Rabbi's Corner

Lech Lecha – Rabbi Lerner – October 22, 2017

A Tale of Two Cities

Lot is swept up as a captive when the four kings defeat the five kings. This gets Avraham involved with the mitzvah of Pidyan Hashevuyim, the redemption of a captive.

14:1-2: And it happened in the days of Amraphel, king of Shinar, Aryoch, king of Elasar, Kedarla’omer, king of Elam, and Sidal, king of Goyim. That these made war on Bera, kind of Sedom, Birsha, king of Amorah, Shinav, king of Admah, Shemaiver, king of Tzevoyim; and the king of Bela, which is Tzoar. Lot and all of his property are captured. A refugee informs Avraham about the capture. 14:14: And when Avraham heard that his kinsman was taken captive, he armed his disciples who had been born in his house – three hundred and eighteen – and he pursued them as far as Dan. Avraham defeats the kings, and frees all of the captives and their property. 14:17-18: And the king of Sedom went out to meet him after his return from defeating Kedarla’omer and the kings that were with him, to the Valley of Shaveh which is the king’s valley. But Malkitzedek, king of Shalem, brought out bread and wine; he was a priest of God, the Most High.

Rav Amnon Bazak: There are vast differences between Avraham’s meetings with these two kings of very different cities. Earlier, when it discussed the king of Sedom, it mentioned his name as Bera, who is the king of the evil Sedom. The name contains the word Ra – evil – within it, just as Birsha, the king of Amorah, has the word Rashah within it. This, as opposed to Malkitzedek that has the word Tzedek within it. Quite a contrast. Rashi says Malkitzedek was Shem, the most righteous son of Noach; he was king of Yerushalayim. We see the difference in character: Malkitzedek comes with an offering of food as a sign of gratitude, unlike the other kings who offered no food, offered no thanks to Avraham. The difference between Sedom and Yerushalayim is enormous. Already from the time Avraham was chosen by God, Yerushalayim had become a singular place – it was the place that he was instructed to offer up Yitzchak – he saw the mountain from a distance – a cloud, representing the Shechinah, hovering over the site – it was to be the place of the future Beis Hamikdash. Hashem tells Moshe in Devarim that there will be a special place of holiness and sacrifices in Eretz Yisrael, as opposed to the Mishkan that travels from place to place; Hashem warns Moshe not to have altars all over the land, as existed before they captured the land – korbanos were to be offered only in that special place of holiness – one will not be able to put up a personal Bamah – korbanos could only be offered in a central place – David ultimately designated the special place after he captured Yerushalayim – the Navi pointed out the pinpoint location, and David purchased the land upon which his son will ultimately build the Bais Hamikdash. Once built, all other locations were excluded from offerings. Rav Bazak says that Yerushalayim was already a different place with a different quality of life from Sedom in the time of Avraham. Yerushalayim is a contraction of the words Yirah and Shalem – God is seen and feared there, and it is a place of wholeness and harmony and concern for others. Malkitzedek represents that place. The quality of Sedom is the opposite – a city that did not welcome or care for strangers or the poor; there was no closeness of people. Yerushalayim is the site where food is brought up three times a year to share with the poor; they are to be empathetic with the people who don’t have, and to feed them. Sedom would abuse the strangers; they would make any stranger or person in need unwelcome; charity was banned. This was clearly seen in the story of the angels who come to rescue Lot, who defied the laws of the land by providing lodging and food to strangers; his life was threatened by the citizens of the city. There is a tremendous contrast between these two cities. Ramban (19:5): There were many terrible things happening there – they had all of the worst character traits – but what sealed their sentence with a terrible heavenly death was the fact that they would not strengthen the hand of the poor and people in need; they practiced perversity and cruelty against the unfortunates of society, more than any other people. Other nations might not welcome paupers, but at least would feel some compassion towards them – there were no rivals to the cruelty of the people of Sedom. Had Sedom been located elsewhere, there would not have been the incredible explosion of God’s anger; but because of the holiness of Eretz Yisrael, they had to be punished and expunged from the land. The very soil there is holy, necessitating mitzvos such as Bikurim and Ma’aser brought from every crop that grows there. Living there entails responsibility towards others because of the land’s holiness – that is where the concept of Areivus takes hold – all of the poor must be cared for. There are many halachos of the land that is meant for the paupers (Maaser Ani, Leket, Shikchah, Peyah) – these only are demanded in Eretz Yisrael. Sedom not only didn’t follow through with this concept of caring for those in need, they went to the other extreme of abusing the poor and needy. They set up laws saying that these people are unwelcome, the opposite of what the land is supposed to be for. We see this portrayed elsewhere in Nach – in the Yeshayahu that is read as the Haftorah of Shabbos Chazon 1:3 where the Navi says that we have no sense of contemplating what God has done for us, no sense of gratitude. In 1:9-10: Had not Hashem…left us a trace of a remnant, we would have been like Sedom, we would have resembled Amorah. Hear the words of Hashem, O chiefs of Sedom; give ear to the Torah of our God, O people of Amorah. The Navi says we have become heartless, like the people of Sedom and Amorah.

Rav Bazak: Avraham doesn’t want to touch anything that belonged to Sedom, as he considered it like Tamei.

Earlier, Avraham and . Lot part company because of tension between the shepherds in 13:2: Now Avraham was very laden with livestock, silver, and gold. 13:5: And also Lot who went with Avraham had flocks, cattle, and tents. 13:7: And there was quarreling between the herdsmen of Avraham’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock – and the Canaani and Perizzi were then dwelling in the land. Rashi: Lot’s shepherds were evil and would graze their cattle in other people’s fields without permission – outright theft. Avraham’s shepherds would rebuke them since they were instructed by Avraham not to graze in private lands. They responded that the land was promised to Avraham and he had no child to inherit – Lot would therefore inherit, and therefore this is not theft. But this promise was for the future – the land still belonged to the seven nations – their sin had not yet grown to the point of their being exiled from the land. As a result of the tension, Avraham in 13:8-9 says Please let there be no strife between me and you, and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen, for we are kinsmen. Is not all the land before you? Please separate from me; If you go left then I will go right, and if you go right, then I will go left. Rav Bazak points out that Avraham misspoke here – he told Lot that eventually they would end up sharing the land; in fact, Lot’s future nations, Ammon and Moav, will not share this land and will be on the other side of the Jordan river. They were not to be attacked in the days of Moshe because those were the lands designated for the descendents of Lot who did not understand what tzedakah is all about and could not live in the land with Bnai Yisrael. The final pasuk of the Haftorah of Shabbos Chazon says we will get back Eretz Yisrael with tzedakah – Tzion will be redeemed with justice and her returnees with tzedakah – it is the hallmark of living in Eretz Yisrael.

Thu, November 23 2017 5 Kislev 5778