Breishit/Genesis 12 – 17
The opening words of this week’s reading are among the more well known Torah verses. They describe God’s call to Abram to leave his native land and to travel to a Land that the Lord will show him. God gives to Abram a powerful promise which includes these remarkable words: I will bless those who bless you and I will curse those who curse you. And in you, all the families of the earth will be blessed.
Torah records that Abram took his wife, Sarai and his nephew Lot, along with all their accumulated possessions and began the trek to his new home.
Abram passed through the land as far as the site of Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. Now the Canaanite was then in the land. The LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the LORD who had appeared to him. Then he proceeded from there to the mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the LORD and called upon the name of the LORD.
Abram has now arrived in the promised Land and experiences the first visitation from God WITHIN the Land. What is His reaction? To build an altar to the Lord; in other words, to erect a permanent monument to His first encounter with the Almighty inside the borders of Canaan.
Abram moved on from there a bit and pitched his tent. Now he wasn’t just camping! His tent was his home, albeit a rather impermanent, unstable ‘home’ from our perspective. But in that day and culture, it was indeed ‘home’. The tent would have been large and well decorated. We’ve already seen that Abram and Sarai brought their possessions with them and we know that Abram was a rich man, so it’s safe to assume that this tent was luxurious by the standards of that day. All that being said, however, it was still a tent!
Note the word: ‘pitched’ One cannot ‘build’ a tent; one can only ‘pitch’ a tent. Easy up, easy down!
So what happened next? Did they just camp out, chill out and revel in the fact that they’d arrived at the Land of Promise? Not exactly!
A simple geography check lets us know that Abram pitched his tent between two hills. On the first stood the altar he had already built; after pitching his tent, he then built a second altar opposite the first one on a second elevated area to honor the Lord who had called him and brought him thus far.
Altars built of stone are considered permanent; they are designed to be lasting testimonials to a miracle, or a promise, or a covenant. Large stone altars can still be seen today in Israel that date back thousands of years.
As Abram sought to follow God’s call on his life, he did something that inspires us to this day. He ‘built’ altars and ‘pitched’ tents. What does that mean?
He gave permanent and lasting value to that which honored God and would continue to do so after he was gone – altars. He ascribed temporary value to that which had temporary existence – tents.
How often have we in our own lives ‘built’ tents and ‘pitched’ altars instead? Just the opposite of what he did!
We invest great effort and finances in that which has only a temporary existence – the things of our earthly lifespan; and too little effort and finances in that which is eternal – our spiritual life and growth. Father Abraham would certainly chide us about our priorities!
In Tune with Torah this week = a priority check is in order. A psychologist friend once told me that we can discern what our heart is most attached to but tracking our thoughts. How often do thoughts of God, eternity, words of Torah, development of virtues, etc. occupy our mind? Or, to be honest, do we spend too much of our waking hours consumed with worry and anxiety over our bank accounts, our future, the house we want to buy, the car we prefer to drive, and all the other multitudinous physical possessions that often become more of a burden than a blessing? The question to ask ourselves this weekend is this one: What is my heart attached to the most? This life or eternal life to come?