You guys know I like to focus on the positive, but tonight I’d like to share with you a spooky piece of Torah, it’s an eerie description, the Torah itself calls it ominous and filled with dread. It’s in this week’s Torah portion of Lech-Lecha (Chapter 15) and it’s called Bris Bayn HaBesarim, or the Covenant between the Pieces or Parts.
There are other promises G-d makes to Abraham in this very same Torah portion. G-d tells Abraham his decendants would be as numerous as the sands of the earth and as luminous as the stars in the sky. Those are both beautiful golden visions, positive and uplifting. But this Covenant between the Parts is different, very different, both in terms of the imagery as well as the content of the promise.
In the Covenant between the Parts, G-d tells Abraham to take 9 animals, 3 of each kind. He’s supposed to cut each of these animals in half, so that half of all the cut animals are on one side and half on the other. And then as the sun was about to set, a deep sleep fell upon Abraham, behold a dread! A great darkness fell upon him.
G-d then told him that his descendants would first be strangers in another land, where they would be oppressed, only later to leave with great wealth and return to the land that G-d promised Abraham.
The verse goes onto describe how in the great darkness a torch of fire inside a fiery oven or furnace passed through between the pieces of animal. And this G-d made a covenant with Abraham, and this covenant was known as the Covenant between the pieces.
The Torah describes this imagery in great detail, I want to make sure you get it. It starts off with the cut animals, half on one side and half on the other, and then a torch of fire inside a fiery oven or furnace passing through between the pieces – and this was the covenant.
There’s no question about it. This is a very unusual piece of Torah text. I can see it making for a really dark film, a psychological thriller. The whole thing is hard to understand. What’s the purpose of all these cut animals and fiery furnace and great dreadful darkness? What’s the message here for us?
I’d like to share with you an insight to all this imagery and its relevance today.
The cutup animals can represent the pieces of our lives. Not everything is whole and wholesome. Often we’re left with pieces, things are torn asunder, too much is broken or spread apart. This happens in people’s lives. It happens within ourselves, it happens to families, communities, it can even happen to countries. It happens in our own hearts.
So what is one to do?
Let’s go back to the imagery of the Bris Bayn HaBesarim, the Covenant between the Pieces. In the darkness, a torch of fire inside an oven or furnace passed through between the pieces.
A torch of fire represents warmth and light, like a beacon it is a symbol of positivity and hope, light is often a metaphor for spirituality and holiness. But a flame can be overwhelmed by the vastness of the darkness. A flame out there alone can be vulnerable to powerful winds extinguishing it.
But this flame is inside the oven. What is an oven? It’s an insulated vessel that retains the heat, and blocks out outside influences. It allows the heat to concentrate and build up within. It takes the flaming torch to a whole new level! The oven or furnace is a place that fosters and bolsters the flame, kicks up the temperature, accelerates its strength, takes the flame to a whole new level.
In this vision G-d told Abraham that his descendants would be strangers in other lands. G-d foretold the exile in Egypt and the future Diaspora, where much that was whole had fallen apart and gone to pieces.
The power of Judaism would be to harness the inner power of the soul, that pilot flame within, that Pintele Yid. Too make the most of that fiery inner flame we all have within, to build an oven for it, a supportive place and lifestyle, a vessel for the soul, so that it can build up its strength, intensify its light, concentrate its warmth, so we can pass through all the broken pieces of our lives, unifying them with the power of the covenant.
We each have a mission to our corner of the world. We can and must bring light and life and positivity and growth to all that we touch. We can be that oven with a flame within, that passes through and positively uplifts all the broken pieces.
And the same is true with our Judaism. We ought to not be disillusioned by the broken pieces and parts all around us. And we can’t rely only on a torch or flame. We have to create an oven, a supportive and insulated space for our spiritual flame to flourish, to brighten, to surge, to strengthen and heat-up in a powerful and effective way. And make sure that oven and flame doesn’t stay fixed off in a corner, but that it travels about and passes through all the shattered pieces of life.
What’s your oven? Fire it up!