By Rabbi Shelton J. Donnell
Parashah Lech Lecha (Genesis 12:1-17:27) begins Abram’s journey from Ur, the city of his birth to the land of Canaan. It also begins his saga as the first of the patriarchs of the Jewish people. The journey described in the Torah portion is as much a spiritual odyssey as it is one from place to place. The Torah tells us that Abram received a command from God, “Go forth from your land, your native land, and from your ancestral house to the land that I will show you.” With this charge comes the promise of a wonderful future for Abram.
Interestingly, this command appears to come to Abram in Haran after he has already departed Ur. Could there be another reason that compelled Abram to have already left Ur? According to the midrash, Abram had good reason to leave Ur in a hurry: he was being pursued by King Nimrod who already tried to kill Abram by throwing him into a fiery furnace. So then, was the father of the Jewish people going forward towards a goal or running away from his past?
Later in our Torah portion (Gen. 14) Abram goes to war to rescue his nephew Lot who found himself caught up in the politics of the land of Canaan. Abram raised an army and defeated Lot’s captors including King Amraphel of Shinar. As Rashi points out, the rabbis (Eruvin 53a) equate Amraphel with Nimrod. In other words, Abram finally meets and defeats his old enemy. Finally, Abram can leave his past behind; he can stop running away and begin to go forward into the future to meet his destiny.
Shortly after this encounter, God makes a covenant with Abram to fulfill the previous promise, and he receives a new name—a new identity—Abraham. Sarai was given a new name as well, Sarah. Both names differed from the original by the addition of the letter “Heh,” the key element in the Name of God.
Questions for Discussion
1) What were the challenges faced by Abram/Abraham besides his struggles against external foes?
2) In reading the portion, what were the struggles both external and internal that Sarai/Sarah faced?
3) Why did God wait to make the covenant until after Abram defeated “Nimrod?”
4) What is the meaning of the changes in Abram’s character when he became Abraham? So, too, when Sarai became Sarah. Also, What is the significance of their receiving the letter “Heh” in their names?