By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
Parshat Lech Lecha
November 7, 2003
After leaving his home at Hashem’s command and coming to the
land of Canaan, Avram encounters trial after trial. Before long, this man on a
personal mission to help the world recognize its Creator finds himself in the
midst of a global battle.
And it was in the days of Amrafel, king of Shin’a; Arioch, king of Elasar;
Kedorla’omer, king of Elam; and Tid’al, king of Goyim. They waged war against
Bera, king of Sedom; Birsha, king of Amora; Shinav, king of Adma; and Shemever,
king of Tzevoyim; and the king of Bela, which is Tzo’ar. All of these
assembled at the Valley of Siddim, which is the Sea of Salt (Bereishit
Malbim says that after this war, the five kings were compelled
to pay a yearly tribute to the four kings:
For twelve years they served Kedorla’omer, and for thirteen years (U’SHLOSH
ESREI SHANA) they rebelled (v.4).
Rashi chooses this translation, because it conforms with the chronology of Seder
Olam Rabba (ch. 1) and Shabbat 10b-11a.
And in the fourteenth year, Kedorla’omer and the kings who were with him came,
and they defeated Refaim at Ashterot Karnayim, and the Zuzim at Ham, and the
Eimim in the Plain of Kiryatayim, and the Chorite in their mountains of Se’ir,
as far as Eil Paran which is next to the desert (vs. 5-6).
The conquest of these peoples, whose prowess was well-known (see Devarim
2:10-20), was intended to strike fear in the hearts of the rebellious five kings
of the valley. Furthermore, an examination of the map shows that by taking
control of the entire area to the east of the Jordan as well as to the south and
west, the four kings of the East cut off any escape route. It is also likely
that the surrounding nations mentioned were actual or potential allies of the
Then they turned back and came to Ein Mishpat, which is Kadesh and they attacked
the entire territory of the Amalekite, and also the Emorite who dwells in
Chatzatzon Tamar (v.7).
Ein Mishpat, literally the Well of Judgment, may have been so
called (see Rashi, following Onkelos) because there Kedorla’omer and his
confederates came to a decision regarding the fate of the rebellious kings. From
this place, they could set up a military base for the attack on the valley.
With all alternatives other than surrender eliminated, the five kings decide to
attack, but the four kings are victorious, taking all the five kings’
possessions as booty. They also take Lot, Avram’s nephew who has recently
relocated to Sedom, captive, together with all his possessions. Pirkei deRabbi
Eliezer, ch. 27 says that they expect thereby to “start up” with Avram.
When Avram is informed of these events, he transforms his staff of home-born
slaves, disciples and allies into a fighting force and attacks the four kings as
they withdraw northward on their way back to the east (following the caravan
routes). Avram roundly defeats the four mighty kings and saves his nephew and
all the booty. Avram refuses to accept any of the spoils for himself, while
insisting that all his troops take their fair share.
In Avot (5:3) we are taught that
“With ten trials was our Patriarch Avraham tried, and he withstood all of them,
which shows how great is the [or Hashem’s] love of our Patriarch Avraham.”
All commentaries (Rashi, based on Pirkei deRabbi Eliezer, ch. 27, and Rambam)
agree that Avraham’s involvement in this aforementioned war is one of these
And indeed, as with all of his trials, much of Avraham’s potential was revealed
by this war. As Radak points out, Avraham shows his military ability: the four
kings were powerful enough to defeat the five kings, as well as the surrounding
nations, including the Refaim, antediluvian giants (see Bereishit 6:4), yet
Avraham, with his meager forces prevailed over the four kings. Furthermore, this
war demonstrates the strength of Avraham’s trust in Hashem, who enabled him to
win, despite being vastly outnumbered. We might add that it also manifests
Avraham’s love and loyalty to his kinsman, their past differences
There are additional, more far-reaching consequences of this war. It is Ramban’s
“the deeds of the Patriarchs are a sign for the children,”
meaning that every significant event in the Patriarchs’ lives foreshadowed
future events in Jewish history. Accordingly, he sees in Avraham’s battle
against the four kings an augury of the four kingdoms — Babylon, Persia-Media,
Greece and Rome — that will arise to rule the world, but ultimately G-d’s
children, the Israelites, will prevail over them to reclaim all that will have
been taken from Israel.
Chatam Sofer, however, seems surprised by Ramban’s conclusion, perhaps because
he expects Avraham’s life to prefigure the earliest part of Jewish history.
Consequently, he suggests that Avraham’s retaking of Lot’s possessions parallels
the conquest of Ammon and Moav, Lot’s descendants, in the time of Moshe (Bamidbar
All of this more than explains the importance of this war. However, it still
does not explain why the Torah includes the detailed circumstances leading up to
the war — namely the first war, the twelve years’ compliance with the terms of
surrender followed by the thirteen years of intractability. What does any of
this have to do with Avraham?
Malbim finds an answer in Avraham’s last statement:
“I have sworn to Hashem, Most High G-d, Possessor of heaven and earth, that I
will not take anything that is yours, from a thread to a shoelace, so that you
cannot say ‘I enriched Avram’” (vs. 22-23).
He refuses material gain because the fact that so many nations
now have encountered the unparalleled power of Hashem is satisfaction enough.
Avraham epitomizes Israel’s role in international affairs. Global conflicts may
begin, having nothing whatsoever to do with Israel. Eventually, however, Israel
will be at the center, offering them yet another opportunity to demonstrate its
capabilities. Following Avraham’s example, its greatest mission is to bring
humankind closer to recognition of Hashem.
Torah K'Torat Eretz Yisrael!"- Torah from Aloh Na'aleh*
In an act
of tremendous faith in the Divine, Avraham leaves for an unknown land, a
land that God had promised would bring great blessing to him and his
children. Yet, as soon as he arrives, God strikes the land with a famine
so devastating that Avraham is forced to go down to Egypt in search of
Why does God, after having commanded Avraham to go to
the land of Israel, bring a famine that compels him to leave it? What is
Avraham to gain by his stay in Egypt? Surely, God must have a benevolent
purpose for forcing Avraham to abandon the land and then later return to
Egypt was the center of materialism, and Pharoah was the
king of the material world. By contrast, Avraham was the master of
spirituality and morality. One might think that spiritual knowledge should
suffice for living a righteous life in the land of Israel, but this is not
true. Avraham has to learn how to use the physical world, because in
Israel spirituality and physicality are intertwined. It is the land where
a farmer must do all the same physical work required of any farmer, but
waits for rain, knowing that rainfall, and thus the harvest, depend only
on his spiritual actions. For six years the farmer labors to grow crops,
trusting that on the seventh, the land will miraculously yield its produce
without his efforts.
In modern Israel, as well, we must take concrete steps
to ensure the economic health and military security of our nation. Yet we
too know that true security and financial strength depend on the God of
Rebbitzin Holly Pavlov
Director, She’arim College of Jewish Studies for Women
Author of Mirrors of Our Lives: Reflections of
Women in Tanach
*D’var Torah from Aloh Na'aleh:
an initiative of former North American Rabbis and laymen who successfully
made Aliyah, aimed at highlighting the centrality of Israel and promoting
Aliyah. They send emissaries – Rabbis, academicians, and others – on
speaking-tours throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Tel: 972-2-566-1181 ext. 320