Recap: In last week’s parasha, Noach, we met Noah and his family during the great flood, read about the covenant between God and the people (complete with rainbow!), and learned aboutthe tower of Babel. At the end of the parasha, we met Abram and Sarai, descendents of Noah’s son Shem. They just migrated from Ur to Haran. We learned that Sarai is unable to bear children.
Cast of Characters:
Abram and Sarai (otherwise known as Abraham and Sarah!)
Lot, Abram’s nephew
People of Sodom
Hagar, Sarai’s maidservant
Ishmael and Isaac
And God, of course!
Setting: The route from Haran and Canaan and various towns within Canaan.
Summary: God tells Abram to go forth “to the land that I will show you.” There, God will bless Abram and make him a great nation.
Abram and his family set out for Canaan. There is a famine in the land and Abram and Sarai sojourn in Egypt. Sarai purports to be Abram’s sister so that he will not be killed. At first Abram and Sarai benefit from Sarai’s beauty and she resides with Pharoah. After God afflicts Pharoah’s palace with plague and he finds out it’s due to Sarai, their family is ousted from Egypt.
When they get to Bethel, Abram and his nephew Lot quarrel over resources. They decide to part ways. Lot settles on the Jordan plain next the town of Sodom while Abram stays in Canaan. Abram journeys to Hebron.
The people of Sodom are wicked. There is a great war there and the towns of Sodom and Gomorrah are plundered. Abram learns of Lot’s plight and pursues all of the way booty. He brings it back to the King of Sodom, who blesses Abram and tries to repay him. Abram refuses the payment.
God tells Abram that his offspring shall be as numerous as the stars in the sky. God says that Abram’s descendants will be enslaved and that God will free them.
Sarai is barren. She tells Abram to reproduce with her Egyptian maidservant, Hagar, and Hagar becomes pregnant. Sarai is jealous and drives Hagar away. An angel of God sees Hagar crying and tells her that her offspring will be increased. She bears a son named Ishmael.
God appears to Abram when he is 99 years old and makes a covenant with him, promising to bless his offspring in the land of Canaan. God changes Abram’s name to Abraham and Sarai’s name to Sarah. Circumcision is the sign of this new covenant. God says that Sarah will bear a son named Isaac. Abraham circumcises all men of the household.
Why does Sarai’s presence in Pharoah’s palace bringGod’s wrath?
Why does Abram refuse payment from the King of Sodom for his efforts?
Why does Sarai get upset with Hagar, after she suggested that Abram have a child with Hagar?
Why is circumcision chosen as the sign of God’s covenant with Abraham?
Parashat Lech-l’cha leaves us with a slew of pressing questions (don’t all of our Torah portions?), including one from the famous story of Sodom and Gomorrah: Why did Abram refuse the King of Sodom’s reward for his heroic deeds?
Maimonides, one of Judaism’s great philosophers, states the importance of rescuing captives. This is considered one of the most crucial mitzvot (commandments) and derives from this week’s Torah portion! Although the implications for this in modern-time war situations becomes sticky, Abram’s refusal of rewards teach us an important lesson that cannot be contested: We should perform mitzvot for intrinsic rewards rather than riches or praise. It’s important to remember that the question is not if we will be performing mitzvot—doing mitzvot is our obligation as Jews. The question is how we will do them.
Take a moment to think: What mitzvot have you done lately? Perhaps you have helped feed the hungry, teach your children a worthwhile lesson, or study Torah. More importantly, how did you do these mitzvot? Did you expect praise or reward for your action, or was the value of the action reward enough? May we emulate our role model Abram by doing good for its own sake, rather than for our own benefit.
Written by second-year Rabbinical Student, Sarah Rosenbaum, who served as the Am Shalom Summer Rabbinic Intern.