By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
Shabbat Parshat Lech
8 Cheshvan 5765 - October 22, 2004
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 14:1-3).
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.
In Parshat Lech Lecha, Avraham takes Sarah and the rest of his household
down to Egypt to escape the famine in Eretz Yisrael. As they are about to
enter Egypt, Avraham says to Sarah,
"Behold, now I know that you are a beautiful woman and when the Egyptians
see you, they will say ‘She must be his wife’ and they will kill me and
let you live. So please tell them you’re my sister so it will be good for
me… (12:11-13).” How can it be that Avraham only realizes now that his
wife Sarah is beautiful? Avraham and Sarah had to have been married for a
number of years by now. In all those years of being married, did it escape
Avraham’s attention that his wife was beautiful? And what is it about
their situation now that suddenly makes it so clear to him? Furthermore,
Avraham does not say "Now I know", rather he says "he-nay nah yadati –
now, I knew." How did this new discovery affect what Avraham knew in the
In Judaism there are two words for beauty 1) "yofi" and 2) "chayn." Yofi
is external, physical beauty. Chayn is internal beauty which comes from a
person's spiritual attributes. The amazing thing about chayn is that it
can actually make a person's yofi look better. This is demonstrated by the
times when singles meet a first date and don’t find them to be so
attractive. Commonly, the more they get to know them (i.e. their sweet
disposition and good nature) the more beautiful they seem to become. We
explain this phenomenon as “His/her looks grew on me,” but really what is
happening is that their chayn accentuates their yofi.
The Midrash says that on their way down to Egypt, Avraham and Sarah had to
cross a stream. In crossing the stream, Avraham looked down and saw the
reflection of Sarah in the water. Upon seeing her reflection, Avraham
suddenly realized how beautiful his wife Sarah was.
Throughout their marriage, Avraham saw Sarah’s beauty as being a function
of both her yofi and chayn. Avraham never saw Sarah as simply an object of
beauty, because he never separated her inner beauty from her external
beauty. But the one-dimensional image from the stream reflected only
Sarah’s objective yofi, not her chayn. For the first time Avraham saw
Sarah as externally beautiful, leading him to exclaim, ‘Now I have proof
that what I always knew is true; I always saw you as beautiful because you
had a beautiful inside in addition to a beautiful outside. Now I can
confirm that you are as beautiful on the outside as I always knew you were
on the inside.’
Those who experience the beauty of Israel are continually awed not only by
its yofi but also by its chayn. Why don’t you come to experience it for
Old City, Jerusalem
*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.
Rabbi Yerachmiel Roness ,
Exec. Dir., Aloh Naaleh,
At the OU Center, 22 Keren HaYesod
Tel.(02) 566-7787 ex. 254