Parshat Lech Lecha Summary

Parshat Lech Lecha is the 3rd parsha in Sefer Bereshit (also known as Genesis).

This parsha is verses Genesis 12:1 – 17:27, or a total of 126 verses.

Here is a brief summary for each aliyah.

First a note on the use of names in this parsha.

At this point in the narrative, the two main characters are called Abram and Sarai. It’s not until Chapter 17 that God will rename them Abraham and Sarah.

However, for the sake of simplicity, I will generally use the names Abraham and Sarah in this summary.

Aliyah 1: Genesis 12:1 – 12:13, 13 verses

God tells Abraham to leave his land, his relatives, and his father. He is to go to an unspecified place. There God will bless him.

Abraham was 75 years old when he received this command. This would be in the year 2023 since Abraham was born in 1948 since the creation of man.

Abraham took his wife Sarah and his nephew Lot and came to the land of Canaan. God told him this was the land He would give to his descendants.

Abraham built altars in Shechem and Beit El. He continued journeying toward the south.

There was a famine in the land. Abraham decided to go to Egypt to survive the famine. Abraham asked Sarah to pretend to be his sister so that the Egyptians would treat him well. In fact, Sarah was Abraham’s niece.

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Aliyah 2: Genesis 12:14 – 13:4, 11 verses

The Egyptians saw that Sarah was very beautiful so they told Pharaoh about her. They took her to Pharaoh’s house. Pharaoh gave a number of gifts to Abraham. It appears that Pharaoh wanted to marry Sarah and he was trying to get Abraham’s consent.

God intervened and afflicted Pharaoh and his household with various afflictions. Pharaoh realized that these afflictions were due to his treatment of Abraham and Sarah.

Pharaoh returned Sarah to Abraham and kicked them out of Egypt.

Abraham with Sarah and Lot returned to the land of Canaan.

Aliyah 3: Genesis 13:5 – 13:18, 14 verses

Lot and Abraham both had numerous flocks and cattle. It’s clear from these verses that they were keeping their households and flocks separate but still living near one another.

Their herds were so big that there wasn’t enough pasture for all of them. Also, there was a conflict between their herdsmen about whether to respect the property rights of those who were currently dwelling in Canaan (see Rashi on verse 13:7).

Abraham suggested they should separate and permitted Lot to choose which part of the land he preferred.

Lot chose to settle in plain of the Jordan River near the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. He chose this area because it reminded him of Egypt.

After Lot separated from Abraham, God appeared to Abraham. He promised him that his descendants would inherit the land and that they would be as numerous as the dust of the earth.

offsring like the dust of the earth

Aliyah 4: Genesis 14:1 – 14:20, 20 verses

This chapter describes what the Torah calls the war of the four kings against the five kings. I think of it as the first ever world war.

The invading army was led by these four kings:

  • Amraphel, king of Shinar (which is Babylon)
  • Arioch, king of Ellasar
  • Chedorlaomer, king of Elam
  • Tidal, king of Goiim

According to Jewish tradition, Amraphel is the same as Nimrod who was mentioned (not in a flattering way) in Parshat Noach.

They invaded these five kings who ruled in the area of Sodom and Gomorrah:

  • Bera, king of Sodom
  • Birsha, king of Gomorrah
  • Shinab, king of Admah
  • Shemeber, king of Zeboiim
  • the king of Bela (a city also called Zoar)

For some reason we’re never told the name of the king of Bela.

The 5 kings had been subjugated by the 4 kings. After 12 years they rebelled.

Chedorlaomer and his fellow kings reacted to the rebellion by invading the land of Canaan. On their way to teach a lesson to the 5 kings, they attacked other kingdoms who were not involved in the rebellion. This is why I think this was akin to a world war.

The attacking army of the 4 kings defeated the defending army of the 5 kings. They took all of the wealth and food of Sodom and Gomorrah. They also took Lot captive.

A messenger told Abraham what had happened. He gathered together 318 disciples and chased after the 4 kings. Abraham and his small force caught up with the 4 kings in the north of Canaan in place that would later be called Dan.

Abraham defeated the 4 kings, saved all of the material wealth, and rescued all of the captives including his nephew Lot.

When Abraham returned, the king of Sodom went out to greet him. But Malchizedek, king of Salem, met Abraham first. He blessed Abraham and God.

Aliyah 5: Genesis 14:21 – 15:6, 10 verses

The king of Sodom then stepped in and made Abraham an offer. He suggested that Abraham should give him all of the captives and that Abraham could keep all of the material wealth.

Abraham refused the deal exclaiming that he would not permit it to appear that the king of Sodom had made him wealthy. However, Abraham insisted that those who went to war with him should receive their proper payment from the king of Sodom.

We have a glaring contradiction here. On the one hand, Abraham accepted numerous gifts from Pharaoh and appears to have gained much wealth. So why did he refuse to accept even a small reward from the king of Sodom?

One explanation is that he had to accept gifts from Pharaoh. He and Sarah were acting as brother and sister. Pharaoh was trying to buy favor with Abraham so that he would let Pharaoh take Sarah as a wife.

Under those conditions, it would have been very suspicious for Abraham to refuse what Pharaoh was offering him.

However, in the case of king of Sodom, Abraham could refuse the offer without fearing any consequences.

After the war, God spoke to Abraham. God assured him that he would receive a great reward. Abraham reminded God that he had no children and that it looked like his servant would be his sole inheritor.

God assured Abraham that he would have children and eventually his offspring would be more numerous than the stars. Abraham trusted God’s promise.

the stars of the heavens
Globular star cluster NGC 362. Photo by NASA

Aliyah 6: Genesis 15:7 – 17:6, 37 verses

This section of Parshat Lech Lecha contains 3 distinct topics.

Covenant with Abraham: 15:7 – 21

This covenant is known as the Covenant Between the Parts (in Hebrew: Brit Bein HaBetarim). There are many details and symbolism here that this summary cannot do justice to.

God tells Abraham that He is giving him the land of Canaan. God tells him to take some animals:

  • 3 heifers
  • 3 goats
  • 3 rams
  • 1 turtledove
  • 1 dove

Abraham cut the mammals into two pieces each and placed those pieces opposite each other. The birds were not cut up.

Abraham fell into a deep sleep. God informed him that his descendants would be in an alien land and would be oppressed for 400 years. God will bring them out of that land with great wealth and bring them back to the land of Canaan.

God caused a flaming torch to pass between the animal parts. In this way He made a covenant with Abraham.

The Birth of Ishmael: 16:1 – 16

Abraham and Sarah had been in Canaan for 10 years but still did not have any children. At Sarah’s urging, Abraham took Sarah’s servant Hagar as a second wife.

Hagar became pregnant and as a result she looked down at Sarah who was still sterile. Hagar thought she was being abused by Sarah so she fled from the household.

An angel of God confronted Hagar and told her to return to Sarah and accept Sarah’s authority. The angel promised her that she would give birth and have many offspring.

Hagar returned and gave birth to a son who Abraham named Ishmael. At this time Abraham was 86 years old, so this was in the year 2034 since the creation of man.

Abram Becomes Abraham: 17:1 – 6

Thirteen years have passed since the birth of Ishmael. It is now the year 2047 and Abram is 99 years old.

God appears to him and commands him to “walk” before Him and to be perfect.

God proclaims a covenant with him and changes his name to Abraham. Abraham will become a father of a multitude, and kings and nations will descend from him.

Aliyah 7: Genesis 17:7 – 17:27, 21 verses

God tells Abraham that He is creating an everlasting covenant with him and his descendants. God is also giving Abraham and those who come after him the land of Canaan.

God commands Abraham to circumcise (remove the foreskin) of every male child when the child is 8 days old.

God changes Sarai’s name to Sarah and announces that she will give birth to a son who will be named Isaac (in Hebrew: Yitzchak).

Abraham beseeches God to bless Ishmael. God promises that He will make Ishmael into a large nation. However, God’s main promises to Abraham will only be fulfilled through Isaac.

Haftarah Summary

Isaiah 40:27 – 41:16

The person who worships idols tries to build a better, stronger idol. God calls on the Jewish people to know that He is with them. God gives us strength, help, and support when we need it.

Further Reading

You might enjoy this article about when God spoke to Abraham.

A Note on the Translations
The translation of Bible verses is based on the Judaica Press Tanach.
The translation of Gemara is based on the Soncino Talmud.
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