The Mistakes Avraham Made

Posted by on Nov 25, 2020

The patriarch Avraham made two mistakes in his life, even three. Two of these mistakes cost his descendants a great deal of trouble. Had Avraham listened carefully to words of the Creator the history of the world would have been quite different.

And I shall make you a great nation, and bless you and make your name great, and you shall be a blessing! And I shall bless those who bless you, and curse him who curses you. And in you all the families of the earth shall be grafted in. (Gen 12:2-3)

This great statement is known as the Avrahamic Covenant or the Covenant of the Land (see Gen 12:1-3, Gen 13:14-17, Gen 17:4-8, Exo 2:24) and was made in the form of a promise. This covenant remained a promise for the future generations since the land was not given to Avraham but to his seed. We read thus,

I have given this land to your seed, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates, … (Gen 15:18)

After Avram had sojourned in the Land of promise twenty-four years, YHVH made another covenant with him and changed his name to Avraham (Gen 17:1-5).

Thus, the Covenant of the Land (Gen 15:18) included also the Covenant of Circumcision (Gen 17:9-13, 27), according to which all his male descendants and those of the nations who joined them are to be circumcised in the flesh. We should clarify here that the Covenant of Circumcision is not a separate covenant but the ratification of the Covenant of the Land.

YHVH promised to make of him a great nation and to perpetuate the covenant through his offspring (Gen 17:6-7).

Two things we will note regarding the promise YHVH made to Avraham in Genesis 12: (1) I shall make you a great nation, and (2) in you all the families of the earth shall be grafted in.

First, YHVH promised that He would make Avraham a great nation (singular). And after the blessings for those who would bless him and curses for those who curse him, the promise went on to assure the patriarch that all families of the earth would be grafted in him (see also Act 3:25, Gal 3:8).

We should recall that with regards to the prophecy of Noach given after the flood respecting Yaphet’s dwelling in the tents of Shem, and the curse pronounced upon the earth, is not to be left out without consideration, when we speak of the Avrahamic Covenant.

But the mistakes began when YHVH said to Avram,

Go for yourself out of your land, from your relatives and from your father’s house, to a land which I show you. (Gen 12:1)

The Avraham story begins with the command מֵאַרְצְךָ  לֶכְ־לְךָ in Hebrew, lech lecha me’ar’tsecha. The plain meaning of Lech lecha me’ar’tsecha is “Go for yourself from your land”, i.e. “Go out of your land alone”. Of course, “go out alone” did not exclude his wife Sarai.

Bu this command can also be translated thus, “Go for your sake from your land”, i.e. “for your own benefit”, or “for your own good”. YHVH did not tell Avraham the exact location He wanted Avraham to move to, nor did He even tell him which country to head for. He only told him to go out of the land in which he was born. It was a tremendous stress for Avraham to just leave his home without having the slightest idea where he was heading for.

And Avram and Nachor took wives: the name of Avram’s wife was Sarai, and the name of Nachor’s wife, Milkah, the daughter of Haran the father of Milkah and the father of Iskah. (Gen 11:29)

Note: We learn from Meg. 14a that Iskah is Sarai, because she would see (סוֹכָה) sachah, through Divine inspiration, and because all gazed (סוֹכִין) at her beauty. Alternatively, יִסְכָּה Iskah, is an expression denoting princedom, (נְסִיכוּת) nesyichut, just as Sarah is an expression of dominion (שְׂרָרָה) serarah.

Now, we find something intriguing in the text. In chapter 11, it appears that Terach, Avraham’s father, took his son and his wife Sarai, his grandson Lot, went out the land of Ur and headed for the land of Kana’an.

But in chapter 12, we see that it was Avraham who left the land of Ur with his wife and Lot. How are we to reconcile this apparent contradiction: Terach or Avraham actually left the land? Because, if YHVH told Avraham to leave the land of Ur without knowing the final destination, why are we told that it was Terach who headed for the land of Kana’an?

And Terach took his son Avram and his grandson Lot, son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, his son Avram’s wife, and they went out with them from Ur-kasdim to go to the land of Kana’an. And they came to Charan and dwelt there. (Gen 11:31)

Actually, there is nothing to reconcile. What we encounter in chapters 11 and 12 is the so-called “block writing”. As we have explained in other places, it is not uncommon for the Scriptural narrative to write the events in block writing.

The block writing is a way to describe the events relevant to the context, not relevant to the chronology. In other words, in a block the author of Genesis described the events concerning the genealogy of Terach, the father of Avram; Terach left the land of Ur with Avram, Sarai, and Lot, and headed for the land of Kana’an. He died in the land of Charan (Chapter 11).

In Chapter 12, however, we read that YHVH told Avram to take his wife and head for an unknown destination. That is another block. The block writing does not have to be chronological, since the ancients were not so concerned in the chronological order of the events but preferred to group them thematically.

So, chronologically, this is what took place. YHVH told Avram to leave the land of Ur. Avram left but he also took with him his father and nephew Lot. And instead of going at once to Kana’an, he stopped a long time in Charan. The explanation is not given here but in Act 7:4 where we read “after the death of his father” he headed for Kana’an.

Indeed, Avram took his old father with him and arrived in the land of Charan where Avraham’s father died at the old age of 205. Only after the death of his father, Avram fulfilled the command to enter the land of promise.

Another thing we should also note. The fact is that YHVH did not ask Avram whether he would even want to enter into a covenantal relationship with the Creator, and Avram did not even question YHVH. This comes to tell us that Avram had already been in a close relationship with YHVH and the covenant He offered to His servant was not a surprise.

But this ambiguity of not knowing where to go was part of the test to which Avram was subjected. The patriarch set out immediately, as we keep on reading,

So Avram left, as (כאשר) Yehovah had commanded him, and Lot went with him. (Gen 12:4)

Why do we say that Avraham set out immediately? Rabbi Or HaChaim explains that “the letter כ at the beginning of the word כאשר, describes the time of leaving, i.e. how Avraham acted immediately in his faith in YHVH to leave his land.

However, the deeper meaning of our verse does not preclude here. YHVH also told Avram to go out of his land to a land which would be shown to him.
In Hebrew, the word eretz, “land”, is etymologically related to the word ratzon, meaning “will”, and the command “Go from your land” can be interpreted also to mean “Go from your will”. This is what we learn from The Chassidic Masters.

And the whole phrase can be interpreted to mean “For your own sake, leave your will and see the will which I will show you”.

Therefore, we understand, the test YHVH subjected onto Avraham was that he was to leave alone, immediately, and unknowingly where he was supposed to head for. This part of the test which Avraham did faithfully.

But Avram took with him his nephew Lot. And because he took Lot to the land of Kana’an, Avram unknowingly included one more element of the test, namely, of who went with him. Avram was not told to take with him anyone but to whom he had already been married: Sarai.

This “slight” deviation from the will of YHVH would cost a lot to his descendants according to the promise: the children of Ya’akov-Israel.
As the history would reveal later, the descendants of Lot from his two daughters became the worst enemies of the children of Israel: the Ammonites and Moabites.

But Avraham would make another grave mistake. This time with the Egyptian maid Hagar through whom another enemy of Israel would be created: the Arabs. We should note that the promise to the patriarch was to become “a great nation” (Gen 12:2), not nations. He eventually became a father of the Israelites and Arabs. Read more about who the Arabs are.

For more insight on Avraham’s third mistake, continue to the article “Did YHVH tell Abraham to sacrifice Isaac?

May we merit seeing the coming of our Mashiach speedily in our days.