Wednesday, January 16, 2008


9. Genesis 24

Verses 1-4 says:

Abraham was now old and well advanced in years, and the LORD had blessed him in every way. He said to the chief servant in his household, the one in charge of all that he had, "Put your hand under my thigh. I want you to swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and the God of earth, that you will not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I am living, but will go to my country and my own relatives and get a wife for my son Isaac."

"Put your hand under my thigh." What? That sounds more like a 70's dance move than a biblical reference, but there it is in black and white. So, I did a little research.

We know from the rest of the passage that this was some sort of oath. Abraham was asking his servant to promise to go and find his only son Isaac a wife, not from the Canaanites, but from Abraham's own family and from Abraham's own country. When someone is asked to take an oath typically they put their hand on something sacred. The Jewish custom was similar to our custom of putting our hand on the Bible and swearing an oath to tell the truth. The Jewish oath would be taken while putting one's hand on a Torah scroll or small black leather cubes containing parchment scrolls inscribed with the Shema and other biblical passages called Tefflin. The placing of one's hand on a man's thigh was essentially the same in the Jewish community. What they were saying is, "I swear on mitzvah" that I am telling the truth. Mitzvah which literally means "commandment" was the name for the 613 Divine commandments given in the Torah, or first 5 books of the Old Testament. The word mitzvah stems from the root tzavta, which means attachment. These commandments were intended to form a bond or attachment between God who gave the commandments and the ones who obeyed them. The first of these commandments was given to Abraham in Genesis chapter 17, it is the Covenant of Circumcision. To the man who had fulfilled this commandment, one that was fulfilled with pain, it was sacred and meaningful. So Abraham asks his trusted servant, one who was in charge of all he had, to swear on mitzvah and to put his hand on Abraham's thigh close to the place where that first, painful, sacred, meaningful and spiritual command was fulfilled through circumcision. This was to bring to the attention of the servant just how serious Abraham was about what he was asking him to do. This was not a do you think you could try to, maybe, if it's not too much trouble type asking. Rather a deeply meaningful request which asked for the deepest commitment from this servant.

Verse 9 reads:

So the servant put his hand under the thigh of his master Abraham and swore an oath to him concerning this matter.

So he agrees. He swears on mitzvah. The most holy commitment to fulfill his master's wishes.

May we relish the attachment to our God and His commands, the mitzvah between creator and creation, the bond between us and our God.

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