Shaya Cohen -


Creative Conundrums

Lech lecha

Splitting Up a Family?

And Lot also, who went with Abram, had flocks, and herds, and tents. And the land was not able to bear them, that they might dwell together; for their substance was great, so that they could not dwell together. … And Abram said unto Lot: ‘Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee, and between my herdmen and thy herdmen; for we are brethren. Is not the whole land before thee? separate thyself, I pray thee, from me;

But… why?

Why didn’t Avram or Lot merely suggest that they could keep the family together if they got rid of some of their animals?

Given that the rest of the story of Lot’s life does not work out well (to put it mildly), wouldn’t it suggest that the story might have unfolded a different way?

After all, isn’t family more important than sheep?

Why Lie?

Avram tells everyone that his wife is his sister.

But when the Egyptians find out, they don’t kill Avram!

The story repeats with Avimelech. And then with Isaac and Rivkah. In each case they fear being killed for their wife. But although it never happens, they keep suggesting it.


Subtle Miracle?

When Avram wins the battle, the King of Sodom praises Avram. He does not see G-d’s hand in any way.

Malchizedek sees the very same battle – and draws very different conclusions. Malchizedek praises G-d.

Was the victory just not obvious or big enough for the world to recognize G-d’s involvement?

Might this be connected to G-d’s promise, at the Covenant Between the Parts, to make a much BIGGER miracle, to make a much bigger impression, so that the world could not, as the King of Sodom did, assume that there was no divine involvement?

Might the King of Sodom’s response to the victory be the reason that the Exodus was such a huge and undeniable spectacle?

Neo-Con Foreign Policy?

In the war of the Four and Five Kings, Avram does not act, despite all the collateral damage to nearby peoples, including

[they] smote all the country of the Amalekites.

Avram indeed does not act until Lot is taken prisoner. And then he swoops in and saves the day.

What if this is the origin of the grudge Amalek had against Avram’s descendants forever more? What if Amalek always hated the fact that Avram could have acted, but did not do so until Avram’s own flesh and blood was endangered?

Is this a lesson about involvement in foreign wars? If so, which way should we learn it? Should Avram have acted sooner?

Could this also be the source of the commandment to “never forget the memory of Amalek.”? What if Amalek’s “memory” is their ability to hold a grudge across many generations?

Mismatched Blessing and Curse

וַאֲבָֽרְכָה֙ מְבָ֣רְכֶ֔יךָ וּמְקַלֶּלְךָ֖ אָאֹ֑ר וְנִבְרְכ֣וּ בְךָ֔ כֹּ֖ל מִשְׁפְּחֹ֥ת הָאֲדָמָֽה And I will bless them that bless thee, and him that curseth thee will I curse; and in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed.

The word for “blessing”, bracha, is matched in the above. But the word for “curse” is NOT a match! (Kallel and Arur) Why? Why not use either kallel or Arur both times?

Might it be because kallel refers to harming a relationship, e.g.

And the LORD smelled the sweet savor; and the LORD said in His heart: ‘I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake;

And he went in unto Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her eyes.

My father perhaps will feel me, and I shall seem to him as a mocker; and I shall bring a curse upon me, and not a blessing.’

While, by contrast, arur is a physical punishment, something that even a spiritually-deaf person would perceive? As in:

Then G-d said to the serpent, “Because you did this, More cursed shall you be than all cattle and all the wild beasts: On your belly shall you crawl. And dirt shall you eat all the days of your life.

To Adam [G-d] said, “Because you did as your wife said and ate of the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ Cursed be the ground because of you;

If this is true, then is the first pasuk saying, in essence, that anyone who seeks to disrupt the relationships of Avram will suffer a material loss? Would that explain the mismatch in the language?

Is Hagar a Poisoned Present?

It seems that Avram and Sarai acquired Hagar when they were in Egypt, as she was Egyptian. She certainly represented the Egyptians traits: Unlike Sarai (and Jews in general) Hagar was highly fertile without requiring a relationship with G-d. She was pliant and shaped by the will of the people around her at every turn. Perhaps Hagar was a symbol for all that was Egypt – the land and people contrasted with the Jewish people countless times in the text?

Indeed, Hagar is the only woman in the Torah with a speaking role who does not, at one point or another, act against the dominant male figures in her life. All of which combines to make Hagar uniquely distinct, and uniquely un-Jewish.

We also know that Hagar deeply harmed the marriage of Avram and Sarai: she was a source of tension and contrast, a splinter that caused infection.

What if there is a broader lesson to be learned about Hagar in the Torah? Might it be that we must not allow such anti-Jewish influences into our homes and marriages? Might her presence have been an ongoing punishment for going down to Egypt in the first place?

Is there a measure-for-measure, a middoh k’neged middoh in the fact that Sarai the Jewess was taken into Pharaoh’s harem, and Hagar the Egyptian was functionally taken into Avram’s harem? Did not both of these lead to bad outcomes? Could Hagar have been a way for Pharoah to avenge the insult to his person?

If Avram and Sarai could have gone back and made different choices about Egypt and Hagar, what might they have changed?

This parsha question sheet takes the approach of reading the Chumash very closely. It is assumed that every letter and word has meaning, and all questions can be answered (at least every one we have come up so far!) So you’ll find the questions offered every week are deeply textual, seeking relevance to our lives today from the foundational document for Judaism and indeed all of Western Civilization.

This sheet is distributed with the general approval of Rabbi Rose.

Our answers can be found at (use the search tool). Or email me at

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