In the first two weeks of Sefer Bereshit, we read about the blessings that God bestowed upon Adam and Noach. These blessings emphasize two things: boundless reproduction and man’s masterdom over other living creatures. God blesses Adam, “Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the heaven, and over every living thing that creeps upon the earth” (1:28), and He similarly blesses Noach, “Be fruitful (“Pru”) and multiply (“Urvu”) and replenish the earth, and the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every bird of the heavens, in everything that moves on earth and in all the fish of the sea; in your hand they are given. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; like the green herbage I have given you everything…And you, be fruitful (“Pru”) and multiply (“Urvu”); teem on the earth and multiply on it” (9:1-7).
In this week’s Parsha, when God selects Avraham and his descendants, God acknowledges Avraham’s special status by offering additional blessings. Were we to merely seek out parallels to the blessings of “Pru Urvu” that were given to Adam and Noach, we would conclude that God has chosen Yishmael as the next recipient of this great promise. He tells Avraham: “But regarding Yishmael I have heard you: I have blessed (“Berachti”) him, will make him fruitful (“Vihifreti”), and will increase him (“Vihirbeti”) most exceedingly (17:20). Examining this Pasuk in its context, however, demonstrates that Yishmael is receiving a mere “consolation prize” compared to the lofty blessings which God bestows upon Yitzchak.
Yishmael’s blessing is immediately followed by, “But I will fulfill my covenant with Yitzchak,” with the connecting letter Vav clearly meaning “but” rather than “and.” This was done to contrast Yishmael’s future which will include many descendants, with Yitzchak’s Brit. Earlier in Bereshit, God committed Himself to a covenant with Noach, promising that He would never again destroy the world (9:8-17). By receiving the same blessing’s as Adam and Noach, Yishmael can expect little more than the benefit of that covenant, survival of his progeny. Yitzchak, however, inherits the covenant between God and Avraham. This covenant includes the Promised Land (15:18-21). Moreover, at the beginning of Chapter 17, God appears to Avraham and reiterates his commitment to their covenant. This time, though, He employs phraseology that we associate with His promises to Adam and Noach: “I will set my covenant (“Briti”) between Me and you, and I will increase you (“Vaarbeh”) most exceedingly… As for Me, this is My covenant (“Briti”) with you: You shall be a father of a multitude of nations… I will make you exceedingly fruitful (“Vihifreti Otcha”)… I will ratify My covenant (“Briti”) between Me and you and between your offspring after you, throughout their generations, as an everlasting covenant, to be a God to you and to your offspring after you; and I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojourns – the whole land of Canaan – as an everlasting possession; and I shall be a God to them” (17:2-8). In quick succession, God refers to His covenant, promises Avraham that he will be fruitful and multiply, again refers to His covenant, and lastly promises Avraham the Land.
From this section we clearly see that God has promised Avraham the Land in addition to the blessings that He has bestowed upon all mankind. Yishmael will receive only the promise that applies to all mankind, while Yitzchak will receive everything.(The distinction between the content of these two blessing - mankind’s and Avraham’s - also enables us to understand the difference between the blessing that Yitzchak gives Yaakov under the impression the he is Eisav and the blessing that Yitzchak knowingly give Yaakov; compare Bereshit 27:28-29 with 28:3-4.)
We are all privileged to be included in the full covenant that God transmits to Avraham and Yitzchak that Yitzchak later passes on to Yaakov. We must bear in mind that this covenant is a two-way street. As soon as God promises Avraham that this covenant will continue with his unborn son, Yitzchak, He commands Avraham to perform a new Mitzvah, circumcision. In order for us to merit the blessings of this week’s Parsha, we must do our part by strengthening our commitment to Mitzvot.