Musings of an Orthodox Jew

Thoughts on Torah and the Jewish world today.

Parshas Lech Lecha 5771- Converts before leaving for Canaan

Note: Two questions this week as the first one while important, is a bit too easy.

1) Where does this week’s parsha show that even prior to leaving to go to the land of Canaan Avraham had converted people to Judaism?
2) In what way is the name change from Sarai to Sarah important to reflect the coming birth of Yitzchak?

This weeks Parsha is Lech Lecha- Bereishis (Genesis) 12:1-17:27

The answer to question 1 is found in Chapter 12 v5

5. And Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had acquired, and the souls they had acquired in Haran, and they went to go to the land of Canaan, and they came to the land of Canaan. ה. וַיִּקַּח אַבְרָם אֶת שָׂרַי אִשְׁתּוֹ וְאֶת לוֹט בֶּן אָחִיו וְאֶת כָּל רְכוּשָׁם אֲשֶׁר רָכָשׁוּ וְאֶת הַנֶּפֶשׁ אֲשֶׁר עָשׂוּ בְחָרָן וַיֵּצְאוּ לָלֶכֶת אַרְצָה כְּנַעַן וַיָּבֹאוּ אַרְצָה כְּנָעַן:

Rashi points out that “הַנֶּפֶשׁ אֲשֶׁר עָשׂוּ ” (translated as “souls they had acquired “) refers to converts. A pointer to this is the word “עָשׂוּ” “made”- Obviously Avram and Sarai did not make souls; the sense in which they “made” the souls is that they “made” them into followers of hashem and thus “made” them holier.

An interesting question was raised by one of the posters on Yahoo Answers:
Gershon asked:

According to the Kedushat Levi, Abraham converted in chapter 15.
So, if Abraham wasn’t yet converted, how could he convert people to Judaism?

What was he converting them to here vs later? First lets look at Avraham now- he is Avram, he has yet to be renamed to Avraham yet he already has complete faith in G-d, so much so that he is ready to give up the life of a nobelman and go to an unknown country without knowing the specifics because G-d tells him to! So what were his beliefs? How far had he come and what had these people converted to? We know they were not Noachides since there were many Nachides in the world led by Mechizedek (Shem according to many authorities) whom Avraham recognised as priest of G-d later in this parsha (and who then permanently transferred the priesthood to the Jewish people).

We see a progression in the covenant between Avraham and Hashem in this parsha. First he promises to take him to a new land and make him a mighty nation. Then we have the brit bein hebetarim and the covenant is made more specific- it will be a direct descendant of Avraham that will inherit; and we are told that they will be exiles and slaves, and will then return to inherit the land. Finally we have the birt milah. Two signs of the covenant are now forged- Avraham’s name is changed (from Avram) and the brit milah is a physical sign of the eternal covenant between G-d and the Jewish nation.

Now- if we look at the start fo the Parsha, we see Avraham is already a believer in G-d and keeping mitzvot- otherwise there would be no differentiation between him and his followers and Melchizedek and his followers! In what way does he differ from the way he is at the end of the parsha?

It is in the symbols of the covenant between him and G-d- his name and the brit milah. Thus, while he obviously had some of the commandments already at the start of the Parsha, we know he was missing at least one of the major commandments- brit milah.

And thus the Kedushat LEvi’s remark that Avraham only converted (along with the members of his household
all of whom were circumcised at the same time) at this point. Prior to this, they believed in G-d, they were Jewish in action, but they did not yet have a formal covenant and relationship. The bris milah was the marriage document, the formalisation of the relationship between the Jewish nation and G-d. Before now, they had the beliefs, they lived and worshipped as Jews- but it was like the period of Kiddushin prior to the completion of marriage at Nissuin. The earlier covenants were the betrothal- the brit milah the marriage.

Question 2: What does the name change of Sarai to Sarah reflect on the coming birth of Yitzchak? Rashi remarks that “Sarai” is a qualified name- i.e. “My Princess”- she is for me (i.e. Avraham), but not for others. The name “Sarah” is unqualifed- she is a princess over all, not just for Avraham. Thus the coming child is destined to be the progenitor of a nation and to be over all. Sarah is a national name, Sarai a personal name- Yitzchak, who was to be the leader and one of the Avos of the Jews would be born to Sraah, the princess over all, and not to Sarai.

On another note, their is the idea that our names are linked to our fates- thus the custom of giving a gravely ill person a new name, and one which is only permanent if they recover. In this case, the fate of Sarai was altered to the fate of Sarah- when just living and relevant to a personal future, whe did not have the mazal to bear a child; when her future was linked to the nation, her mazal changed and thus, even at her advanced age, she merited to have a child.

October 12, 2010 Posted by | Torah | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment