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Torah Sparks

November 12, 2005 - 10 Heshvan 5766

Annual: Genesis 12:1-17:27 (Etz Hayim, p. 69; Hertz p. 45)
Triennial Cycle: Genesis 14:1 - 15:21 (Etz Hayim, p. 77; Hertz p. 50)
Haftarah: Isaiah 40:27 - 41:16 (Etz Hayim, p. 95; Hertz p. 60)

Prepared by Rabbi Michael Gold
Congregation Beth Torah, Tamarac, FL

Department of Congregational Services
Rabbi Paul Drazen, Director


God tells Abram to go forth from his home in Haran to a land that God would show him. There God will make him into a great nation. Those who bless him will be blessed and those who curse him will be cursed. Abram travels with his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, and their entire household. When they arrive in Canaan, Abram travels throughout the country, pitching his tent and building altars to God.

A famine strikes the land of Canaan, and Abram travels to Egypt. There he pretends that Sarai is his sister so that the Egyptians will not harm him. Only after Pharaoh takes Sarai into his tent is the truth revealed -- that Sarai is Abram's wife. (This theme, calling the wife a sister, will be repeated twice more in Genesis.) Abram leaves Egypt a wealthy man.

Abram and Lot separate because their flocks become too large to pasture together. Lot goes to live in the city of Sodom, a place known for selfishness and cruelty. A war breaks out between various kings, including the king of Sodom, and Lot is taken captive. Abram must become a soldier, rescuing Lot and then refusing any financial reward for his service.

Abram has a powerful vision of a covenant between God and Abram's descendents. He learns that his people will be slaves in a foreign land for four hundred years, and then come forth to reclaim their homeland. Unable to have children, Abram and Sarai turn to her handmaiden Hagar as a surrogate. Hagar gives birth to a son, Ishmael. God again reaffirms the covenant, changing Abram's name to Abraham and Sarai's name to Sarah. Circumcision is the symbol of the covenant. Every male born into Abraham's household must be circumcised on the eighth day. At the age of ninety nine, Abraham circumcises his own foreskin.

Issue #1 - Leaving Home

"The Lord said to Abram, Go forth from your land, from your birthplace, from your father's home to the land that I will show you." (Genesis 12:1)


  1. Notice that leaving home is done in three steps. What are the three steps? When we move out of our parents' home, we first leave our home, then our birth city, and then, finally, our land. The verse seems to be out of order. Why? Could God have been talking about a spiritual leaving rather than merely a physical leaving?
  2. What are the three steps involved when a person leaves home today? Some have said that first we must leave physically. Then we must leave economically. Finally we must leave psychologically. What does each of these steps mean? At what age does each one typically take place?
  3. There was a time when children lived in their parents' home until marriage. Today this has become rather rare. Is it a positive development that children live on their own long before marriage? In what ways is it a good thing? In what ways is it not?
  4. The Midrash teaches that when he was in his father's house, Abraham resembled a vial of precious myrrh closed with a tight-fitting lid. As long as he stayed within his parents' home, nobody could smell the fragrance. However, once he began his journey, the lid was opened and the fragrance was disseminated (Genesis Rabbah 34:2). What were the rabbis trying to teach about leaving home? (Must we leave home before our precious fragrance can really waft through the world?)
  5. How can parents help let their children go so they can succeed in the world? Do parents try too hard to hold onto their children? The Torah teaches that "a man must leave his mother and father and cleave onto his wife" (Genesis 2:24) Why must a man, or a woman, leave before he or she can cleave? When a man or a woman is too attached to parents, can this be a threat to a marriage?

Issue #2 - Why Circumcision?

"This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your seed after you. Every male child among you shall be circumcised." (Genesis 17:10)


  1. Last week, in studying the Noah story, we discussed why God chose the rainbow as the symbol of the covenant with all humanity. In a similar way, we can ask why God chose circumcision as the symbol of the covenant with the people Israel. What do you believe to be the meaning of circumcision?
  2. Since the symbol of the covenant is on males, are females left out? Should there be a parallel covenantal symbol on females, as some feminists have suggested? How can we bring a baby girl into the covenant with as much ceremony and pageantry as a baby boy at the brit milah?
  3. The Midrash teaches, "A philosopher asked R. Hoshaya: If circumcision is so precious, why was it not given to Adam? - The real reason is, whatever was created the first six days requires further preparation, e.g. mustard needs sweetening, vetches need sweetening, wheat needs grinding, and man too needs to be finished." (Genesis Rabbah 11:6) Perhaps the message is that the world was created incomplete. Our job is to complete the world. Does circumcision represent perfecting something God made?
  4. One other explanation (more controversial) - A number of people have commented on the fact that circumcision takes place on the male sexual organ. For example, the Encyclopedia Judaica writes, "It sanctified the human body and aided it in its fight against erotic indulgence, as exemplified by the cults of Astarte and Dionysus. The passions were not to be ignored or suppressed, but were to be sublimated to noble ends." Is part of the message of circumcision sexual self-control?

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