The Chronology of Abraham: the Pillar of Faith

ST-caravanWhen we first look at the parsha, we see a stark difference between it and passage from last week. Last week, the text says:

These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, innocent in his generation. Noah walked with God… …And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth. Make yourself an ark of gopher wood, etc.[1]

G-d chooses a man named Noah and we’re told why: Noah was a righteous man. This week, however, the text says:

Now Hashem said to Avram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and he who dishonors you I will curse, and because of you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.[2]

With this phrase, we are not given any clues why G-d chose Avram. Joshua chapter 24 makes the story even worse:

And Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and called for the elders of Israel, and for their heads, and for their judges, and for their officers; and they presented themselves before God. And Joshua said unto all the people: “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel says: In the past, our fathers dwelt beyond the River, even Terah, the father of Abraham, and the father of Nahor; and they served other gods. And I took your father Abraham from beyond the River, and led him throughout all the land of Canaan.[3]

With the mention of Terah, one could wonder if Avram was the one originally chosen. At the end of last week’s portion, in like manner, we read:

Now these are the generations of Terah. Terah fathered Avram, Nahor, and Haran[4]; and Haran fathered Lot. Haran died in the presence of his father Terah in the land of his kindred, in Ur Kasdim. And Avram and Nahor took wives*. The name of Avram’s wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor’s wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran the father of Milcah and Iscah[5]. Now Sarai was barren; she had no child. Terah took Avram his son and Lot the son of Haran, his grandson, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Avram’s wife, and they went forth together from Ur Kasdim to go into the land of Canaan, but when they came to Charan, they settled there. The days of Terah were 205 years, and Terah died in Charan[6].

So, is Avram the father of our faith or does this title rightfully belong to Terah? After all, Terah is the first one we read leaving Ur Kasdim to go to the land of Canaan. So, is this true? Is this a possibility? Let’s return to our text:

Now the LORD said to Avram, “[Lech lecha[7]] Go for yourself from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” So Abram went, as the LORD had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was 75 years old when he departed from Charan. And Avram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan. When they came to the land of Canaan, etc[8].

How old was Avram when G-d told him lech lecha from Charan? If you said 75 years old, you have provided the right answer to the wrong question. The text does not tell us Avram’s age when Hashem tells him to lech lecha. Ibn Ezra is one three medieval rabbis to whom I seek when I need answers [the other two are Rashi and the Ramban]. Ibn Ezra writes in his commentary that Avram does not immediately leave when Hashem tells him to go. We don’t have to take Ibn Ezra on his word because we are fortified with all the tools we need to test the veracity of his words. We can find out if he’s right.

Since our passage begins with lech lecha, help can often be found where we can find another similar phrase. As luck would have it, we have another, and it happens during the lifetime of Avram:

After these things God tested Avraham and said to him, “Avraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and [lech lecha] go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as an olah (a whole burnt offering) on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” So Avraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac[9].

What similarities do we see in the text of the Akeidah and today’s portion?

  • Hashem speaks
  • G-d says lech lecha, and
  • Avram is told to go to a place that G-d will reveal… but not now.

What’s different is the phrase, “so Avraham rose early in the morning.” Abraham doesn’t rise early in the morning in Genesis 12:1-5; instead, the text says Avram was 75 years of age when he acted upon the word of Hashem and left Charan.

Seder Olam is an important tome that is most likely attributed to R’Yose b’Halafta, though Talmud Yerushalmi indicates the parallels between it and Seder Olam are in the name of R’Yose b’Hanina. Seder Olam deals with all the boring parts we gloss over as we study the Torah cycle. It takes the “he lived x years and begat whomever and lived x more years and died” passages and does the math for us. In this sefer [book], as it adds the years, we discover Avram was born in Ur Kasdim in the year 1948 since creation. Today, we can look back on that date and see a wonderful parallel… something almost prophetic for the prophesy-peddler-wannabe in us all. By most accounts Avram was born in Ur Kasdim[10].

It further says the “division” that occurs at the end of Peleg’s life time in Genesis 10:25 happened when Avram was 48 years old. This is corroborated in Bereshit.R 64:1 as well. The Rabbis understand this “division” to be when G-d created the language barrier[11] and those who could understand each other left together.

A scene is built at the beginning of Vayeira[12], which we will read next week, when Avraham is 99 years of age. Tradition says he is recovering from his bris milah[13], yet he rushes to welcome three guests. These guests come to announce that in exactly one year, Avraham and Sarah will have a son; this meeting happens in the year 2047 since creation. One year late, at Pesach, Isaac is born to a 100-year-old Avraham. This date is important because it ties us back, chronologically, to Genesis 15:13, at the covenant of the Parts, which says, “Know for certain that your seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them 400 years.” Since the term “your seed” is used, our rabbis understand the 400 years begins to countdown with the birth of his seed, Isaac. Since Isaac is noted as being born at the time of Pesach, these 400 years are exact [we left Egypt at the time of Pesach]. Four hundred years to the day after the birth of Isaac, we walk with a high hand out of Egypt. Avraham was 100 years old when Isaac was born, and this puts Isaac’s birth at 2048 years after creation.

We have a difficult passage in Genesis 12:5; it says, “And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their substance that they had gathered, and the souls that they had gotten in Charan; and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came.” The phrase, “And the souls that they had gotten in Charan,” is puzzling at best, yet we have a conjecture given by our Rabbis. Some Rabbis have extgrapolated that human history can be broken down into three 2,000 year periods: the age of Tohu (or confusion), the age of Torah, and the age of Moshiach. Our sages say the Age of Tohu ended and the Age of Torah began in the Year 2000 since creation, which coincides with Avram’s 52nd year. Therefore, our confusing phrase from Genesis 12:5 indicates that hundreds or even thousands of souls were affected by Avram’s evangelical outreach. The Gutnick Chumash supports this assertion when it translates the phrase as, “and the people they[14] has converted in Charan.” So we can extrapolate that Avram had already moved from Ur Kasdim by this date.

The most important human relationship in Avram’s life is his wife. If this is true [and I think it is], why is Lot mentioned as often as Sarai [4x each] between Genesis 11:27 – 12:5? Haran, Lot’s father, dies when Avram is between 40 and 48 years old. This makes Lot, not only Avram’s nephew but also an orphan. Is it possible Avram considers Lot his heir since Sarai is barren? Any discussion on this possibility is purely conjecture, but sadly, the confederation between Avram and Lot is relatively short-lived because strife between the two camps causes them to separate[15]. Lot choses east toward Sodom and they part ways.

The question hasn’t been answered: “When did Hashem tell Avram to lech lecha from Charan?” Before answering that question, let me ask another. When DID Avram lech lecha? If you say 75, you’re almost there, but you have missed the mark. Look again at the phrase from Genesis 12:1. Hashem asks Avram to lech lecha from

His country

When did Avram leave his country of Charan?

He left Charan in 2023 at 75 years of age.

His father’s house

When did Avram leave his father’s house?

He left his father in Charan in 2023 when he was 75 years of age.

His kindred

When did Avram leave his kindred?

When he and Lot parted ways.

This is why Torah puts the following scene in juxtaposition to Lot’s departure:

Hashem said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever. I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted. Get up, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.” So Abram moved his tent and came and settled by the oaks of Mamre, which are at Hebron, and there he built an altar to Hashem.”

Now that Avram has now left his country and his kindred and his father’s house, Hashem finally shows him the land of promise. Before that, Avram was a wandering Aramean[16]

Here’s a recap of some of the major events in Avraham’s life as I currently understand them:

Year   Age   Event

1948   0        Avram born in Ur Kasdim. His father, Terach, is 70 (Genesis 11:27)

1988   40      Avram becomes aware of his creator (Hilchot Avodat Kochavim v’Chukkoteihem 1:3)

1996   48      Tower of Bavel, languages divide, Terach leaves Ur Kasdim for Charan (Genesis 10:25, 11:8)

2000   52      Avram begins teaching about Ethical monotheism (Genesis 12:5)

2018   70      Covenant of the parts, 430-year era begins (Gen. 15:13, Exo. 12:40)

2023   75      Avram leaves Charan (Genesis 12:4)

2034   86      Birth of Ishmael (Genesis 16:16)

2047   99      Meets with Hashem and is told of the birth of Isaac (Genesis 18:1)

2048   100    Birth of Isaac; 400 years of the promise begins (Genesis 21:2-5)

2083   135    Terah, the father of Abraham, dies in Charan at 205 (Genesis 11:27)

2085   137    The Akeidah; Sarah dies at 127; Isaac is 37 (Genesis 23:1)

2088   140    Isaac marries Rivkah [from Charan] at 40 (Genesis 25:20)

2108   160    Birth of Jacob and Esau (Genesis 25:24-27)

2123   175    Avraham dies, sale of birthright at the funeral (Gen. 25:7, 25:29-34)

Avram did not start as the father of faith. His emunah grew with each test. He appear to have failed some at the beginning of his walk with Hashem, yet he became a pillar of faith. Hashem stuck with him and he stuck with Hashem. At the end of his life, Abraham was called the friend of G-d[17]. There is no reason we cannot do the same. There is no reason at the end of our life that people cannot say we walked in faith and were a friend of G-d.

[1] Genesis 6:9, 13-14a

[2] Genesis 12:1-3

[3] Joshua 24:1-3a

[4] I use Haran as the man’s name and Charan as the place name.

[5] If the text mentions Avram and Nahor took wives, where did Haran get a son named Lot?

[6] Genesis 11:27-32

[7] Lech lecha is often translated as go for yourself

[8] Genesis 12:1-5

[9] Genesis 22:1-3

[10] As a parenthetical, there is some debate over the meaning of the phrase “Ur Kasdim.” Is it a reference to the city of Ur? As many of you may know, traditional stories of Avram’s early life include his search and discovery of his creator, and an interesting story (with a nod in Daniel’s direction), speak of Avram being thrown into a furnace for not participating in the construction of the Tower of Bavel. Therefore, some sages say the term “I took you out of Ur Kasdim,” really should be understood as saying, “I took you out of the fires of Kasdim.” [We find a furnace in our Biblical text in Genesis 11:3.]

[11] Possibly seventy languages

[12] Genesis 18:1

[13] circumcision

[14] they refers to both Sarai and Avram

[15] Genesis 12:6-9

[16] Deuteronomy 26:5

[17] 2 Chronicles 20:7, James 2:27, Exodus 33:11

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