Mistaken IdentitiesBy Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
Around this time, there was a war of four local kings versus five local kings. (Their names are in verses 1-2.) They battled in a valley that is now the Dead Sea (more foreshadowing). The basis of the conflict was that the five kings had all served Chedarlaomer (one of the four kings), but now they rebelled. Details of the war are given in verses 5-10. Bottom line, the four kings won. When the victors took the spoils of war, Lot was among the captives. (Lot had been living in Sodom, which was one of the conquered cities.)
Avram got word that his nephew had been captured. He gathered his fighting force of 318 men and pursued the invaders as far as Dan. He struck them and rescued the captives, plus all the wealth that had been captured. Upon his return, Avram was greeted by Malkitzedek, king of the city of Shalem (later Jerusalem). Malkitzedek served a banquet, at which he praised Avram and G-d. Malkitzedek was a kohein (“priest”) to G-d, so Avram gave him a tenth of the wealth (a “tithe,” if you will).
Many things in this aliyah may not be what they seem. Avram was informed that Lot was captured by “the one who escaped” (verse 13). The Midrash tells us that this was Og, an antediluvian giant who escaped the flood and would later antagonize the Jews (in Numbers 21). Avram’s army of 318 men may have been his attendant Eliezer alone. (We’ll meet Eliezer in 15:2; the numerical value of his name is 318.) Malkitzedek, according to most commentators, is not a proper name, but a title, like Pharaoh or Caesar. Malkitzedek is identified by the Talmud (Nedarim 32b) as Noah’s son Shem. Finally, the territory of Dan may be called by the Torah by its future name, or it may be another area that was known by the same name in the time of Avram.