Then the word of the LORD came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness. — Genesis 15:4–6
The Torah portion for this week is Lech Lecha, which means “go to yourself.” It is from Genesis 12:1–17:27, and the Haftorah is from Isaiah 40:27–41:16.
Toward the end of this week’s reading, Abraham began to think that God’s promise would not come to pass – at least not in the way that Abraham thought it would. He began to believe that by a successor, God really meant Abraham’s trusted servant, Eliezer. However, God came to Abraham and said in essence, “I meant what I said – you will have a son.” “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.”
Next, God took Abraham outside and directed him to look up at the starry night sky, assuring Abraham that his children would be as numerous as the stars in the heavens. In the next verse we read: “Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.”
The Jewish sages are bothered by this verse. It’s nice that Abraham believed God, but what does it mean that God “credited it to him as righteousness”? After all, would we expect any less from Abraham? He already believed in God, and God had appeared to Him and spelled out what would happen in no uncertain terms. I’d like to believe that even you and I would believe God if He appeared and promised something to us right now!
The sages conclude that what made Abraham’s faith unique and noteworthy was that this was the first time that he was asked to have faith in what, by all natural accounts, was impossible. Abraham was old, Sarah well passed her childbearing years. They couldn’t produce a child even in their most fertile years. God’s promise didn’t make rational sense, and yet, Abraham believed.
That’s why God pointed out the night sky. God was telling Abraham, and all of us, that when things seem the darkest, we need to focus on the stars – on His promises. No matter how confusing life can get, we need to focus on what we know for sure – that God’s promises will come to pass and that His blessings are too numerous to count.
Once Abraham passed that test of faith, he became worthy of having Isaac. This is what the verse means when it says that God gave Abraham credit. Now, Abraham was ready.
In the same way, when we go through the dark times in our lives, we need to focus on God’s promises and stay obedient in faith. God is ready to fulfill His promises, but sometimes we aren’t quite ready yet. The challenge before us right now could be the test of faith that gets us ready to receive all that God wants to give us. No one should ever give up or give in to despair. Focus on the stars, not the darkness, and keep the faith.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President