Lech Lecha 5778

This is Torah Talk for the week of October 22nd, 2017 

Gen 13:10 And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of the Jordan, that it was well watered every where, before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, as thou goest unto Zoar.

This week’s handout:  03 Lech Lecha 5778

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3 Responses to “Lech Lecha 5778”

  1. Justin Miller Says:

    Michael,

    I see Egypt as Egypt and the garden of the Lord as an allusion to Babylon. The story can be read as a polemic against returning to either place – physically or spiritually. The polemic can be read from a pre-exilic, Judean, or from a post-exilic perspective.

    Both Egypt and Mesopotamia were based on hydraulic agriculture, and so would be a fitting comparison to the well-watered plain of the Jordan. In the narrative Abraham began his journey in Mesopotamia (Ur of the Chaldees), went to Canaan where he pitched his tent between Beth-el and Ai (Gen 12:8), went to Egypt (Gen 12:11), and then returned to Canaan to the place between Beth-el and Ai where he had pitched his tent before (Gen 13:3). In other words Abraham had already come out of both Mesopotamia and Egypt to arrive in Canaan, and when Abraham and Lot looked at the plain of the Jordan they were poised on the fulcrum of Abraham’s journey – both physical and spiritual – out of each of these two places. Lot’s decision to dwell in a place that was like these two places was ill-advised – a metaphor for a return to Egypt or Ur/Babylon.

    From a Judean perspective, is it coincidental that after separating from Lot the Lord instructs Abraham to walk the length and breadth of the land, promises the land to him, and Abraham then settles in Hebron (Gen 13:14-18)? Hebron would become Abraham’s burial place and also the birthplace of David’s rule. David can be seen as the instrument through which the separation between Abraham and Lot was (provisionally) mended insofar as David was descended from both Abraham and Lot (through Ruth).

    Lot, of course, is the son of Haran, who died in Ur. Lot is also the father of Moab, whose territory overlooked the Plain of the Jordan. Therefore Lot in some respects may represent both Ur/Babylon and Moab. David, being descended both from the Tribe of Judah and from Moab, had appropriately complex relations with Moab during his reign.

    After David’s reign the narrative continues with Moab being instrumental in the exile of Judah to Babylon (2 Kings 24:2).
    Thus the polemic against return to Babylon echoes in the post-exilic period. To the extent that David is associated with Lot/Moab, some might argue that lurking beneath the surface of the story of Abraham and Lot is a critique of the Davidic line, which in the Moabite influence contained the seeds of its own downfall.

    Interestingly, Isaiah invoked several of the same images as our story, directed at Babylon: “And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldeans’ pride, shall be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. It shall never be inhabited, neither shall it be dwelt in from generation to generation; neither shall the Arabian pitch tent there; neither shall the shepherds make their fold there.” (Isaiah 13:19-20)

    Justin

  2. Michael Carasik Says:

    Dear Justin,

    Thanks so much for this detailed and thoughtful comment. It will take me a while to digest it and think it through. A question for now: Why would the verse mention Egypt explicitly but only hint at Babylon?

  3. Justin Miller Says:

    Michael,

    I don’t have an answer to your question. An alternative reading of garden of the Lord – even the plainest reading – is that it refers to the Garden of Eden, which is explicitly associated with the Tigris and the Euphrates and therefore perforce – on some level – with Ur/Babylon. “And the name of the third river is Tigris; that is it which goeth toward the east of Asshur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.” (Gen 2:14) The description of the rivers in Eden echoes the description of the plain of the Jordan. Genesis 2:8-10 says of the river in Eden: “And the LORD God planted a garden eastward, in Eden … And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became four heads.” Our text says “all the plain of the Jordan, that it was well watered every where … like the garden of the LORD” (Genesis 13:10)

    Another parallel between the fertile Garden of Eden and the fertile plain of the Jordan is that in each case the sense of abundance associated with the river water is described in tandem with the crouching presence of evil. Indeed, in Genesis 2:9 we are introduced for the first time to the potential for evil in the world: “And out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil [רָע ].” Twenty generations later, when Abraham and Lot look upon the fertile plain of the Jordan, evil is well-established in the world: “And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of the Jordan, that it was well watered every where, before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt … Now the men of Sodom were wicked [ רָעִים] and sinners against the LORD exceedingly.” (Gen 13:10, 13) In both the Garden of Eden and in Sodom evil prevails and the humans are chased out.

    Finally, when Lot goes to the garden of the Lord he journeys “east,” which is also where the Lord God had planted His garden. “So Lot chose him all the plain of the Jordan; and Lot journeyed east…” (Gen 13:11) “And the LORD God planted a garden eastward, in Eden…” (Gen 2:8) מִקֶּדֶם is the word used in both cases.

    If Sodom is an allegory for Ur/Babylon, then I wonder what evil existed in those places that our text might be alluding to?

    Justin

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