Avraham Avinu – Rav Yonatan Horovitz
To a large extent the basis for our relationship with Hashem is found in this week’s parsha. Two covenants made between Hashem and Avraham, known as Brit Bein Habetarim and Brit Mila stipulate a large part of the role Avraham’s descendants are destined to play in the world. We will begin by examining the opening lines to the first of these two britot, Brit Bein Habetarim.
The episode opens with the words “achar hadevarim ha’eleh, after these things” (Bereishit 15:1). Many of the mefarshim comment that this connects these words of Hashem with the previous chapter. After conquering the four kings and saving his nephew Lot along with the King of Sdom and his allies, Avraham is concerned for many different reasons.
According to Chizkuni and Seforno, Avraham is worried of the repercussions of his victory over these mighty kings. Surely, they will regroup and come to exact their revenge. It is in this vein that Hashem appears to Avraham (in the continuation of the above quoted verse) and tells him” al tira, have no fear” Rashi explains that Avraham’s fear stemmed from the fact that he felt that all his merits had been used in order to secure this victory in battle. Hashem reassures Avraham that he is still deserving of much reward. The dialogue goes on to describe how Hashem promises to Avraham that he will have many descendants and how they will descend into slavery but eventually emerge and return to this very land.
It seems clear that it is at this juncture that Avraham’s story takes a monumental turn. If until now we had been following the life and times of Avraham and his family, we now discover that Avraham is destined to be the head of a great nation. This begs the following question: At the beginning of the parsha Hashem commands Avraham to leave his home and set off for Cana’an. At this point he is already told that he will be the father to a great nation. Why did Hashem not make the covenant there and then? Why do many years and several chapters go by before Hashem appears again to Avraham and completes the message that he had delivered very briefly at the outset of his journey to Cana’an?
[It is worth pointing out that there is a theory that Brit Bein Habetarin took place prior to Avraham’s departure from Ur Casdim when he was 70 years old. This is espoused by Rav Yakov Medan in various articles and is supported by other sources. We will not investigate this theory further though it does answer the question we have raised. On the other hand it leads to a different problem as to why the episodes in the Torah are then not in chronological order.]
Let us recall the events of Avraham’s life until this Brit. First Avraham is told by Hashem to go to Eretz Cana’an. This he does without hesitation accompanied by all his family. As he traverses Eretz Yisrael he builds altars to God along the way and is “koreh beshem Hashem” spreading the word of God wherever he goes. On arrival in the land he immediately is forced to leave as a result of the famine. Although the commentators differ as to how to judge this decision of Avraham, there are those who praise him for his demonstration of faith. Notable amongst these is Radak, who states that Avraham may have questioned why it is that the land designated for him by God is one where man cannot remain for long due to famine. Being forced to leave in order to ensure that both he and his family will have food did not lead him to doubt God; rather he went temporarily down to Egypt, negotiated the troubles that befell him there, and returned to Eretz Yisrael.
The next event involves the split with his nephew Lot. Following a disagreement between their shepherds, Avraham suggests that they settle in different parts of the land. Lot actually opts for a something different and decides to live in Sdom. This must have disheartened Avraham but we see no mention of this in the Torah.
The Torah then gives us an insight into the politics of the time and the ongoing power struggles between two sets of kings. It is not until quite a way into this story that we discover that our hero Avraham is involved here too. In a fairytale like ending, Avraham, with his miniscule army, rescues his nephew Lot defeating four might armies on the way. (We note from the comments of Rashi at the beginning of chapter 15 that this was no fairytale but rather a direct miracle from Hashem.)
What can we say about Avraham at this juncture? He has demonstrated incredible faith in Hashem even in the face of hardships of all different forms. Avraham has made it his mission to spread the word of God and he has gone to the rescue of his nephew despite being snubbed by that same relative only a little while earlier. All of the above contribute to our understanding of Avraham’s character and personality. All of the above help us comprehend why Hashem would now choose to make a covenant with Avraham and all his descendants. Like other leaders in the Tanach, Moshe and Eliyahu being just two examples, we are given an insight into various episodes of Avraham’s life prior to his assuming the role for which he has been designated by Hashem. Yes, Hashem chose Avraham earlier but the subsequent events confirm that Avraham is the right man for the job.
In addition, as we saw in the mefarshim quoted at the start of the shiur, there is a direct connection between Avraham’s role in the outcome of the battle of the kings and the opening of Brit Bein Habetarim. If we could imagine the headlines on the day after Avraham’s victory, they would probably read “Unknown wanderer defeats mighty armies” or “4 kings humbled by anonymous outsider”. But the articles following these headlines would tell the readers about this anonymous victor, of his life, his ideals and what he and his family stand for. Avraham will be suddenly propelled onto the political scene. He is now a force to be reckoned with; a famous player in the Middle East. It is this Avraham with whom Hashem makes a brit. Now Avraham is ready to be the father of a great nation for if this nation is to affect the entire world, its founding father must be one that humanity recognizes and respects.
Shabbat shalom – Rav Yonatan