Culturally Bound Prophecies, Dreams and Visions: the Seed, the Land and the Number Twelve
It seems that Birkath Avraham (Avraham's blessing) – namely: birkath ha-zer'a (the blessing of the land) and birkath ha-arets (the blessing of the seed) that Avinu Yitschaq (Bereshith 28:4) gives to Ya'aqov (in the future Avinu Ya'aqov) consceouslly (as opposed to birakath hatslachah and rewachah – the blessing for worldly success that Ya'aqov gets trough cheating) does not start with Avinu Avraham – even if the Torah does not state explicitly that such a promise was ever given to (or, at least that such a dream and vision were shared by) any of his anscestors or contemporaries.
Before anything else, let us concentrate for a moment on a gradual development of Birkath Avram.
In Bereshith 12:1 God promises Avram to make him into a goy gadol (huge, numerous or great people) [ = birkath ha-zer'a], [pay attention that goy gadol here is in the singular form, as that will be quite important later].
In 13:14 God promises Avram and his seed [not only to the seed – but to Avram himself and to his seed] the entire land [ = birkath ha-arets] and confirms the goy gadol promise - comparing Avram's zer'a to 'afar ha-arets (dust of land) [ = birkath ha-zer'a].
In 15:5-10 God confirms the goy gadol promise – comparing Avram's zer'a with kokhve ha-shshamayim (stars of Haven) [ = birkath ha-zer'a], and strengthens the land promise [birkath ha-arets].
In 17:2-15 God transforms the berith (covenent) with Avram. – Now, since God is unchangeable - He (for those who have forgotten YHWH is Sovereign, and He acts accordingly) prefers to change Avram's identity (by changing his name into Avraham) – in order to create the pretext for transformation of the berith. - Once Avraham recieves his new (unasked for) identity - the berith with him needs to be reassured (what a nice opportunity to change few things in the nusach of the contract) – and all of the sudden the goy gadol promise in a subtle way changes into hamon goyim (many peoples) promise - and new condition for inheritance of the Land is added – namely: lihyoth lekha l-Elohim ulazar'akha acharekha (to be for you as a God, and for your seed after you).
Interestingly, this subtle transformation of the berith is followed by a promise that a new son will be born to Avraham (17:16, 17).
Avram – well, Avraham by now, non-modern person as he was – without too much theology and philosophy, understands immediately that God wants Yishm'ael out -
[From the condition added to the contract we could deduce that YHWH was not Yishm'ael's God, as we can also learn from the fact that Yishm'ael is never addressed by God directly (while Phar'o and Avi-Melekh are), and that he never speaks in the entire book of Bereshith. To my mind these last two are midah kenged midah (divine vengeance). Yishm'ael does not accept God (while Phar'o and Avi-Melekh whith all their narrow polytheistic agenda do), so God does not accept him. He neglects God, so God neglects him. He acts as if God never spoke to people, so God does not let him speak in His book. Besides this, Yishm'ael was probably a very nice and moral person as we never hear anything bad about him throughout the entire affair. Apparently, his "only" problem is that he is not serious on his relationship with God. It appears from the Torah text (and even more so from its context) that Yishm'ael was the first God-neglecter (in modern terminology: secular). Pay attention, though, that our uncle was not anti-God as Nimrod and his followers, he just did not care about God at all.]
and therefore Avraham pleads: lu Yishm'ael yichye lefanekha (let Yishmael live in front of you). This is his first and only response to God's entire speech. Torah describes his motives and tells us that he responds this way because he has doubts concerning his and Sara's ability to have children at their age. – Anyhow, Avraham wants to secure Yishm'ael's position in front of God.
But, God (kivyakhol) had had enough of Yishm'ael's hutspah – and preferred to impose the solution in an assertive way:
Aval Sarah istekha yoledeth lekha ben, we-qarata eth shemo Yitschaq - we-haqimothi eth berithi ito, livrith 'olam le-zar'o acharaw.
"But [what can I do when] Sarah your wife gives [This is a play on tenses. God uses present tense on purpose - in order to emphasize that it is as sure as if it was happening at this moment.] gives you a son – and you will call his name Yitschaq – and I shall establish my covenant with him, as an eternal covenant for his seed after him."
Interestinglly, when sending Rivqah to get married to Yitschaq her family gives her the following blessing:
Achotenu, at hayi le-alfe revava – weyirash zar'ekh eth sha'ar soneaw."
Our sisters you shell be as…
"Alfe revava" corresponds to birkath ha-zzer'a of Birkath Avraham, and "yerushath sha'ar ha-soneim" corresponds to birkath ha-arets of Birkath Avraham.
Did Rivqa's family merely wanted to bless her with a whish to become a wesel for fullfilment of Birkath Avraham – or maybe this is the most common blessing in those days (something like telling a young bride today: Mazal Tov)?
From the text of the Torah it does not appear that Rivqa's family knew anything about the divine promisse to Avraham. On the other side, Rivqa's blessing is so remindful of Birkath Avraham that from there as well from the fact that it is not repeated to any other bride in Torah – we can infer that there is something more to it.
We see that Lavan knows the name YHWH, and that God speaks with him but we
The obvious competition between Ya'aqov and Lavan, Lavan's trying to keep Ya'aqov away from his mission, his mentioning of Elohe Nachor and Elohe Avraham
- shows that these Arameans did share a lot of Avraham's ideology.
There is nothing unusual about it. Avraham did not came from a vacuum. He did develop into a giant of faith and became The Restorer of the Pure Monotheism - but his starting point was his family, their ideas, beliefs, convintions and ambitions.
In Hilkhoth 'avoda zara (1:10) Maimonides states the following:
And his (Avram's) father and mother and all the population are 'ovdin 'avoda zara, we-hu haya 'oved 'imahem…
In Paschal Haggadah our Sages of blessed memory say: 'ovde 'avoda zara hayu avotenu, and they basing this on the pesuqim 2 and 3 of the chapter 24 of the Book of Yehoshu'a:
Ko amar Adonay Elohe Yisrael: be-'ewer ha'nnahar zashevu avotekhem - Terach, avi Avraham wa-avi Nachor, wa-ya'avdu elohim acherim. Wa-eqach et avikhem – eth Avraham…
Avraham developed gradually, he did not come out of nowhere - his later convinctions have developed from his context.