Piece Out!: Lekh Lekha 2020

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: Do you commonly make promises? If so, how often are they conditional, and how often are they unconditional?

There are numerous scenes in which God makes unconditional promises to Abraham; one such pledge is made filled with powerful imagery:

The Pitch: “When the sun set and it was very dark, there appeared a smoking oven, and a flaming torch which passed between those pieces [of recently-sacrificed animals]. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, ‘To your offspring I assign this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates.’” – Genesis 15:17-18

Swing #1: “Whatever similarities may exist between such ancient Near Eastern treaties and oaths and the covenantal texts of the Old Testament, our overriding interest in Israel is, once again, in the various ways it decisively departs from the traditions of the Egyptian, Hittite, and Mesopotamian civilizations, above all, in its innovative conception of a covenant between a god, and only one god, and his people chosen to dwell in a land promised by him to them.” – Steven Grosby, Biblical Ideas of Nationality: Ancient & Modern

Swing #2: “Israel’s policy of herem [total destruction] directed at Canaanites was neither impulsive nor arbitrary but the culmination of an ancient plan. While this consideration does not remove the sting of violence against a targeted race of people, readers of the Pentateuch have anticipated this since … YHWH promised Abraham that after four centuries he would give their land over to Abraham’s descendants.” – Wrestling With the Violence of God: Soundings in the Old Testament, M. Daniel Carroll R. & J. Blair Wilgus, ed.

Swing #3: “God promised Abraham the gift of the Land many times, but all of them were needed, for a purpose. … [This] time … God sealed a covenant with him on those lands, so no sin can revoke it.” – Ramban

Late-Inning Questions: God makes numerous promises to Abraham before we understand what makes Abraham so deserving of them. Is God placing blind faith that Abraham will be a fitting pioneer of the Jewish people? Or is the choice of Abraham arbitrary or, possibly, aspirational? When we make promises to others, to what extent is it really a promise we make with ourselves?

On-Deck at Temple Beth Tzedek: Next Wednesday at 6:30 p.m., I’ll start a four-session class on the Books of the Maccabees and what they say about our understanding of Hanukkah. Pre-register here.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of promises, for the most part, Major League Baseball did an excellent job keeping its promise to its fans and players that safety was a key priority during the 2020 season. It was far from perfect, but the fact that the season was completed at all was an important accomplishment.

Shabbat Shalom!