In short I was told a covenant in ancient days was made by cutting a animal and each party of the covenant would pass through the pieces in order to affirm the covenant.

I always thought this was what happened at the Brit Bein Habetarim (Bereshit 15, see verse 17 in particular), but then I noticed Avram didn't or wasn't invited to pass between the pieces, but it was just an image of a flaming torch representing HaShem passing through. This made me wonder whether or not it has anything to do with the Brit Milah which Avram had to perform himself.

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This is a prophesy to Avraham as to what will happen to his descendants and the relationship that they will have with Hashem. This is based on verse 12 and answers the question posed by Avraham in verse 3 about not having children and in verse 8 במה אדע. As a result, it does not refer to the Bris Milah, which is a different matter.

The Art Scroll chumash summarizes the meforshim that this was a promise by Hashem to Avraham, not a treaty between two parties.

Lech Lecha 15:7

The furnace and fire symbolized that eh Divine Presence was there to seal the covenant, and the smoking furnace also symbolized Gehinnom, , into which the Four Monarchies would descend (Rashi). Alternatively, they symbolized the intense darkness and the fire that would be present at the Revelation at Sinai (Exodus 19:18) (Moreh Nevuchim)

Rav Hirsch says that the fire and the furnace symbolized the purification and recombining that would affect his descendants. This is a prophesy of the three fates עבדות, גרות and ענוי that the Jewish people will suffer before being redeemed.

"And then when the sun had gone down, and complete darkness had set, lo, it was a smoking furnace and a torch of fire - it had been a refining and an enlightening - which had temporarily kept these pieces apart" (עבר not עובר) - the purification was completed, the enlightening had worked, the broken parts were joined again.

דן אנוכי not אדון I will judge, but: I judge it now. The nation that I have appointed for a refining glowing furnace, a melting pot for your descendatns receives herewith the declaration of the fate that will overtake it when its mission ends, in the punishment it so richly deserves.

  • But Avram did cut real animals, so if only the Divine Presence was passing trough those (for real or in a vision/prophecy), it seems a bit of a one-sided convenant. That's why I wondered if by making a Brit Milah Avram confirmed his side of the covenant.
    – Levi
    Sep 8, 2017 at 11:49
  • Yes but it was a prophesy to show what was to be and involved actions that he was to carry out. This is like Yirmiyahu having to but a field or Yeshayahu having to lie down. The mefarshim say that it was not a covenant, but actions designed to show a prophesy. Sep 8, 2017 at 12:46
  • So is it like: Bereshit 12 promises, Bereshit 15 propecy of the future, Bereshit 17 establish a covenant?
    – Levi
    Sep 8, 2017 at 14:30
  • @HopefullyHelpfull Sounds correct. Sep 8, 2017 at 16:42

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