(Gershon Elinson/Flash90)
Cave of the Patriarchs

In this article we are going to take a look at God’s repeated promises to Abraham and discover exactly why the Jewish people have the exclusive right to the Land of Israel. 

By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel

In the Torah portion of “Lech Lecha” (Genesis 12:1–17:27) , we learn about where Biblical Zionism and love for Israel and the Jewish people all began. This is where we find the Eternal promise of the land to Abraham and his Jewish descendants. It is where find the promise to Abraham that he will be the father of multitudes.

The reading essentially opens up with God offering Abraham a double covenant, an eternal promise: That he and his descendants will possess the Land of Israel and that he will be the father of multitudes (Genesis 12:2-3). Although perhaps not readily apparent, the entire book of Genesis is the slow (but faithful!) development of these promises!

Let’s focus on the promise of the land. The words “Lech Lecha” actually mean to “go for your own good” and these opening words of the reading quote God telling Abram to leave his home in Mesopotamia (Iraq) and head to the promised land (Genesis 12:1). The promise of the land is repeated to Abraham many additional times (Genesis 12:7; 13:15; 15:7; 17:8 and more!).

God also reaffirms the promise He made to Abraham, to his son Isaac.(Genesis 26:3), and later to Isaacs’s son, Jacob, who was the third and final Patriarch of the Jewish people (Genesis 28). It is interesting to note that although the circumstances were different, both Abraham and Jacob were told to leave their current places of residence and head to the Land of Israel (Genesis 31:3). One might be led to think that God repeated the promises so many times, He was worrying that the Patriarchs might forget it!

It seems that God further preserved Abraham and the Jewish People’s ownership of the Land of Israel when He put in the hearts of Lot and Esau, forefathers of other non-Jewish nations, to leave the Land of Israel for some place else, once again leaving Abraham as master of the land (Genesis 13:8-12; Genesis 33:16-17). Indeed, Lot chose to live in Sodom because it was fertile (he didn’t care about the lousy neighbors), and Esau chose the area around Mt. Seir (somewhere in southern Jordan).

As mentioned, there is also the promise of descendants. Repeatedly! (Genesis 13:16; 15:5, 17:7; 22:17 and more). Furthermore, it is through Abraham’s descendant, through Isaac, from where blessings flow into the world for all other nations (Genesis 18:18; 22:18). As we know, God promises that those who bless Abraham and the Jewish people will themselves be blessed, and those who curse the Jewish people will themselves be cursed (Genesis 12:3).  This promise is reaffirmed to Isaac and Jacob (Genesis 17:9; 21:12; 26:4; 28:14; 32:12). The fulfillment of the blessing of descendants is fulfilled through Sara giving birth at almost 100 years old and Rebecca and Rachel giving birth when all hope seemed lost (Genesis 17:19; 18:10; 21:1-2; 25:21; 30:2).

God also promised to make Abraham’s name “great” (Genesis 12:2). Indeed, he became recognized as a blessing to everyone he come into contact with, whether monotheists or pagans. He was a liberator of captives (Genesis 14:13-24), was called a “great man” when travelling to Hebron (Genesis 23:6), and a peacemaker (Genesis 13:8-9), which was an attribute practiced by Isaac as well (Genesis 26:15-22).

In hindsight, we see that Abraham did not live to see all the promises fulfilled, at least not in full. When he died, he saw only two children and two grandchildren. He did not see the “multitudes” or see his children as masters of the Land of Israel. We are lucky to be living in a generation when both the promise of descendants and Jewish return and ownership of the land is being fulfilled right before our very eyes. Even when we don’t see results immediately, God can always be trusted to keep His word!

For more insights by Rabbi Enkin on this week’s Torah portion, click on the links below: