Numbers in [brackets] are the mitzva-count according to the Sefer HaChinuch. Other counts vary.
First Aliya – 13 p’sukim – 12:1-13
G-d tells (note the softer VAYOMER rather than the harsher, and more common, VA’Y’DABER) Avra(ha)m to leave his land, birthplace and father’s home and go to “the Land which I will show you”.[SDT] “Leave your land, birthplace, father’s house.” Ramban explains that each “point of departure” was progressively more difficult for Avraham. Leaving one’s land is difficult, even more so if he was born there. Leaving one’s family is most difficult. Ramban says that the Torah is showing us the great extent of Avraham’slove of G-d.
Someone raises a question on this Ramban. What was so difficult in Avraham’s leaving the place where he was ridiculed, persecuted and thrown into a fiery furnace for his beliefs? Would he not have left joyfully? The question actually carries the answer. The Ramban was pointing out a significant aspect of human nature. Nomatter how bad conditions are, how much a person wants a better life, there still will always remain a sadness and regret for the “good old days” – even when there weren’t many. This feature of human nature explains a lot of Jewish History.
G-d promises that a great nation will descend from him and that he will be a blessing for all.[SDT] Avra(ha)m is promised great rewards and benefits for listening to G-d. Yet pasuk 4 testifies that he went “as G-d had spoken to him”. His “aliya” is considered a test of his faith. He passed this test because he came to the Land BECAUSE G-d asked him to, not for any material promises. The call to the Jew to come onAliyacontinues. THE only real “right” reason to come is because it is a mitzva and this is what G-d wants of us. All blessings that will follow are fringe benefits. We have much to learn from Avra(ha)m Avinu.
Avra(ha)m was 75 years old at the time he came to Israel with Sarai, nephew Lot and many people who were brought over to monotheism by Avra(ha)m and Sarai.[SDT] Commentaries speculate as to what happened to these people subsequently. Some suggest that after Avraham’s death they refused to stay with Yitzchak because his approach to “religion” was vastly different from his father’s and “unappealing” to them. Others suggest that they became the various G-d-fearing individualsscattered among the nations of the world.
Avra(ha)m travels through the Land and G-d promises the Land to his descendants. Avra(ha)m builds an altar to G-d. Subsequently, a famine drives Avra(ha)m and Sarai to Egypt. On the way Avra(ha)m asks Sarai to pose as his sister (technically not a lie, but…) for fear that he would be killed as “the husband in the way”ofPar’o.[SDT] The Gemara teaches us that sometimes, if a person moves to a different place, his evil decree in Heaven can be “torn up”. Avraham and Sara were barren from birth. “Lech L’cha” gave them the miraculous opportunity to have a child.
Second Aliya -11 p’sukim – 12:14-13:4
In Egypt, Sarai’s beauty is noticed by the people and she is taken to Par’o’s palace. Avra(ha)m, as her brother, receives many gifts. Par’o and his household are afflicted as a punishment for taking Sarai. When Par’o realizes that Sarai is the wife of Avra(ha)m he confronts him, returns Sarai to him and then asks them toleave Egypt. Avra(ha)m and company, heavily laden with riches, return to Israel via the Negev. Avra(ha)m returns to the Altar he had built and continues to proclaim G-d’s Name.[SDT] Avraham, on the run from his hometown, a stranger in a strange land, has his challenges and tests. Avraham loaded with wealth and prominence, has new challenges and tests. Poverty is a test; so is wealth. And it is hard to know which is harder.
Third Aliya – 14 p’sukim – 13:5-18
Lot also has great wealth, too much to remain together with Avra(ha)m. Quarrels between their shepherds (caused by disparate ethical standards) lead to a parting of the ways. Avra(ha)m gives Lot “first choice” of territory, and he (Lot) chooses the then fertile area of S’dom and the Jordan Valley. The Torah makes a pointof telling us of the wickedness of S’dom society, an obvious criticism of Lot’s distorted priorities.
(This, too, is a recurring theme in Jewish life, containing warnings for us all – sadly, many Jews moved away from Jewish neighborhoods to places with country clubs, golf courses, and other “important things.)
Only afterAvra(ha)m is rid of Lot, does G-d once again appear to him, encour aging him to traverse the Land which will some day belong to his descendants. Avra(ha)m settles in Hevron and builds an altar to G-d.[SDT] It is pointed out that although Avraham knew that his spirituality was compromised by Lot’s presence, he nonetheless did not chase Lot away until he had no choice. Avraham felt a moral obligation to take care of Lot (including saving him after they parted company) even though he knew that G-d was “keeping His distance”with Lot around. Ponder the ramifications of this for us today. Maybe this can be seen as a “sort of” application of the principle we learn from the beginning of next week’s sedra – Greater is hospitality than receiving the Divine Presence.
Fourth Aliya – 20 p’sukim – 14:1-20
This portion tells of the battle between the Four Kings and the Five Kings and of the capture of the people of S’dom, including Lot. When Avra(ha)m hears (from Og, the stowaway survivor of the Flood) of Lot’s capture he sets out to rescue him, taking with him a force of 318.
The Gemara suggests that Avraham took only his servant Eliezer with him to rescue Lot. The numeric value of the name Eliezer = 318. As G’matriya go, this is one of many. What makes it unusual, is that it is based on a number in the text of the Torah.
Avra(ha)m launches a successful surprise attack and frees the people of S’dom. Celebration of the victory takes the form of a religious ceremony of thanking and blessing G-d in the presence of Malki-Tzedek (known to be Shem b. Noach). A tithe of the spoils of war is given to this servant of G-d.[SDT] This is considered a (the?) source of Maaser K’safim, the tenth portion of one’s income (profits) that he is to give to Tzedaka. Some authorities say that this mitzva is also obligatory for non-Jews, although it is not among the 7 Noahide Laws. (There are other mitzvot that are considered required of all people.)
Fifth Aliya – 10 p’sukim – 14:21-15:6
The king of S’dom offers Avra(ha)m great wealth. Avra(ha)m refuses to take as much as a “thread or shoelace”.[SDT] Commentaries note that Avra(ha)m’s refusal sanctified G-d’s Name and was rewarded by the mitzvot of talit (thread) and t’filin (straps) which his descendants are commanded to wear. Meshech Chochma points out that it is specifically at Shacharit – the prayer attributed to Avraham Avinu – that we wear Tallit and T’filin. [SDT] How come Avraham refused to accept anything from the king of S’dom, but he became very wealthy from that which he accepted from Par’o? Some commentaries say that Avraham was setting the stage for the fulfillment of G-d’s promise to the descendants of Avraham, that they would leave the country of their exile and oppressionwith great wealth. The Avot are our precedent-setters.
Avra(ha)m did accept payment on behalf of his allies who helped him.[SDT] From here we learn, says the Chafetz Chaim, that one wants to be “machmir” (strict), he should accept the strict practice for himself but not impose it on others. Avraham did not want to be a TZADDIK at the expense of others.
Afterwards, G-d appears to Avra(ha)m in a vision and again promises him great rewards for his faithfulness. Avra(ha)m, still childless expresses his disappointment, but resignation, that Eliezer will be his heir. G-d assures Avra(ha)m that he will indeed have his own child to follow in his footsteps. G-d then takes Avra(ha)moutdoors and promises him that his descendants will be as countless (and exalted) as the stars in the heavens.
The Vilna Gaon cites the Talmud’s mentioning that Avraham Avinu was the first person to address G-d as “Adon” (Master). We acknowledge this by beginning Shacharit – Avraham’s davening – with the poem “Adon Olam”.
Sixth Aliya – 37 p’sukim (15:7-17:6)
This portion begins with “the Covenant between the Pieces”. (Part of this experience is actual, part is prophetic vision – one view.) G-d tells Avra(ha)m that his descendants will be oppressed in a foreign land and will subsequently leave there with great wealth. The promise of the Land to Avra(ha)m is reiterated once more.
Sarai, being barren, gives her handmaiden Hagar to Avra(ha)m to bear him a child. When Hagar becomes pregnant, she taunts her mistress. Hagar then flees from Sarai’s retaliation. An angel finds her, promises that her child, too, will sire a countless multitude, that her son to be born shall be called Yishmael, and that she is now to return to Sarai. Yishmael is born when Avra(ha)m is 86 years of age.
When Avra(ha)m is 99, G-d appears to him and asks him to “walk before Me and be complete”. G-d changes Avra(ha)m’s name to Avraham, symbolizing Avraham’s role as father and spiritual guide to great nations. Once again Avraham is promised “countless” progeny.
Back-to-back p’sukim tell us that Avraham was 86 years old (when Yishma’el was born), and then that he is 99 years old. Rashi says that this is to praise Yishmael for agreeing to be circumcised at the age of 13 years. Another point that can be made in answer to the question, what happened during the 13 years between thep’sukim?The answer is – NOTHING of any significance to us. The Torah is not a diary of the Avot and Imahot. It is a book that contains a myriad of lessons for us.
Seventh Aliya – 21 p’sukim – 17:7-27
G-d promises that a special relationship will always exist between Himself and Avraham’s descendants, and repeats the promise of the Land. G-d reveals the form that the “Covenant” is to take – the circumcision of all males .
This mitzva is the first “non-natural” commandment. Until this point, the 7 categories of Noahide mitzvot are all logical, rational, reasonable, common- sense laws. This 8th mitzva, for the 8th day, is unnatural. G-d created a baby with a foreskin; what are we doing removing it? The answer is that Mila represents the challengeto the Jew to rise above nature and complete his spiritual form just as he is being commanded to complete his physical form.
The mitzva is ideally performed on the 8th day, counting the day on which the baby was born – even if he was born 5 minutes before sunset. Mila may not take place at night. Only an 8th day Mila (as opposed to a Brit that was postponed because of health reasons) can be held on Shabbat. If a baby is delivered by C-sectionon Shabbat, his brit will be the following Sunday (the baby’s 9th day). Due to a technicality based on the analysis of the text in Tazria, only a Brit of a natural birth can take place on Shabbat. The mitzva of Mila is “repeated” in parshat Tazria. Its specific wording there, teaches us some of the mitzva’s details.
G-d then changes Sarai’s name to Sarah. Name changes represent changes in character, role, and destiny. G-d promises that Sarah will bear the true heir of Avraham. Avraham laughs with joy upon hearing that he will be a father at 100, and Sarah a mother at 90. He thought that Yishmael was the son that G-d had repeatedlypromised him, but G-d assures him that it will be Yitzchak who will fill that role. Yishmael will also be blessed and give rise to great nations, but the Covenant will be passed down through Yitzchak.
Avraham circumcises himself at age 99, Yishmael at age 13, and the other male members of his household, in fulfillment of G-d’s command.
21 p’sukim -Yeshayahu – 40:27-41:16
Rabbi Jacobs points out that the first three haftaras of B’reishit come from the same part of Yeshayahu as do the 7 Haftarot of Consolation. This, he suggests, is no coincidence. In addition to the connection of each to its sedra, we can take them as message of hope and encouragement. This particular passage mentions Avraham,and contains other oblique references to him. We can also see the haftara as the national counterpart of some of the personal experiences of Avraham. Just as G-d made promises to Avraham Avinu, so He makes promises to the Children of Israel. Just as Avraham tenaciously clings to faith in G-d, so too do his descendants.Endurance, confidence, victory, self-perfection – these qualities are shared by THE ancestor and his descendants, us.