Covenantal Blessings by Mr. Ezra Frazer

(2004/5765)In this week’s Parsha, we read about two
monumental covenants between God and Avraham. In
addition, the Parsha opens with additional blessings that God
promises Avraham, also somewhat in the form of a covenant.
If we pay close attention to the Torah’s language throughout
Sefer Bereshit, we can see that these covenants greatly
impact later developments in the Torah.
At the beginning of Lech Lecha, we are struck by the
depiction of Avraham’s descendants as a great and mighty
nation: “And I will make you into a great nation, and I will
bless you, and make your name great, and you shall be a
blessing. And I will bless those who bless you, and he who
curses you I will curse, and all the nations of the land shall
bless themselves by you” (12:3). However, in this initial
blessing, we learn very little about the Promised Land. God
assures Avraham that He will show him this land, but
Avraham has not yet merited knowing its identity. Moreover,
the spiritual dimension is quite lacking in this blessing. The
verse “And I will bless those who bless you…and all the
nations… shall bless themselves by you,” although it sounds
spiritual, essentially focuses on the awe with which other
nations will regard Avraham’s descendants; other nations will
admire their might and fear becoming their enemies. This
verse gives no indication of whether Avraham’s descendants
will feel a deep connection with God.

By the middle of Lech Lecha, though, we get a greater
sense of what God has in mind for Avraham’s progeny. At the end
of Perek 15, they are promised the Holy Land in the Brit Bein
Habetarim. There, God specifies precisely which land they will
inherit (see verses 18-21), and he appears to provide a moral basis
for this covenant. Rather than simply promising that Avraham’s
descendants will inherit this land, God goes out of His way to
emphasize that events will develop in accordance with His sense of
justice. Those who enslave the Jews will be punished, and the
original occupants of Canaan will not be forced off of their land until
their own sins earn them this punishment. Implicit in these
statements is the assumption that Avraham’s descendants must act
in a manner that befits the beneficiaries of this covenant. However,
Avraham and his descendants have still not received any
commandments as a sign of their unique relationship with God,
nothing to which they must adhere in order to merit the fulfillment of
Brit Bein Habetarim.
Finally, at the end of Lech Lecha, Avraham is ordered to
circumcise his entire household, and he is promised in return,
“Vahakimoti Et Beriti Beini Uveinecha…Livrit Olam: Lihyot Lecha
Leilokim, Ulzaracha Acharecha,” “I will establish my covenant
between Me and you, and between your offspring after you for their
generations, as a permanent covenant: to be a God to you, and to
your children after you” (17:7). At long last, Avraham has learned of
a concrete action by which he and his descendants can affirm their
commitment to their relationship with God.
Throughout the rest of Bereshit, we see these distinct
stages reappearing individually. For example, Yaakov “steals” our
Parsha’s opening blessing of tremendous might: “Yaavducha Amim,
Veyishtachavu Lecha Leumim…Orerecha Arur, Umvarechecha
Baruch,” “Nations will serve you, and governments will bow to you…
those who curse you [will be] cursed, and those who bless you [will
be] blessed” (27:29). Yitzchak intended for Eisav to receive this
blessing, which would not have precluded a similar blessing for
Yaakov. (Indeed, even after Yaakov “steals” this blessing, we find
Eisav receiving a blessing of prosperity as the weaker brother in
27:39-40). However, after Yitzchak realizes what has happened
and Rivka again reminds him of Eisav’s intermarriage (27:46),
Yitzchak wholeheartedly offers Yaakov the spiritual blessing of Brit
Milah (28:3-4): “Vekeil Shakai Yevarech Otcha, Veyafrecha
Veyarbecha, Vehayita Likhal Amim. Veyiten Lecha Et Birkat
Avraham, Lecha Ulzaracha Itach – Lerishtecha Et Eretz Megurecha, 

Asher Natan Elokim Le’avraham,” “And may Keil Shakai bless
you, make you fruitful and make you numerous, and may you
be a congregation of peoples. And may He give you the
blessing of Avraham, to you and to your offspring with you –
that you may inherit the land of your wanderings, that God
gave to Avraham.”
God Himself reiterates the blessing of Brit Milah to
Yaakov after the travails of his time with Lavan and his battle
in Shechem. Like his grandfather Avraham, Yaakov has his
name changed and receives the promise (35:11-12), “Ani Keil
Shakai…Goy Ukhal Goyim Yihyeh Mimeka…Ve’et Haaretz
Asher Natati Le’avraham Ulyitzchak – Lecha Etinena,
Ulzaracha Acharecha…,” “I am Keil Shakai…a nation and a
congregation of nations will come from you…and the land that
I gave to Avraham and to Yitzchak – I will give it to you, and
to your children after you….”
Thus, God reveals what Yitzchak learned over the
course of Parshat Toldot: Although Eisav is not necessarily
unfit for the contents of the opening blessing of Lech Lecha,
only Yaakov can carry on his fathers’ full legacy due to the
spiritual nature of Brit Milah.
Finally, in the beginning of Parshat Va’eira, we find
the fulfillment of Brit Bein Habetarim. God explains to Moshe
that the Avot saw the fulfillment of Brit Milah. They observed
this commandment, and in return God allowed them to dwell
in Canaan as temporary residents – “Vegam Hakimoti Et

Beriti Itam, Latet Lahem…Et Eretz Megureihem, Asher Garu Vah,”
“And I also established my covenant with them, to give to them…the
land of their dwellings, in which they dwelled (Shemot 6:4). This is
the same formulation that God used in the original Parsha of Brit
Milah. Now, however, God promises Moshe that He will uphold the
one promise that He has not yet fulfilled: the promise of Brit Bein
By identifying the different blessings in Lech Lecha, we gain
a better understanding of several later stories where the same
phrases reappear. We also realize the tremendous responsibility
that we bear as the recipients of these blessings and covenants.
We have been promised prosperity and power, but we have also
been informed that God runs His world according to just principles of
reward and punishment. He punished the Egyptians and
Canaanites for their sins, so He expects us to act better than them,
in order to truly merit His blessings.

But your Name Shall Be Avraham by Dov Rossman

It’s Not That Important by Avi Levinson