God and Abram's covenant between the pieces raises issues of conditionality and obligation still relevant today.

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Provided by the Union of Reform Judaism, the central body of Reform Judaism in North America.

Abram, Sarai, and Lot go to Canaan. (Genesis 12:1-9)

  • Famine takes them to Egypt, where Abram identifies Sarai as his sister in order to save his life. (12:10-20)

  • Abram and Lot separate. Lot is taken captive, and Abram rescues him. (13:1-14:24)

  • Abram has a son, Ishmael, with his Egyptian maidservant, Hagar. (16:1-16)

  • God establishes a covenant with Abram. The sign of this covenant is circumcision on the eighth day following a male baby's birth. (17:1-27)

Focal Point

The word of Adonai came to him [Abram] in reply, "That one shall not be your heir; none but your very own issue shall be your heir." God took him outside and said, "Look toward the heavens and count the stars, if you are able to count them." And God added, "So shall your offspring be." (Genesis 15:4-5)

And [Abram] said, "O Adonai God, how shall I know that I am to possess it [this land]? God answered, "Bring Me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old she-goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young bird." [Abram] brought [God] all these [animals] and cut them in two…. As the sun was about to set, a deep sleep fell upon Abram and a great dark dread descended upon him…. When the sun set and it was very dark, there appeared a smoking oven and a flaming torch that passed between those pieces. On that day Adonai made a covenant with Abram…. (Genesis 15:8-10,12,17-18)

Your Guide

What are God's promises to Abram?

What are the primary elements of this covenant? Why are they so physical in nature?

We often associate the cry for children with barren women. Note the simple beauty of Abram's, "What can You give me, seeing that I shall die childless?" (15:2) Compare Abram's plea to God to that of Isaac in Genesis 25:21.

Look at verses 15:5, 12, and 17. At what time(s) of day does this encounter take place? Is Abram asleep or awake? What are the moods and feelings conveyed by this text?

We often discover truths about our lives through our dreams. Although those dreams are probably not "true" in objective ways, they undoubtedly reveal truths about our own lives. What truths about the covenant between God and the Jewish people are contained here for Abram?

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Rabbi Shira Milgrom

Rabbi Shira Milgrom serves Congregation Kol Ami in White Plains, NY.