‘Lech lecha’ – get up and go! Here begins the new cycle, a new Torah portion, and a shift from the primeval myths of origins of humanity and peoples, to the patriarchal account of the origins of ‘our’ people.
Some call it the ‘Abrahamic ecumene’, that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all appropriate Abraham as a root narrative.
This first chapter in the cycle sketches Avram coming from Haran, and also sojourning in Egypt, personification of migrations restated throughout the biblical story. Like Canadians claiming roots in Europe and in Asia, this story starts in both Asia and Africa. Where do ‘we’ come from?
Who are ‘fathers’ and ‘mothers’ of our collective identities?
The trip into Egypt gives us the first of several ‘tell them you’re my sister, not my wife’ stories. These are not historical romances or bodice-rippers for Harlequin – they are arguments about assimilation threats when a people is a minority, or resident aliens.
I like to imagine the matriarchs as running the business of the caravan, a small nomadic tribe, not as individual agents, or ‘typical women’. If Sarai is the wife of Avram, the other tribe just kills him and woos her. If she is the sister, they are hoping for favour from him, before they woo her – and he likely has the ownership of the whole tribe.
This is also a precursor of tales of plagues in Egypt, leading pharaoh to ‘let my people go’. How does Avram get out of Egypt with stuff?