years prior to this episode, God had only promised Abram and Sarai offspring when He commanded them to move to Canaan, so they understood that they should calculate these ten years only beginning from that point in time. Therefore, it was only in the year 2033, after Abram had lived in Canaan for ten years, that they decided upon the following plan: His wife, Sarai, convinced Hagar the Egyptian, her handmaid, to marry Abram by telling her how fortunate she is to have relations with someone who has so sanctified his physical body. In this way she gave her to her husband, Abram, as a second wife.

4 He married her, and she conceived immediately. When Hagar later saw that she was pregnant, she regarded her mistress with disdain. She concluded that Sarai was a hypocrite: if she was really as righteous as she pretended to be, why didn't God bless her with children, as He had blessed Hagar from her very first conjugal union with Abram?

5 When Sarai heard Hagar's words, she said to Abram, "I do not blame Hagar for feeling this way; you are to blame for the wrong of my humiliation and deserve to be punished for it! When you entreated God for children,74 you prayed only for yourself instead of for both of us as a couple! Moreover, you see that it was I who selflessly placed my handmaid in your bosom, and now that she sees that she is pregnant, she regards me with disdain and yet you do not admonish her! Let God judge between me and you!" She then turned to Hagar and said again, "As for your accusations against me, let God judge between me and you!" and Hagar miscarried.

6 Abram replied to Sarai, "Here, your handmaid's fate is in your hands. Deal with her as you see fit." Sarai dealt harshly with her, giving her hard work in order to break her ego. So Hagar ran away from her and went into the desert.

7 An angel of God found her by a spring of water in the desert, next to the spring on the road to Shur. Hagar was accustomed to seeing angels in Abram's tent, so she was not afraid.

8 He said, "Hagar, handmaiden of Sarai! From where are you coming, and where are you headed?" Obviously, the angel knew where Hagar was coming from, but he used this question to initiate a conversation. She replied, "I am running away from Sarai, my mistress."

9 A second angel of God appeared and said to her, "Return to your mistress, and submit yourself to her dominion."

10 A third angel of God appeared and said to her, "I will grant you a multitude of descendants; they will be so numerous that they will be uncountable."

11 A fourth angel of God appeared and said to her, "You will again conceive, and will give birth to a son. You shall name him Ishmael, for God [El] has heard [shama] your outcry.

12 He will be a wild savage; he will be a robber, so his hand will be set against everyone, and therefore everyone will hate him and their hand will be set against him to attack him. But although his offspring will be numerous, they will live harmoniously with one another, so he will dwell near all his relatives."75

13 Hagar called by name upon God who had spoken to her, saying, "You are the God of Seeing, who mercifully saw my humiliation!" For she said, "Would I have even dared to think that I would be privileged to see angels here, too, by myself, after having seen in Abram's tents that one must be very righteous in order to merit such a privilege? Certainly not! It is only out of God's mercy that He sent me these angels." Hagar's declaration proved that she had repented of her previous haughtiness and had thereby earned the right to now return to Abram's household.

14 The well was therefore called Be'er LaChai Ro'i ("the well where the living [angel] appeared"). It is between Kadesh and Bered, i.e., Shur76.

15 Hagar again conceived and bore a son to Abram. Although Hagar never told Abram that the angel had instructed her what to name the child, Abram was invested with Divine inspiration and gave the name Ishmael to his son whom Hagar had borne.

16 Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to Abram in the year 2034.

The Covenant of Circumcision

17:1 On the 12th of Nisan in the year 2047,77 when Abram was ninety-nine years old, God appeared to him again, this time in order to prepare him to conceive a child through Sarai. God appeared to Abram and informed him that was about to give him the commandment of circumcision. Abram expressed concern that differentiating himself this way from other people would discourage them from joining his religious movement. So God said, "I am God Almighty. I can overcome this possible repercussion, so you need not worry. Walk in My ways, and everything will be fine. And in addition, please be perfect—that is, without any defect—in walking in My ways: pass the test I am about to give you, just as you have passed all the tests that I have made you undergo so far, and continue to pass My future tests as well. Walk in My ways by observing the commandment of circumcision I am about to give you, and through this be perfect—for as long as you remain uncircumcised I consider you blemished. Finally: although you have ascended as far as you can by yourself on the ladder of self-refinement, you are still not in control over five of the 248 parts of the body: your two eyes, your two ears, and your organ of procreation—you have no control over what you see or hear nor over how your body reacts to erotic stimuli. But now, I will grant you control even over these organs, and thus you will be perfect: you will be able to ignore inappropriate sights and sounds, and control your erotic drive. Your present control over 243 of the parts of your body is alluded to by the fact that the numerical value of your name, Abram (אברם), is 243; I will now add the letter hei (ה) to your name, thus increasing its numerical value to 248.

2 I will make a covenant between Me and you to love you and, in the merit of your observing the commandment of circumcision, to give you the Promised Land, and I will make you exceedingly numerous."

3 As he always did when God spoke to him—before he was circumcised—Abram threw himself on his face. Inasmuch as the uncircumcised procreative organ indicates the lack of control over erotic urges, he had to "hide" his organ by lying on the ground. God spoke to him, saying,

4 "As for Me, here is My covenant with you: You shall be the father of a multitude of nations.

5 No longer78 shall you be named Abram, meaning 'The Father—i.e., ruler—of Aram.'79 Rather, as I told you previously, I shall insert the letter hei into your name, and thus your name shall be Abraham [Avraham], for I have made you the father of a multitude [av hamon] of nations. Yet, your name will still retain the letter reish, alluding to Aram, in order to indicate that your transformation will not detract at all from your previous status.

6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful—even more so than I promised you before: I will make you into many nations, and kings will descend from you.

Seventh Reading
7 I will
also maintain another aspect of My covenant between you and Me and your descendants after you throughout their generations, as an everlasting covenant: Your descendants will remain true to the Divine mission with which you will inculcate them. Thus I will be able to be God both to you and to your descendants after you.80

8 And I will give the land in which you are sojourning, the entire land of Canaan, as an everlasting heritage to you and to your descendants after you, and here, in this land, I will be God unto them. But I will not bestow this special relationship on those of your descendants who live outside the Promised Land."

9 God further said to Abraham, "And as for you, your obligation in this relationship is that you keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you, throughout their generations. Namely—

10 this is My covenant, between Me and you, i.e., all the current members of your household, and your descendants after you, for you to keep: to circumcise every male among you.

11 You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, and this shall be a covenantal sign between Me and you.

12 Throughout your generations, every male among you shall be circumcised when he is eight days old—including a servant born to a handmaid in your household, as well as anyone bought for money from a stranger as a bondman, who is not one of your descendants.

13 However, although anyone born in your household or bought with your money shall surely be circumcised, a purchased bondman should be circumcised immediately upon purchase, even if he is older or younger than eight days old. My covenant shall thus be in your flesh as an everlasting covenant.

14 An uncircumcised male who does not circumcise his foreskin before he reaches legal maturity—that soul shall be cut off from his people: he shall die prematurely and childless, for he has breached My covenant."

15 God said to Abraham, "Regarding Sarai, your wife—you shall not call her anymore by the name Sarai, meaning 'My princess,' the ruler of only my kingdom, for Sarah, meaning 'princess' in general, is her name. Like you, she shall be the progenitor of many nations. Unlike you, however, I will remove the letter from her name that is unrelated to its new meaning. In your case, the fact that you remain the ruler of Aram does not limit your greatness; in her case, the implication of 'My princess' is that she is only 'My princess'; therefore, I must remove the letter yud from her name. But in the future I will add it to the name of another leader of the Jewish people.81

16 I will bless her by restoring her youth to her, and will also give you a son from her. I will also bless her with abundant lactation.82 She will give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall issue from her."

17 Abraham threw himself on his face in joy and laughed in joy, saying to himself, "Previous generations indeed procreated at such an advanced age. But nowadays, were it not for God, would a child be born to a man of a hundred?! And would Sarah, at ninety, give birth?!"

18 And Abraham said to God, "I am unworthy of such a miracle. I would be content if only Ishmael would live in awe of You and succeed me!"

19 God said, "Still, Sarah your wife will indeed bear you a son, and you shall name him Isaac [Yitzchak'will laugh']. The numerical values of the letters of his name allude to the 10 trials by which I will test you (yud), the 90 years of Sarah's age (tzadik), the 8 days from Isaac's birth until his circumcision (chet), and the almost-100 years of your age (kuf)."

"And although it may seem that I applied My covenant to all your descendants,83 including Ishmael's offspring and any other children you may ever father through any woman other than Sarah,84 I now clarify that I will maintain My covenant only with Isaac as an everlasting covenant, for his descendants after him.

20 Regarding Ishmael, I have heard you: I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful and extremely numerous. He will beget twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation. However, these twelve princes will enjoy only fleeting greatness,

21 for I will maintain My covenant with Isaac, whom you will conceive after your circumcision, and who will thus be holy when Sarah will bear him to you at this time next year. Only Isaac's descendants will be required to circumcise themselves, and just as I promised to multiply Ishmael's descendants, I will multiply Isaac's to an even greater degree."

22 God was directly above Abraham when communicating with him, for Abraham effaced himself so thoroughly before God that he was a direct vehicle (or "chariot") for the revelation of God's presence in the world. When He had finished speaking with him, God's presence ascended from resting above Abraham.

23 Abraham consulted with his allies, the three Amorite brothers, Aner, Eshkol, and Mamre,85 about circumcising himself. Aner said to him, "You are almost a hundred years old. Why should you inflict this pain upon yourself?" Eshkol said to him, "Why should you go and make yourself distinguishable to your enemies?" But Mamre said to him, "God protected you in the fiery furnace, during the famine, and in your war with the kings. How can you not obey Him now?"86 Abraham then took Ishmael his son, and all those born in his household, and all those he had bought for money—that is, every male among the people of Abraham's household—and circumcised the flesh of their foreskins on the very same day on which God gave him the commandment, as God had spoken with him. He performed the circumcisions in broad daylight, being afraid neither of the pagans nor the scoffers, and so that no one would be able to say that they would have prevented him from doing so had they seen him doing it.

24 After circumcising them, he circumcised himself.87 Abraham was ninety-nine years old when the flesh of his foreskin was circumcised. When he was about to circumcise himself, it suddenly occurred to him that he might not be able to hold the knife steadily because of his advanced age, so God steadied his hand. Since Abraham was already an old man, he did not have to peel back the upper layer of the foreskin, for it had already been worn away; all that was required was to cut the foreskin away.

25 In contrast, Ishmael his son was only thirteen years old when the flesh of his foreskin was circumcised, so the upper layer of his foreskin did have to be peeled back. To his credit, Ishmael did not cry out in pain when he was circumcised.88

26 On the very day that Abraham turned ninety-nine and Ishmael turned thirteen, Abraham was circumcised, along with Ishmael his son,

27 and all the men of his household, whether home-born or bought for money from a stranger, were circumcised with him.