Thursday, November 19, 2020

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Toldot – B’resheet (Genesis) 25:19 - 28:9


Last week's Parashat Cha’yey Sarah ended with the chronicles of Yishma'el's descendants. This week’s portion opens up with the chronicles of his brother, Yitzchak.  But while “toldot” means "begetting" (root y.l.d - “to give birth”), here “toldot” starts out with the barrenness of Yitzchak’s wife. Rivka’s condition, however, is inserted in an almost parenthetical manner and is couched between Yitzchak's intercession on her behalf and YHVH's response to the plea. 

In 25:21 it says that Yitzchak “entreated” - “vaya'a'tor” (a.t.r. - ayin, tav, resh) – YHVH, and "YHVH was entreated “(vaye'ater) of him" (italics added). The very form of the verbs (“entreat” – “entreated”) - both in the original Hebrew and in the English translation - points to the closeness of the “entreatee” to the “entreater”, and the latter’s deep empathy for the former.

When the request is granted it takes the form of not one, but two sons, the first of whom comes out red all over (ref. 25: 25). The word for “red” is “adom”, and as we saw in Parashat B’resheet (Genesis 1-4), “adom” is connected to “dam” (“blood”), “adama” (“earth”), and thence to Adam, "the first man" who is "earthy" (ref.1 Cor. 15:47). Esav, the firstborn, illustrates therefore the principle that the natural precedes the spiritual (ref 1 Cor. 15:46), despite the fact that his twin turns out to be, for a considerable time period, almost as 'earthy' as the ‘Hairy Red’.

This second boy, who emerged out of Rivka's womb while holding on to the “heel” – “ah'kev” - of his brother was hence named “Ya'acov” (ref. 25:26). Coming in the footsteps of his sibling, his name, which also means "to follow", perfectly matches the order of the births. In Scripture, the image of ‘heel-holding’ or ‘heel-grabbing’ often refers to hindering or trapping someone, as we see in the following examples:

“Dan shall be a serpent... that bites the horse's heels” (Gen. 49:17); “The trap shall take him by the heel” (Job 18:9); “They mark my steps” (literally “heels” in Ps. 56:6). The following words in T’hilim (Psalms) 41:9 hint at Messiah’s destiny: “My own familiar friend, which did eat of my bread, has lifted his heel against me”.  This type of friend and follower typically steals quietly behind, with a “crafty” intent (as indeed was the case with Messiah’s “familiar friend”). Thus, from the same root of “heel” and “to follow”, (a.k.v. - ayin, kof, vet) stem words like “crafty, cunning and deceptive”, as is illustrated by the alliteration in Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) 9:4: “surely every brother deals craftily (ah'kov ya'akov)” (italics added).

In the first scene that brings the two siblings together, Ya'acov is busy cooking lentil broth, while his brother happens to be returning, famished and exhausted, from the field. Esav is sorely tempted when his glance strikes what he calls “ha'adom, ha'adom ha'zeh” - "this red, red stuff… therefore his name was called Edom" (25:30) - again from the root “adom” – “red”. The area of Edom, which later was inhabited by Esav's descendants, is indeed noted for its red soil. Everything about this hunter speaks of adom-adama – earth and earthiness. Whether Ya'acov anticipated his brother's famished condition or not, we do not know. Nevertheless, while in English it says, "Jacob cooked a stew", in Hebrew it says: “va'ya'zed Ya'acov na'zid” which, aside from cooking stew can also be read as: "Ya'acov devised an evil plot" (25:29). After all, 'cooking up' such a plan was only consistent with his name! The word “nah’zid” - “broth” - stems from the root z.y.d. (zayin, yod, dalet) which is shared by the verb to “cook”, and more specifically, to “boil up and seethe”. This verb also lends itself to “evil-doing” and “malice” – such as “zed” and “zadon” (e.g. Ex. 21:14, where “a man schemes” is “yazed”).  All of this seems to be at variance with the earlier description (25:27) of Yaacov, as an “eesh tam”, literally “a man of integrity” (although most translations use “peaceful” here), “living in tents” (while Esav’s lifestyle and implied disposition is very different). The inconsistency in the depiction of Yaacov’s character is not surprising in the narrative of this particular Parasha, which is replete with contrasts, masquerades, and pretense.  But as to the above mentioned “tam” (man of interegrity, peaceful), there may be an earlier hint connecting us to this description. When the twins were still in their mother’s womb, the Hebrew word used there is strangely distorted. Rather than te’omim (twins) they are called “tomim” – which can easily be associated with “tom” (the noun for “integrity, completeness or wholesomeness”). Thus only to one of the brothers were these characteristics attributed (even though it would take many a year before he would display any sign of being “tam”).

Ya’acov does not waste any time. He proposes right away an exchange: broth for birthright (ref. v. 31). And while in English these words form an alliteration, in Hebrew the verb "sell” (in the imperative form) – “michra”, and "birthright" – “b'chora”, sound alike. (Perhaps this linguistic association is what gave Ya'acov the idea in the first place…). Ya'acov, however, does not provide the goods until he makes his brother swear to him that he will not renege on his “sh'vu'ah” (“oath”, connected, as we have learned in previous Parashot, to being “full and satisfied”). After the deal is struck the two depart, and until further notice both seem to be content.

Later on, when the time comes for Esav to claim his birthright (that is the right hand blessing of the father before death), startled by his brother’s cunning, he “cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry: ... ‘Is not he rightly named, Ya'acov? For he has supplanted (akav) me...?’” (Gen. 27:34, 36).  The prophet Hoshe'ah (Hosea), many centuries later, traces the waywardness of the nation of Yisrael (who in this prophecy is called “Ya'acov”) to their progenitor:  “In the womb he took his brother by the heel- akav” (Hos. 12:3). 

In the wake of”, or “as a result of”, or in short “because”, is the Biblical word “ekev “(again deriving from the root a.k.v).  In 26:4-5 of our Parasha, YHVH says to Yitzchak: “I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and will give your descendants all these lands; and by your descendants all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; because [“ekev”] Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws” (italics added). Abraham’s faith, so often mentioned in the New Covenant books, was characterized not by hearing only, but by obedience and observance of YHVH’s commandments (see James 1;22-25). Following Avraham’s implicit obedience he was told: “And in your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because – ekev - you have obeyed My voice” (Gen. 22:18). “Ekev” is found in Dvarim (Deuteronomy 8:20): “So you shall perish because you would not listen”. It is also in David’s self-implicating reply to the prophet Nah'tan (Nathan), who challenged him with a parable following his sin with Bat’sheva (Bathsheba): “He must make restitution for the lamb, because he did this thing and had no compassion” (2nd Sam.12:6, italics added). Thus, this little “ekev” (rooted in heel) - “because” – becomes the fulcrum on which the balance of justice hangs.

Ya'acov, too, because of (“ekev”) his actions (particularly that of deceiving his father), had to endure the consequences. By the end of the Parasha he becomes a fugitive, running for his life from his brother, and later (in the next Parasha), to be deceived by his father-in-law, Lah'van (Laban). The “heart” of Ya'acov is well described by Yirmiyahu, who says that it is “more deceitful (akov) than all else”.

In a few weeks time, in Parashat Vayishlach, we shall see how Ya'acov, while on the road back from Padan Aram to Cna’an (Canaan), will plan once again to use some cunning by walking behind – which also suggests ‘following’ - his entourage, that was to go ahead of him to greet Esav. At this point he will be met face to face, as he himself testifies in B’resheet (Genesis) 32:30, by YHVH Elohim. Yisrael, according to the name that will be given to him after this encounter at Penniel, will be made to turn around on his heels as it were (and become lame in the process), never to be the same again. Thus when the “crooked” (“akov”) places become “mishor” – that is “straight” (ref. Is. 40:4b) - Ya'acov will become “Yeshurun” (“yashar” - straight”), true to his name “Yisra’el”, which can also be read “yashar-el” (“El is upright”). As such, the nation is addressed by their Elohim: “But now listen, O Ya'acov, My servant; and Israel, whom I have chosen; thus says YHVH who made you, and formed you from the womb [as ‘crooked’ Ya'acov], and Who will help you: do not fear, O Ya'acov My servant; and you Yeshurun [who was ‘straightened’ by Elohim] whom I have chosen” (Is. 44:1, 2). Lastly, Ya'acov was to become one of the forefathers of Messiah, of whom it was prophesied that His heel would be “bruised” by the serpent. However, as we know, the “Seed of the woman” was destined to triumph by crushing and trampling down the serpent’s head with His heel (ref. Gen. 3:15; cf. Luke 10:19; Rom. 16:20; Heb.1:13b). 

Back to our narrative:  Following closely on the heels of the oath that Esav took by his brother’s instigation (25:31-33), YHVH reminds Yitzchak of His oath to Avraham, and at the same time cautions him not to go down to Egypt, in spite of the famine in the land (ref. 26:1-5), saying: “Do not go down into Egypt. Dwell in the land which I shall tell you” (v. 2). The imperative “dwell”, “sh’chan” (, shin, chaf, noon), is also “settle and abide” and it is from this root that “mishkan”, the “tabernacle” in the wilderness, derives its title. On this very issue, David makes an emphatic statement: “Trust in YHVH, and do good; you shall dwell in the land, and you shall be fed on truth” (Ps. 37:3 italics added). Continuing to address Yitzchak, in the next verse (25:3), YHVH says to him: “Dwell in this land…” (italics added), but this time the verb used is “gur”, from which is obtained the term “ger” – sojourner (and “fear”). Notice that above, YHVH exhorts Yitzchak to live in “the land”, whereas the second reference is to “this land”. If Yitzchak abides in the land, “which I [YHVH] shall tell you”, he will have a secure and sure dwelling. But even the usage of “gur”, does not diminish YHVH’s promises: “I will be with you and bless you; for to you and your descendants I give all these lands, and I will perform the oath which I swore to Abraham your father, and I will make your descendants multiply as the stars of heaven; I will give to your descendants all these lands; and in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed” (26:3-4). 

Immediately after this we are told tha Yitzchak and Rivka settled in Grar (notice the alliteration of “gur” and “Grar”, 26:1, which is probably intended), and when tested, by being asked about his wife, the Patriarch does not resort to truth. Like his father before him, fear for his life causes him to present his wife as his sister, and thus he fulfills the “living/sojourning as a fearful stranger in this land”, rather than the former option of “abiding… where YHVH shows him”. The root g.r.r (gimmel, resh, resh) means to swirl around, to stir up or drag down. Is it possible that in the Grar episode Itzchak got somewhat turned around or dragged down..? What finds Yitzchak out is his act of (literally) "laughing with his wife" (26:8), translated in English "caressing" (or some other equivalent expression). If nothing else, in this episode Yitzchak remains… at least… true to his name…

It is in this year of drought that Yitzchak, against all odds, is sowing seed. “Seed” is “zerah” (of the root z.r.a, zayin, resh, ayin, which is also shared by “arm” – “z’ro’ah”), with the yield being "one hundredfold" (26:12). Earlier (in 26:4) YHVH spoke to Yitzchak about his progeny (“zerah”), mentioning its future increase. Is the great harvest that Yitzchak reaps here (during the famine) symbolic of the future fulfillment of YHVH's word to the Patriarch, under all and any conditions?  

Yitzchak's wealth increases tremendously and his neighbors, the Philistines, are jealous of him (26:14) and thus Avimelech their king demands, "Go away from us, for you are much mightier than we" (v. 16). “You are much mightier” is “atzam’ta”, from the root (ayin, tazdi, mem). The usage and meaning of this term will prove to be very significant during the Egyptian exile (in Sh’mot – Exodus – chapter 1 it is found in verses 7,9 and 20), and will motivate Par’oh (Pharaoh) to try to annihilate Yisrael. 

In our case, Yitzchak’s jealous neighbors take recourse in filling up all the wells that have been dug by Avraham's servants (ref. 26:15, 18b). In doing this they are "withholding benefits from both themselves and their cattle! But in addition to stopping up the wells, they fill them with earth so as to obliterate their existence altogether and make sure that no water would ever flow out of them again. Why did they wish the land to be desolate?[1]  The explanation that follows, quoted from Haketav Vehakabala, points out that Yitzchak gave the wells the same names that his father had given them (as we see in v. 18). “These names, such as, YHVH Will See, YHVH is My Sign, The Well of Him that Lives and Sees Me, mark the kindness of the Lord."[2] This was done in order "to spread abroad the knowledge of the Lord and show the people that idols were valueless. Avraham thought out a wonderful device to help to bring those who were misled, under the wings of the Divine Presence. He called the well by a name that would drive home the lesson of the existence of the One True God. By this, he would arouse in them an awareness of the truth by saying, ‘Let us go and draw water from the well of the eternal God!’ The wells were a public necessity, and in this manner, the people were initiated into the knowledge of the true God. Whilst he was alive his fear was upon them [i.e. the locals], as they left the wells intact with their names, but after his death they reverted to idolatry. In order to erase from their memory the names of these wells, which recalled the very opposite of their false opinions, they stopped them up. With the disappearance of the wells, the names also disappeared…. Isaac followed in his father's footsteps and endeavored to dig out these same wells and resurrect their names in order to restore the crown of the true faith to its former glory."[3] 

The wording in 26:19, where Yitzchak's servants dig "a well of living water" (translated “running water”), confirms what we have just read regarding the wells of the Patriarchs. The locals fill up the wells, and now they are being re-named, as pointed out, in order to erase the testimony of the Elohim of Yisrael. The name of the first well is “Esek”, “contention” (v. 20). The name of the next, is “Sitna”, “hostility; accusation” (v. 21). It is from the same root, s.t.n (sin, tet, noon), that we get the word “Satan” -  the “accuser”. A closely connected word to “sitna” is “sin'ah” (s.n.a, sin, noon, alef) - “hatred”. This verb is used in Yitzchak’s query in 26:27: “Why do you hate me?” A similar word, both in sound and meaning appears toward the end of our Parasha. In 27:41 it says of Esav that he "bore a grudge against Ya'acov", which is “sotem” (s.t.m. sin/shin, tet, mem). The progressive rate of hostility is seen very clearly by this string of sounds: “soten”, to accuse, “sotem”, to bear a grudge, and “soneh”, to hate”, thus demonstrating accurately how each of these conditions, if left unchecked, will lead to the next one.

When a third well is dug up, some distance away, “they did not quarrel over it; so he named it Rechovot, for he said, 'at last YHVH has made room for us, and we will be fruitful in the land’” (26:22). “Rechovot” is of the root (resh, chet, vet), meaning, "broad, wide, or making room". Thus, enlarging and broadening the subsistence space brings relief, as we see in T’hilim (Psalms) 4:1, where David cries out: "Answer me when I call, O Elohim of my righteousness, You gave room [“hirchav’ta”] to me in trouble – literally in a place of narrowness” (italics added), words with which Yitzchk in his present situation would have certainly concurred.


[1] Studies in Bereshit, Toldot 1, Nechama Leibowitz, trans. Aryeh Newman.  Eliner Library, Department for Torah Education and Culture in the Diaspora. Hemed Books Inc., Brooklyn, N.Y

2 ibid

3 ibid




Thursday, November 12, 2020

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Cha’yey Sarah - B'resheet (Genesis) 23-25:18


Although the name of this week’s Parasha means “Sarah’s life”, it is actually her death and burial which are described in the opening verses. Verse 1 presents a rather curious rendering of Sarah’s length of years: “And the life of Sarah was a hundred years, and twenty years, and seven years, the years of the life of Sarah” (literal translation). It is as though the life of Sarah is being divided up into time periods, the first hundred years, then twenty and the last seven. Her place of death is also ‘overly’ specified: “Kiryat Arba, which is Chevron in the land of C’na’an”. It then tells us that, “Avraham came to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her”. Were Avraham and Sarah separated before that? In 22:19 it says that Avraham dwelt at Beer Sheva. Could it be that the couple separated? Some postulate that this indeed was the case, after Avraham’s attempt to sacrifice his son. But now, with Sarah’s departure, Avraham is seen looking to purchase a burial plot for his deceased wife and for his family. He has his eye set on a particular site in Kiryat Arba, opposite Mamre “which is Chevron” (23:19). Notice that both Kiryat Arba and Mamre are mentioned as names of Chevron. The “Oaks of Mamre” is where we met Avraham at the beginning of last week’s Parashat Va’yera. Earlier on, in 14:13, Mamre (and his oaks) is mentioned together with his two brothers who were the Amorite allies of Avram, as he was called then. Hence the Amorites/Canaanites named the place Mamre, whereas Arba was one of the giants (“anak”, e.g. Joshua 14:15). Avraham seeks out Efron (Ephron) the Hittite1, who is the owner of a cave called Machpela.

 Machpela” stems from the root k.f.l (kaf, fey/pey, lamed), which means “double”. In all likelihood the cave was made up of more than one chamber (thus making it especially suitable for burial purposes).2 Efron’s name, quite appropriately, is derived from the root “ah’far” (a.f.r. ayin, fey, resh) meaning “dust of the ground”. It is the same dust that is mentioned in B’resheet (Genesis) 3:19: “For dust you are and to dust you shall return” - famous words that were pronounced over Adam after he had succumbed to temptation. “Ah’far” is also the term YHVH uses when He makes His promises to the Patriarchs concerning the multiplicity of their seed (see Gen. 13:16; 28:14). Thus the combination of dust (in Efron’s name) and duplication (in the name of the burial cave) point to this very promise,?in?spite?of?the?themes?of?death?and?burial?and?in?their very presence.

Notice the response to Avraham’s description of himself as a “stranger and an alien” (23:4) by the sons of Het: “Your are a prince of Elohim among us” (v. 6). Avraham’s humility and lack of pretentiousness and presumptuousness is met by great respect (cf. Matthew 23:12) and by a truthful pronouncement regarding his position. Hebrews 12:9 confirms that even though a recipient of great promises, “he [Abraham] lived in the land of promise as a stranger”, the Hebrew word being “ger” of the root g.u.r (gimmel, vav, resh) which essentially means ‘fear’, speaking of the vulnerability of a stranger (more on this root will be elaborated in another Parasha down the road).   Avraham pays a “full” amount (v. 9) for his acquisition (in spite of the offer to the contrary, v. 6), as did his grandson Ya’acov when the latter purchased a field in the town of Sh’chem (Shechem, in Gen. 33:19), and likewise David, generations later, when he bought Ornan’s (Araunah) threshing floor in Yerushalayim (2nd Sam. 24:24, upon which the Temple was later built). Not coincidentally, Chevron, Sh’chem (where Joseph is buried), and the Temple Mount are some of the most contested sites in the land of Yisrael!

The narrative of Chapter 23 presents us with some challenges, as it is characterized by on going repetitions, with every point being reiterated. Here are some examples: In verse 6, “bury, burial, bury your dead”, are repeated over and over. In both verses 7 and 12 Avraham is said to be “bowing down to the people of the land”, with the addition of “the sons of Heth” in the first citing. The mention of the “sons of Heth” reoccurs so many times to the point of sounding superfluous. The transaction for the purchase of the cave and its field is mentioned in vs. 9, 13, 16, and 18, while verse 17 enumerates every article within the property. The question arises as to the purpose of all this repetitious information and details, which is capped by “… the cave of Machpelah, before Mamre, that is Hebron in the land of Canaan. So the field and the cave were deeded to Abraham by the sons of Heth as a property for a burial place” (vs. 19-20). The writer itemizes the conditions, the details, as well as the individuals involved, not leaving any room for doubt or mistake. All of this leads to the conclusion that B’resheet chapter 23 constitutes a legal document, a contract or a deed with all of its stipulations ensuring clarity regarding the ownership of the said property, while also citing the many witnesses who were present. Hence, contesting the rights to this land is in direct defiance of the Word of Elohim!  

The payment that Avraham made was in hard cash: 400 shekels of silver. The three consonants that form the root for “shekel”, sh.k.l (shin, kof, lamed) also form the verb “to weigh”. Thus, the price paid for the plot was made up of 400 equal units of approximately one half ounce each. All in all Avraham paid about 200 “weighted” ounces, or 12 pounds of silver. Soon, in 24:22, we will read about the “weight” (“mishkal”) of the golden nose rings and bracelets that were given to a young maiden in exchange for water.

But back to “Chevron”, a name that is made up of the root ch.v.r (chaf, vet/bet, resh), shared by the following: “to tie, bind, join, unite, friend, and company”. Although in the course of its long history this town has not seen much unity and friendship (it served as David's capital during his seven-year rule over the house of Yehuda-Judah, before he united all of Yisrael, and is currently divided between a hostile Muslim population and a small Jewish presence), its name may point to conditions which will prevail in?days?to?come. In addition to these positive meanings, ch.v.r. also acts as the root for “chavura” – wounding, injury, bruises - such as we read in Yisha’yahu (Isaiah) 53:5, regarding that which was to be inflicted upon the Messiah. Only by these “bruises” can the breaches of Chevron be healed, making it a symbol of “friendship and unity”.

Chapter 24 highlights Avraham’s senior servant, who “ruled over all his possessions” (v. 2). The servant is described as a “moshel” (one of the words for “ruler”). “Moshel” shares its root (, mem, shin, lamed) with “proverb, parable, example, to be like, resemble and comparable”. In Tehilim (Psalms) 28:1 the writer cries: “I have become like – “nimshalti” - those who go down to the pit”. The parable in Yechez’kel (Ezekiel) 12:22 is called a “mashal”. In Shmuel Alef (1st Samuel) 10:12 Shaul (Saul) is made a public example of (as a prophet), with the use of “mashal”. The people of Yisrael likewise became a none-too-positive example among the nations, or an object lesson such as described in Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) 24:9 where they are called: “a reproach and a proverb… in all places where I shall drive them” (italics added). There are many more examples of the usage of the verb and noun emanating from, but how is this connected

The servant, as a representative of Avraham, was to carry out the duties that were delegated to him. As such, we see him striving to serve by approaching his assignments in the same manner as his master would have done. This, therefore, is the format for the conduct of a true Godly ruler, or leader, who takes his orders from above, endeavoring to carry them out like his Master, thus becoming a representative ‘sample’, a “mashal” or a likeness of the One whom he follows. The Elohim of Yisrael said: “he who rules over (“moshel”) men, by ruling (“moshel”) in the fear of YHVH, will shine as the light of the sun in the morning….” (2nd Sam. 23:3, 4). One such ruler was Yoseph, whose trials and tests were the purifying work of “the Word of YHVH”. Once he was “conformed” to this Word, he was appointed a “ruler [moshel] over all of the king’s possessions” (Ps. 105:18-21). “What is man…” in the eyes of his Creator? Tehilim (Psalms) 8:6 says, “You have made him to rule”, being the verb “tam’shile’hu”, which may be read also as, “you have made him like…”, or, “you have made of him a proverbial example”. These examples point to a representational form of rule, or leadership. Avraham's servant certainly displayed this characteristic of conforming to his master, so much so that his master’s Elohim became his! Yeshua’s words attest to the fact that he too operated by this principle: “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does” (John 5:19). He therefore declared: “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).

Avraham’s representative or delegate is instructed to perform a mission, but is not told how to carry it out. He chooses to present a 'fleece' to "YHVH, the Elohim of my master Avraham" (24:12). The fleece and its fulfillment have to do with water, or the means of obtaining that commodity. Hence we find here “well” (v. 11), “spring” (or source, v.13), and “trough” (v. 20). The first two are “be'er” and “ayin”, and the last one is “shoket” (from the verb “le'ha'shkot” - "to give a drink"). “Ayin” is also the word used for “eye”. Although ‘officially’ no direct link has been established between “spring” (or “source”) and “eye”, Yeshua refers to the latter as a type of a source when He says in Matthew 6:22: “The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light”. The root of “be'er” (“well”) is identical to the root “ba'er” (b.a.r, bet, alef, resh), which means to “expound or clarify”, as it appears in Dvarim (Deuteronomy) 1:5, 27:8 and in Chavakook (Habakkuk) 2:2 (where "make it plain" should read "clarify" or "expound"). And thus it is the episode by the well which makes the results of his mission clear to the inquiring servant, as he is "gazing at her [the girl] in silence [and wondering]… whether YHVH had made his journey successful or not” (24:1 italics?added).?But?he?did?not?need to?wonder?for long

"Success" is “hatzlacha”, from the root (tzadi, lamed, chet), which is also “to prosper" and is used a number of times in this Parasha. The primary root means to “advance, or cross" (such as in 2nd Sam. 19:17), and by extension also the “coming of the Spirit” (see Judges 14:6). Whenever its meaning is "success", the verb appears in the active causative form rendering it: “to cause to advance". The verb and noun teach us, therefore, that prosperity and success may be obtained only with the help of an ‘external force’, just as is exemplified here by the servant who is completely dependent on YHVH to “cause him to advance”. The servant's awareness of this fact is also expressed by his prayer in 24:12: "O YHVH Elohim of my master Abraham, please give me success this day, and show kindness to my master Abraham". In this instance the root for "success" does not show up at all. The literal wording here for "give me success" is, "to bring about" - “hakreh” - literally, “cause to happen”. “Happening, occurrence, incident” are “mikreh”.  Avraham’s servant, however, being cognizant of the fact that the Elohim of his master is in control of life’s supposed random happenstances, relies on Him to put together the ‘natural’ circumstances in such a way, so as to make clear His

The chain of the desired events that were brought about, starts with the appearance of a young maiden named Rivka (Rebecca, 24:15). Her rather curious name originates from the root letters r. v/b. k. (resh, vet/bet, kof), which are also the root letters of “marbek”, that is, “stall”, itself stemming from an Aramaic word meaning "to crouch”. “Marbek” is always used in connection with fatted calves (ref. 1st Sam. 28:24; Jer. 46:21; Amos 6:4; Mal. 4:2). Rivka's name points without question to the importance her family attached to their possessions. By naming her 
thus, they were also expressing hopes regarding their live?stock.

Later on, upon her departure to the land of C’na’an, Rivka's family blesses her saying "...Our sister, you will become [multiply into] thousands of ten thousands and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies" (Gen. 24:60). This blessing is being uttered by Rivka’s family members without being aware that a similar blessing, about the seed possessing the gate of those who hate them, was also pronounced by YHVH's angel over Avraham, when the latter was obedient to the call to offer up Yitzchak (Gen. 22:17). It is quite likely that Avraham’s servant was informed about this blessing. Now, hearing it again in these present circumstances, the "success" of his mission was being

Gate” is “sha'ar” in Hebrew (sh.a.r, shin, ayin, resh). Because much of the administration, jurisprudence, and business took place by the city gate, he who possessed the gate also had charge over the entire city (or area). The “gate of the enemy" denotes, therefore, the enemy's area of control and dominion. Earlier on in our Parasha, “gate” has been referred to in Avraham’s business transaction:  “And Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham in the ears of the sons of Heth, of all that went in at the gate of his city, saying…  ‘The field of Ephron was certified… to Abraham for a possession in the presence of the sons of Heth, before all that went in at the gate of his city’” (23:10, 18, italics added,
cf. Ruth 4:1-11). These transactions by the "gate" have lent that word yet other meanings: "measure, calculate", or "recon," as we shall see in next week's Parasha (Gen. 26:12), where the term used is "one hundred times/fold over”, and in Hebrew, “she’arim” (“gates” plural).    

In addition to the themes of dominion and power in Rivka’s blessing, mention is made of "tens of thousands" - “alfey revava” (24:60). “Revava” is “ten thousand”, whereas “a thousand” is “elef”. “Elef” (a.l.f - alef, lamed, fey), which with a slight modification is the name of the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, “alef”, lending it a place of prominence, and by implication pointing also to great numerical value. “Aluf” is "chief", but at times also means “a companion”. A large group of (proverbial) "companions" makes up the number one thousand - “elef”, whereas “revava” (ten thousands) stems from the very common root of r.v/b. (resh, vet/bet) meaning "much, great and chief". In the next Parasha we will meet "the greater [who will serve] the younger", which will also be designated by the term “rav”?(25:23).                                  

The Parasha ends in the same way it had begun: burials are the order of the day. First Avraham dies "in a ripe old age, an old man satisfied…” (25:8). "Ripe" or “full” here is “saveh'ah”, which also means "satisfied" (of the root s.v.a, or sh.v.a), a word we examined last week when we looked at the figure “seven” and “oath” (notice the last period in Sarah’s life, in 23:1, is seven – “sheva”). And just as was mentioned about Sarah, her husband’s life span is also divided up into “a hundred years, and seventy years, and five years” (v. 7). Avraham too is buried in the Cave of Machpela (v. 9). Finally, the last verses of the Parasha deal with the death of Yishma'el (v.17),?whose?burial?place/is?not?mentioned.                  

Multiplicity in various forms, leadership, prosperity, dominion and greatness are some of the terms we encountered in this Parasha, whose main narrative is ‘sandwiched’ in between deaths and burials. These deaths, however, highlight all the more the blessings granted to the progeny left behind, accentuating the abundance of life for which this progeny was destined.


                1 The Amorites and Hittites are both descendants of Canaan the son of Ham (see                  Gen. 10:15, 16)

               *Confirmed by archaeological evidence

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Va’yera B’resheet (Genesis) 18 - 22


Va’yera,” which is translated "he appeared," actually means "and he showed himself," and even more literally: “and he caused himself to be seen”.  “Yera” stems from the root r.a.h. (resh, alef, hey), meaning to "see".  Some of its other derivatives are: "seen, to show, to be seen, and sight". Certainly, "seeing" plays a major role in this Parasha.  Yes, YHVH does show Himself to Avraham – but it was up to the latter to do the seeing.  The opening statement in 18:1-2 reads thus: “YHVH appeared to him… and he lifted up his eyes and saw… three men!" This peculiar wording indicates that while looking, Avraham had to see beyond what met his eye. But before we continue, let us note that last week’s Parashat Lech Lecha also had its share of “seeing”, such as in 12:7, where it is ‘seen’ twice (as “appreared”), similar to the way it is used in our Parasha. Then there was the concern of the beautiful Sarai being “seen” by the Egyptians (12:12, 14). In 13:10 Lot “lifts up his eyes” and sees the expanse of land which appeals to him. However, Avram’s magnanimity pays off, as in 13:14ff YHVH promised to give him all the land which his sight captures (and that includes Lot’s territory). Chapter 15 opens up with Avram’s vision, and then with “seeing” the stars that were symbolic of his future progeny. Later, Hagar, who was carrying Avram’s child, “saw that she had conceived, and her mistress became despised in her eyes” (16:4). As a result of the conflict between the two women Hagar fled with her child. There, in the wilderness, she was met by an angel at a spring of water (“spring” is “ayin” in Hebrew, meaning also “eye”), “then she called the name of YHVH… You-Are-the-El-Who-Sees –Me - El Ro’i – for she said, ‘Have I also here seen Him who sees me?’” (16:13). Even the well that was there, was to commemorate this “seeing”, by being named (by Hagar) the well of the Living-One-Who-Sees-Me (Be’er La’Hai Ro’i). This, then, forms the backdrop of all the “seeing” that will be mentioned in our Parasha of Va’yera.


The principle promulgated by Yeshua in Matthew 25:40, namely, "inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me", is apparent throughout chapter 18.  Avraham (as he is called now) appears to be keenly aware of the fact that by entertaining strangers, one could unknowingly (or knowingly), be entertaining (at the very least), angels… (ref. Hebrew 13:2).  The strangers passing by, whether one of them is or is not YHVH Himself, are greeted by their host, in word and deed, with great respect and homage not unbefitting royalty. 


The passage at hand (in chapter 18) contains significant interplays between singular and plural* as in verse 3 Avraham addresses the three men who had just appeared to him as "Adonai" (“my Lords”) saying: “…If now I have found favor in your [single person] sight, pass not away from your [single person again] servant". Verses 4 and 5, however, employ the second person plural. But in verse 10, where the promise of the son who is to be born to Sarah within the year is pronounced, there is a switch to singular again (“and he said I will return”, italics added). It is YHVH who is actually mentioned in verses 13 and 14, as the One addressing Avraham (relating to Sarah’s response), while in v. 16 the “men rise up” and get ready to leave. Starting with verse 17 the scene changes altogether.  In the passage which commences here (describing Avraham's intercession on behalf of the cities of Sdom and Amora – Gomorrah - vs. 23-32), YHVH, and the men who until now seemed to represent Him, are referred to as totally separate entities: “And the men turned their faces away from there, and went toward Sodom. But Abraham still stood before YHVH” (v. 22). The blurred distinction (in regards to YHVH) within the three-person party leaves us baffled as to ‘who is who’ here, and raises the question whether there is a hidden message in this unusual and enigmatic text formulation. Later on, when Lot and the members of his family are being led out of Sdom by the messengers-visitors, there is a similar lack of distinction between YHVH and His ‘agents’ (ref. 19:16-21 with another interchange between singular and plural).* Thus, although this Parasha is characterized by ‘seeing’, the reader’s vision is often quite impaired (or challenged).


Back to chapter 18, where Avraham’s guests stand and view Sdom from a distance, while the Elohim who "showed Himself" to Avraham determines (v. 17) to (literally) not "cover" His plans from His servant, and to inform him what He was about to do (to Sdom and Amora).  YHVH then declares that He Himself aims to "come down and see if they had done according to the outcry that had come" to Him (18:21 italics added).  In this instance, the "seeing" is a symbolic "inspection" or a declaration of intent that will obviously be followed by action on YHVH’s part.  This “outcry” is echoed in 19:13, which says: “… we will destroy this place, because the outcry against them has grown great…”


Following Avraham's bargaining scene with YHVH, we meet his nephew Lot as he is sitting in the evening by the gate of Sdom (whereas his uncle had been sitting at the door of his tent in the heat of day).  Now it is his turn to "see" (19:1).  Lot greets the two messengers (quite likely of the same “threesome” who had visited his uncle) by rising up and bowing down, just as his relative had done.  He too offers to have his guests' feet washed, and is anxious to supply them with refreshments.  As it is evening time, Lot also offers them a place for the night, which they are very reluctant to accept (or are they simply testing him?), and do so only after much imploring on the part of their host.  The meal served by Avraham under the tree was far more peaceful than the feast at Lot's house in the city of Sdom (notice that up until now each reference to “city” has been connected to wickedness, Kayin built a city, ref. 4:17; Nimrod was a city builder, ref. 10:11-12, the tower of Babel builders intended to build a city, ref. 11:4).  Before Lot’s guests are about to retire, the town's evil men surround the house (ref. 19:4, 5). The messengers, however, quickly and supernaturally blind the eyes of the would-be-assailants (ref.  19:11). Next, Lot tries to talk his family into leaving town, but his sons-in-law perceive it to be a joke ("laughing" is the word in Hebrew in verse 14). This laughter, however, is only short lived, as in verse 25 YHVH overthrows the two cities and in verse 28 Avraham is mentioned watching (literally “seeing” - “vayar” - of the  root r.a.h) “the smoke of the country”. Aside from seeing, “looking” is also mentioned. In verse 17 YHVH warns Lot and his family not to “look behind” them, at the destruction that He was about to inflict. However, Lot’s wife disobedience led to her demise – she turned into a pillar of salt (v. 26).


Laughter was also part of the above-mentioned scene with Avraham and his guests.  The three visitors came in order to reaffirm, once again, the promise of a son. Sarah, who overheard this conversation, laughed in her tent and later denied it (18:12-15).  What’s more, this is not the last time that she is seen laughing.  After giving birth, exactly within the year as YHVH had declared, Sarah says, "Elohim has made me laugh, and everyone who hears of it will laugh at me" (21:6 italics added).  And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian… mocking” (the word is again “laughing,” v. 9, italics added). "Seeing" this “laughter” results in the banishment of Hagar and her son Yishmael (Ishmael).  The banished handmaiden wanders in the wilderness by Beer Sheva, and when her drinking water is used up she places her son under a shrub and exclaims: “Let me not see the death of the boy.  And she … lifted up her voice and cried" (v.16 italics added). “And Elohim opened her eyes and she saw a well of water; and she went and filled the bottle with water, and gave drink to the boy” (v. 19 italics added).


Hagar's eyes are opened in the wilderness of Beer Sheva. The episode that follows (21:22 – 32) expounds on the meaning of that town’s name.  Beer Sheva is literally "the well of seven".  The words “adjure, charge, and oath” share the same root (sh.v.a, shin, bet/vet, ayin). “Satisfaction, or to have had enough” (especially regarding food), is “sovah”, being of the same root (although the letter “shin”, the “sh” sound, is modified to a “sin” - “s” sound).  The usage of the number seven is often indicative of “fullness” and “completeness”, and as such it is also a solemn promise, or an oath that can be guaranteed simply by repeating it seven times (or by using multiplications of seven).  The connection between these two words ("seven" and "oath") is well illustrated here in our story, namely in Avraham and Avimelech's settlement.  Avraham places seven (“sheva”) ewe lambs in front of Avimlelech, as a witness to the fact that he had dug the well that was now under dispute.  Following this action "he called that place Beer Sheva, because there the two of them took an oath (sh'vu'ah, v. 31)".  In Matthew 18:21, we see Peter proclaiming that the act of forgiving up to seven times is sufficient.  Yeshua, of course, goes beyond that but He too stays within the ‘realm of seven’ saying, "up to seventy times seven” (v. 22).  Truly, “…The words of YHVH are pure words; as silver… refined seventy times" (Ps.  12:6). The figure ‘seventy’ tells us that His words promise to guarantee full satisfaction.  "…On the day when YHVH binds up the fracture of His people and heals the bruise He has inflicted… the light of the sun will be seven times brighter, like the light of seven days" (Is. 30:26).  Again, the guarantee of fullness in the form of "sevens" renders it like an oath.  The sunrise and sunset dictate the formation of any given day, just as the sun and the moon control the length of the months and seasons of the Biblical year.  The seven-day week, however, seems to be quite arbitrary - but is it?  Elohim chose to create the world in six days and then to add one more at the end, which He set apart for rest, remembrance, and declaration.  The sanctification of the seventh day, the commemoration of the number "seven" (in naming the “week” “shavu’a”), the fullness and completeness of what Elohim has accomplished, and its guaranteed fulfillment are all innately expressed in the Hebrew language by the root sh/s.v.a: "In Your presence there is fullness ("sova") of joy; I will be satisfied (“es'be'ah”) with Your likeness when I awake" (Ps. 16:11 & 17:15). To seal off the episode of Avraham’s test, YHVH declares: "By Myself I have sworn – nish’ba’ti - ’ says YHVH, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only one, blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your seed…” (22:16-17 italics added)    


This blessing is the culmination of Avraham’s test, known as the "binding of Yitzchak (Isaac)", or “Akedat Yitzchak”.  After a three-day journey, set off by the words “lech le’cha”, with Yitzchak and two of his servants “…Avraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar…” (22:4 italics added).  Responding to his son's question, as to the whereabouts of the lamb for the sacrifice, Avraham says, "Elohim will see for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son" (v. 8 literal translation, italics added).  YHVH does indeed "see" (translated as “provide”) a substitute for Yitzchak in the form of a ram…  "And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and behold, a ram was caught in the thicket by his horns.  And Abraham called the name of the place ‘YHVH Yir'eh - will see’ - as it is said to this day - 'it shall be seen on the mountain of YHVH'" (v.13-14 emphasis added). Very fast forward, in fact millennia later, the following (some more about seeing AND about a lamb) is inscribed in Scripture: “The next day Yochanan saw Yeshua coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold! The Lamb of Elohim who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).       


In the opening verses of our Parasha we saw Avraham “seeing” YHVH by using his 'inner eyes' and discernment, even when looking upon three men.  YHVH is also seen as the One who reveals His "secret to His servants the prophets" (Amos 3:7) prior to judging Sdom and Amora, though not before doing His own "seeing" of the state of affairs there (ref. 18:21). Further, His messengers' aura of light impairs the vision of the spiritually blind.  Avimelech sees YHVH in a dream which prevents him from sinning with Sarah (ref. 20:3, 4).  What the latter “sees” (ref. 21:9) causes her to send Hagar and Yishmael away, but their needs are “seen to” by YHVH in the wilderness (ref. 21:014-19).  Finally, YHVH is the One who “sees” (present tense) for Himself the sacrificial Lamb provided by Him for all time (ref. 22:8, 14). And so, as it is in the beginning so it is at the end of the Parasha - YHVH reveals Himself.  More on Avraham’s, this time long range vision, is found in the words of Yeshua who declared to the Pharisees: “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad" (John 8:56). Quite likely this is connected to Avraham’s statement regarding the future “lamb for the sacrifice”.


Earlier we noticed that Avraham was sitting at the tent door “in the heat of the day” (18:1) denoting daylight, while Lot was sitting at the gate of the city of Sdom “in the evening” (19:1), denoting darkness (cf. John 3:19, 8:12, 12:35, 46; Romans 13:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:5,7). But in the Parasha as a whole, it is the expression “early in the morning” that keeps reoccurring. In three out of four times it relates to Avraham (19:27; 21:14; 22:3), and one time to Avimelech (20:8). “And he rose early” is rendered each time, “va’yashkem” of the root (shin, kaf/chaf, mem) which is also applied to the word “shoulder”. This is illustrated very graphically in 21:14: “And Abraham rose up early  - “va-yashkem” - in the morning, and took bread and a bottle of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder -”shichma” -  (italics added). The connection of those two terms is thought to be imbedded in the very reason for rising early, which is to put one’s shoulders to work. However, the two examples (out of the three) of Avraham’s early rising and setting to do as he is told (“Whatever Sarah has said to you, listen to her voice” – 21:12, and “… so Abraham… took… Isaac his son… then they came to a place that Elohim had told him, 22:3, 9), have a common theme. In each of those Avraham is told to give up his son, his firstborn. But whereas in the first instance, which appears to be a rehearsal for the second, he reacts (21:11), when the second episode comes round he obeys implicitly (see 22:12b). Interestingly, Avraham, whose original call was “lech lecha” (12:1), words with which he complied without as much as blinking an eyelid, was once again addressed by these very words (as we noted last week) when he was told by YVHVH to go to Mount Moriah and there offer up his son (ref. 22:2)  


In 19:37 and 38 we learn of the origin of the Moabites and the Amonites. The fact that they are the product of an incestuous relationship is expressed by the name of the older of the two: Mo’av” stems from “m’av”, meaning “from a father”, as the boy had been begotten by his mother’s father (his own grandfather). The second boy’s mother names him “Ben Ami” (Ammon), meaning “son of my people”, which is also a reference to the close family tie. Lot’s daughters’ conduct is not surprising, as earlier on, when the men of Sdom demanded that he hand over his guests to them, their father attempted to offer these two daughters in place of the visitors (ref. 19:4-8). If Ham, and especially his son, Kna’an, were cursed for revealing the father’s nakedness (Gen. 9:24, 25), the same, and more, would be applicable to Lot’s descendents, Moav and Amon.


*In all these cases this is much more pronounced in the Hebrew original than in the translations, one reason being that in English there is no distinction between you singular and plural, which there is in Hebrew.


Thursday, October 29, 2020

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Lech Lecha – B’resheet (Genesis) 12 – 17

 Avram, whom we met at the end of last week's Parasha, is singled out now from the rest of his kin and community. He is commanded to go forth and leave behind him his native country, heritage, culture, and above all his relatives (12:1, cf. Ruth 2:11). The expression "lech   [“go”] lecha" (“for yourself") can best be rendered in English as the emphatic: "go forth" or even better, the colloquial "get yourself going!” The alliteration makes it especially forceful and commanding as those two words, in spite of a vowel difference, are spelt identically. The would-be patriarch will hear another “lech lecha” when, in the future, YHVH will charge him to, “take now your son, your only one,  Isaac, whom you love, and lech lecha to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you" (22:2). His obedient response to the first “lech lecha”, with its ensuing results, will enable Avraham (as he will be named) to respond similarly when the familiar voice will call him again.  At the time when “the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. The fig tree puts forth her green figs, and the vines with the tender grapes give a good smell”, it is then that the Bridegroom says to the Bride: “Rise up, my love, my fair one, and lechi – feminine for “lech” - lach – feminine for lecha – ‘go forth for yourself’” (Song of Solomon 2:11-13, 10). Total and implicit faith and trust, as well as obedient abandonment appear to be the path leading to the season of fruitfulness and?serenity?(although?not?without?tests),?as?described?inShir?HaShirim?(Song?of?Songs?Songs/Solomon). Toward the end of?the?Parasha Abraham is told “Walk before me and be perfect/blameless”(17:1). The one who was able to fulfill the first call, of “walking”, and the second one, which was an even greater challenge, is now called upon to a “journey of the heart”. 

Avram is promised many descendants and a great blessing that will also be extended to those who will bless his progeny. In fact, his seed is destined to be a blessing to "all the families of the earth" (12:3). “Family” is “mishpacha”, of the root (shin, pey/fey, chet), which is also the root for a word found in 16:1 of our Parasha, “shifcha” – “handmaiden” (in reference to Hagar). The root means to “join a family”, implying that one’s servants (in this case the female servant) were to be treated and looked upon as an extension of one’s kin. 

Blessing”, which is "bracha", appears five times in 12:2, 3 in several forms. The consonants (bet, resh, kaf) also make up the root for “knee” ("berech"). Bowing the knee is always associated with humility ("to Me every knee shall bow…" Is. 45:23). Thus, experiencing a blessing humbles its recipient, stirring him to bend or bow the knee in gracious thankfulness. However, he who “curses you, I will curse”. The first “curse” is “m’kalelecha”, k.l.l. pertaining to “weightless, light”, and hence of ‘light esteem’ (as we noted last week in Parashat Noach). In our Parasha k.l.l is mentioned a number of times in relationship to Hagar’s attitude toward Sarai. In 16:4 and 5 “despise/d” is “to lightly esteem”. The second reference to “curse” (v. 3 above) – a’or – of the root a.r.r (alef, resh, resh) first appeared in B’resheet 3:14 and 17, in reference to the curse upon the serpent who was to crawl on its belly and eat the soil, and then to the curse upon the ground, whose fruitfulness was to be obtained with great toil. Could these earlier pronouncements (in the”Garden) portray?the?conditions?which?will?apply/to?those?who would?esteem?lightly[the?nation/people?(“goy”)?that?wasto?come?out>of>Avram’s>loins?  

After these promises of blessings and of a nation, in 12:7, the promise of land is given. Upon hearing this word, Avram builds an altar and moves on, only to erect another one in the next location. In the following two verses (8,9) mention is made of three of the four directions of the wind: “east, west, and south”. In Biblical Hebrew there are several words for each of these, with the ones used here being "kedem", "yam", and "negev", while in 13:14 mention is made of all of those with the addition?of?“north,”?which?is?"tzafon". 

The root for east - “kedem” - is k.d.m (kof, dalet, mem), with its primal meaning being "before" or "in front of". Thus, its derivatives are to “greet” or “meet" (Deut. 23:4; Mic. 6:6), "early” and "first". Words such as "old" and "ancient" also stem from "kedem", as we see in Micah 5:2 in reference to Messiah’s origins (another example being the “everlasting hills” promised to Yoseph in Deut. 33:15, as well as the term "kadmoni" – “ancient” - in 1st Sam. 24:13). The root k.d.m therefore reveals an interesting approach to the dimensions of time and space. That which is "in front" is also that which is "early", from “antiquity” and of the “past”. Thus, “kedem” - the “eastern” - denotes what is “ahead” and at the same time that which was. Kohelet (Ecclesiastics) 1:9 says: “That which has been is that which shall be”, a fact that is certainly true of our Elohim, “who is, and who was, and who is coming” (Rev. 11:17), “declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times [kedem] things that are not yet done” (Isaiah 46:10).  "Kadim" is the east wind which many times spells blight and dryness (e.g. Job 27:21; Ps. 48:7), while the prophet Y’chezkel (Ezekiel) saw the glory of the Elohim of Yisrael coming from the same direction ("kadim", i.e. the “east”, in 43:1,2). One of the best known usages of "kedem" is found in B'resheet (Genesis) 3:24, referring to the place where Elohim expelled our renegade ancestors: "east of Eden". Finally, in 15:19, “Kadmonites” are mentioned, as part of a people group, which may just be a generic term for people from the “east”. 

West” here is "yam". Yam means “sea” and since the "Great Sea" (the Mediterranean) shore runs the entire length of Israel's western side, it has become?synonymous?with/that?direction. 

Negev” is the word here for “south”, and is used to denote wilderness and dryness, yet in Y’chezkel 20:47 reference is made to the “forest land of the negev". It is the very same prophecy that speaks of the fires that would consume every tree there (as indeed they have),  fires (of judgment) that brought about that region’s dryness, bareness, and desolation. 

The last direction is "north" - “tzafon” - the root of which is tz.f.n (tzadi, pe/fe, noon), and means to “conceal or hide". The same word is used when Moshe (Moses) was put out of sight for the first three months of his life (Ex. 2:2). In T’hilim/Psalms 27:5 we read about being hidden by YHVH in His succah (booth), and in 83:3 about YHVH’s “hidden ones”. The north also conceals evil, and it is from there that "evil will break forth", according to Y’rmiyahu’s (Jeremiah) prophecy (1: 4). The proud king of Babylon declares his position to be "on the mount of the assembly in the far north" (Is. 14:13), words that are countered by the Elohim of Yisrael in T’hilim 48:1,2, proclaiming that His holy mountain, Mount Tziyon (Zion), is in the far north. 

After receiving the promise of a land extending in every direction, and a seed so numerous (rendering it) too great to count (13:14-16), Avram builds another altar, this time in Alonei Mamreh, which is Chevron (Hebron). It is from that location that he set forth to rescue his nephew Lot. It is here (14:13) that we first encounter the term "Hebrew" - "ivri" - attached to Avram's name, after his ancestor Ever whom we mentioned last week. Indeed, Avram is now entitled to this ‘label’ as he ‘crossed over’, both physically and spiritually. When he returns, after having accomplished his mission successfully, he is greeted by the king of S’dom (Sodom) in the Valley of Shaveh (14:17). “Shaveh” is “equality, agreement, or resemblance”, and in this case probably an “even plain”. “I have set YHVH always before me” (Ps. 16:8), reads in Hebrew: “I have envisioned [or imagined] – shiviti -YHVH before me… "  "Shiviti" indicates seeing Him at one’s own eye level (as He is near to those who call upon Him). The valley of “shaveh” is also called here the “King’s Valley” (singular) and is apparently the place where Avram meets another king. His encounter with the king of S’dom, in this 'valley or plain of evenness', is being interrupted by the appearance (at ‘eye level’) of another monarch?(14:18),?Malchitzedek?king?of?Shalem?(Salem). 

The root of “shalem” (sh.l.m - shin, lamed, mem), is “perfection, wholeness, completeness, and requital”. This king, whose name means "king of righteousness", is also a priest of the Most High Elohim (“El Elyon”). Thus, in his persona are met the two offices of king and priest (ref. Zec. 6:13). In his blessing to Avram, whom he serves with bread and wine, Malchitzedek invokes “El Elyon” (“Most High God”), calling Him "possessor of heaven and earth" (14:19). "Possessor" here is "koneh", meaning "buyer" or “purchaser”, thus connoting redeemer (of heaven and earth). (Remember Chava exclaiming: "I have purchased/acquired a man from YHVH", which we examined in Parashat B’resheet?). Malchitzedek gives thanks once again to "El Elyon", who has "delivered Avram's enemies into his hand" (ref. 14:20), using “migen” for "delivered", which stems from the root  g.n.n. (gimmel, noon, noon) meaning "shield or protection", and also used for?“gan”–“garden”-such?as?in?Gan?Eden?(YHVH’s?protected?area?of?delight). 

Avram gives his newly-met acquaintance "a tenth (‘ma'aser’) of all", an act which concludes this encounter (14:20). At this point, the text recaptures Avram's tryst with the king of S’dom, but the language of the next few verses seems to be colored by what had just taken place in the encounter with the king of Shalem. Upon being offered the spoils of the war, Avram answers the king of S’dom by mentioning the name of YHVH, repeating the expression "El Elyon - Most High God - the purchaser of heaven and earth" (v. 22). He then refuses the king’s offer, on the grounds that it should not be said that he had been made rich by the latter (ref. v. 23). The word for "rich" is "ashir", of the same root as "eser"- "ten" (the consonant for "sh" and "s" being one and the same, differentiated by a slight vowel change when used as an “s” or a “sh”), from which we get the “tenth part” or the “tithe?(ma’aser)?that?Avramhadjust?given?to Malchitzedek.

As this scene with the king of S’dom fades, another one comes into view – the description of a vision in which YHVH speaks to Avram: "Fear not Avram, I am your shield…" (15:1). The word used here for "shield" is "mah’gen", a variation of which we saw in Malchizedek's blessing?of/Avram?a few verses above.  Thus,?the?echo?of?that?dramatic?meeting?continues>to>aaccompany>the?events>that?follow?it. 

When Avram wonders what it is that “Adonai YHVH”, who promised him a great reward, will give him "seeing that [he is] childless…" (15:2), he is granted a promise of a son. Once again he is told that his progeny will be numerous. It says, literally, that Avram "believed in YHVH" (v. 6). The root of "believe" is a.m.n (alfe, mem, noon) from which we get the term "amen". It is also the root word for “trust, steady, faithful”, and nurse” (Num. 11:12), “guardian” (2 Kings 10:1), and for “bringing up and training” (Esther 2:7). Proverbs/Mishley 8 cites the call of Wisdom-personified. In verses 29-30 Wisdom says, "When He marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was the craftsman at His side…" The word here for "craftsman" is "amon", once again, stemming from the root a.m.n. Faith, therefore, is the act of believing which involves 1) training, and 2) action - in other words, practice. Putting convictions into practice is guaranteed many a time by a covenant. Thus, in Ne’chem’ya (Nehemiah) 9:38 we see the people making “a sure covenant”, which in that particular text depicts the root a.m.n again and is therefore termed “amana”. Based on this understanding, the Apostle Ya'acov (James) writes: "Do not merely listen to the Word and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says… faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by?action,?is?dead"?(1:22;?2:17). 

Avram experiences an awe-inspiring vision (see 15:12-17), in which the covenant is confirmed. In Hebrew the experience and the covenant are called “habrit ben habtarim” - "the covenant between the cut up pieces”. The infinitive of “cut up” - "ba'ter" - also means to “dissect or “dismember” (15:10). In 15:17 those pieces are called "gzarim", from the verb “gazor", meaning, once again, "cut up". Verse 18 says, "On that day YHVH cut [literally] a covenant with Avram…" This time the word for "cut" is "ka’rot" (which is also used frequently for cutting down trees). These powerful verbs point to the irrevocability and certainty of this covenant. It is no wonder that the very sign of the covenant itself involves a cutting - a removal of the foreskin - which is recorded in 17:10-14, after Yishamel's birth and Avram's name change, augmented by the words: “The uncircumcised male whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off [stemming from “ka’rot”] from his people…” (17:14 italics added). But there is more  to the “cutting” – the very word “covenant” – brit – originates with b.r.t (bet, resh, tav) with its meaning being… to cut or fell. 

Yishmael’s birth came as a result of Sarah resorting to a common practice of surrogate parenthood (such as was also done by Rachel and Leah who gave their maids to their husband in Gen. 30:3-5,9-13, and Joseph, who had his grandson’s wife give birth “on his knees”, as it were. See Gen. 50:23, for the purpose of making his great grand-children his own). This is how Sarah approached her husband“’See now, YHVH has restrained me from bearing children. Please, go in to my maid; perhaps I shall obtain children by her’. And Abram heeded the voice of Sarai” (16:2). The literal rendition of obtain children by her” is “I will be builte’ba’neh’ – by/through her”.  Above we examined the word “mishpacha” – family. “Family” may be likened to a building, which grows tier by tier, floor by floor. No wonder the apostles referred to the body of believers as to a building, and used the imagery of stones to describe it (see 1 Cor. 3:9; 2 Cor. 5:1; Eph. 2:21; 1 Pet. 2:5). Sarai too had the same idea in mind when she said, “I will be built by her [Hagar the maid]”. In the root word  b.n.a (bet, noon, hey), “build”, is hidden, not surprisingly, the word “ben” – son.  Thus, when Sarah was expecting the maid to help her out, she was thinking of “being built up by having a son”. However, the matriarch soon discovered that Hagar was not about to merely “lend” her womb. She had other notions. When Sarai discerned Hagar’s ambitions, she was?forced?to?send?her?away?(see?21:9ff). 

In 17:4,5 Elohim declares that He is changing Av’ram’s name from “exalted father  to Avra'ham, because he is to become “a father to multitudes” of nations. Technically, this name change involves adding only the letter - "hey" - (comparable to "h"), which stands for the word "hamon", meaning “a multitude”. Hamon is of the root verb "hama", which is “boisterous, noisy, or roaring”. Thus the promised multitude was to become a teeming one, and rather loud at that! This "hamon" was to be made up of nations or peoples (“goyim”). The addition of the letter “hey” could also be in reference to its two appearances in YHVH’s name, or in its shortened form “Yah”. Interestingly, all the lofty promises to Avraham, along with the institution of circumcision, are couched in very brief but concise terms. Our text, therefore, provides a good example of the compactness and conciseness that?are?so?characteristic?of?Biblical?Hebrew. 

Sarai's destiny also changes with a single letter (17:15). The last letter of her name, being "yod" (comparable to “y”), is exchanged for a "hey", making her Sarah, "a princess", who will not only mother a son, but “nations and kings of nations” are also?to?come?from?her?(v.16). 

In the course of the names change of the would-be parents, YHVH does not forget the offspring. Since Avraham laughs at the prospect of having a child, seeing that he and is wife are so old (ref. 17:14), he is told to name this future son Yitzchak, meaning, "he will laugh". No doubt, in the end, the One who will have the last laugh in this story will be the One responsible for giving this name, the One who also “sits in the heavens and?laughs”?(Ps.2:4).?And?as?we?shall?see?next?week,? there?is?more?laughter?to?come… 

*For more on Malchitzedek and his encounter with Abram