Rabbi Avi Weiss, Hebrew Institute of Riverdale
At the outset of this week's portion God tells Abraham (Avraham) to go to Israel where He will make him a great nation. (Genesis 12:1,2) Once arriving there, God promises Avraham the land and children. In God's words: "To your seed I will give this land." (Genesis 12:7) But why does God reiterate this commitment three other times in chapters 13,15 and 17?
Ramban to Genesis 15:18 points out that chapter 13 expands God's prior statement. In that chapter, the land includes not only the specific place where Avraham resided but all of Israel; and the promise of seed includes not only the next generation but all generations in perpetuity. (Genesis 13:15)
Chapter 15, Ramban to Genesis 15:7 argues, expands the assurance even further. There Avraham asks: if the promise of land depends upon the Jewish people's commitment to God, how can I be sure that my progeny will remain committed? (Genesis 15:8) Here God introduces for the first time the word brit--covenant, in his relationship with Avraham. (Genesis 15:18) In this brit God guarantees to Avraham that there will always remain a faithful remnant of Jews in Israel.
It is my sense that the covenant reaches its crescendo in chapter 17 with the commandment of circumcision. Circumcision involves the drawing of blood from the organ of propagation of an innocent child. This ritual symbolizes the Jewish people who throughout the millennia would be the innocent suffering servant. This as God's way of telling Avraham that being chosen has a price--it will include pain and suffering.
And, of course, the brit in chapter 17 stands out in that God for the first time, in clear terms, tells Avraham that the covenant will continue through
Sarah with the birth of Isaac (Yitzhak). (Genesis 17:19) In no small measure our uniqueness lies not in our conviction that Avraham is our patriarch--the Muslims believe this as well. What makes us different is our additional commitment to Sarah, not Hagar who gave birth to Yishmael.
In the words of the Torah: "And God said [to Avraham] but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son and you will call his name Isaac and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his seed after him." (Genesis 17:19)
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