||[God] said to him, 'Bring for Me a prime heifer, a prime goat, a prime ram, a dove and a young pigeon.'
Vayomer elav kecha li eglah meshuleshet ve'ez meshuleshet ve'ayl meshulash vetor vegozal.
||[Abram] brought all these for Him. He split them in half, and placed one half opposite the other. The birds, however, he did not split.
Vayikach-lo et-kol-eleh vayevater otam batavech vayiten ish-bitro likrat re'ehu ve'et-hatsipor lo vatar.
||Vultures descended on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.
Vayered ha'ayit al-hapgarim vayashev otam Avram.
||When the sun was setting, Abram fell into a trance, and he was stricken by a deep dark dread.
Vayehi hashemesh lavo vetardemah naflah al-Avram vehineh eymah chashechah gdolah nofelet alav.
Meshulesheth in Hebrew, literally 'threefold,' 'triplet,' or 'third grade.' This denotes the best quality (Tosafoth, Gittin 56a, s.v. Egla; Chizzkuni). Others interpret it to mean 'third-born' (Rashi, Pesachim 68a, Shabbath 11a). Another interpretation is that the animals were to be three years old (Targum Yonathan; Ibn Ezra). Others say that they were to be part of a triplet (Ramban). Finally, there are some who maintain that three of each animal were to be brought (Onkelos; Rashi).
All these species, and none other, would be used later for sacrifice. The four types here may represent the 400 years (Genesis 15:13) and the four generations (Genesis 15:16) mentioned later (cf. Hirsch).
This was the way of making a covenant (Rashi). Indeed, the words b'rith (covenant) and bathar (split) appear to be closely related (cf. Radak, Sherashim, s.v. Barath). It symbolized that just as the two halves of the animal were really one, so were the two people making the covenant. Moreover, just as one side cannot live without the other, so the two cannot live without each other (Ralbag; Ikkarim 4:45). It was also seen as a malediction; anyone violating the oath would be torn asunder like the animals (Bachya).
|did not split|
Cf. Leviticus 1:17. (Bereshith Rabbah 44).