This week’s Torah portion, Lech Lecha (Gen. 12:1 – 17:27) begins the story of Abram, whose name God changes to Abraham in verse 17:5 of this portion. Abraham is regarded as the first to recognize the one God, and to reject the worship of idols which was the practice of all those around him.
From the beginning, God has promised Abram that his name would be made great and that his descendants would outnumber the stars. Yet, Abram remains childless and wondering when the promise will be fulfilled.
In chapter 15, God comes to Abram and tells him to sacrifice a ram, a kid, a bull and a bird and cut all the animals except the bird in half and lay the pieces opposite one another. Abram then falls into a deep and unnatural sleep, in which a powerful dark dread comes upon him. In a vision, God tells him that his descendants will be enslaved and afflicted for four hundred years, but that God would then exact judgment upon those who enslaved them, and bring them out in prosperity to return to their land.
This odd and eerie prophecy is, of course, carried out as the children of Israel do become slaves in Egypt for four hundred years. Apparently, Abraham never saw fit to pass this vision of his on to his children and grandchildren, as there is no indication that anyone but he knew in advance what would come to pass. Perhaps during our own lives, we too receive mystical messages, difficult to interpret, which come true in ways that we cannot know or decipher.