B’reishit, Chapter 13: Avram and Lot part ways

Avram, Sarai, and Lot returned from Egypt to the place where they had been before.  Since there is not enough space for both Avram and Lot and their belongings, and also there was a quarrel between Avram’s herdsmen and Lot’s, Avram informed Lot that they would have to part ways.  Lot chose the city of S’dom, so Avram went the other way and settled in Canaan.  God promises all the land to Avram and his descendants.

Ovadia HaGeir, or Obadiah the Proselyte, was a Catholic nobleman from either Italy or Normandy who converted to Judaism in 1102.  We know about him mostly from fragments of his manuscript found at the Cairo Geniza; interestingly, he wrote out the musical notation a number of medieval piyyutim (Jewish liturgical poems).

After converting, he sent Maimonides a question about how he should pray.  Many Jewish prayers refer to “our father Avraham,” or the “God of our forefathers.”  Should Obadiah use these phrases, or should he change them?  After all, Avraham was not one of his forefathers in a literal sense.

Maimonides replied that Obadiah could absolutely recite the blessings using the traditional formulations.  After all, he reasoned, Avraham brought under his wing so many new people and they certainly were not his children.  Therefore, anyone who chooses to convert becomes a full Jew, and it becomes as though Avraham was indeed one of their ancestors.  And so, they may even say, “You Who has given our ancestors the land;” Maimonides quotes a verse from our chapter in support of that:

 קוּם הִתְהַלֵּךְ בָּאָרֶץ, לְאָרְכָּהּ וּלְרָחְבָּהּ:  כִּי לְךָ, אֶתְּנֶנָּה.

Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for unto thee will I give it.’

Rabbi Roy Feldman

B’reishit, Chapter 13: Avram and Lot part ways

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