Avrohom saves the captives, his nephew Lot among them, swept along in the horrors of war. * On the fourth reading of Parshas Lech Lecha with integrated commentary of Rashi.
by Rabbi Boruch Merkur
In the days when Amraphel ruled over Shinar, a formidable king with a reputation stretching far and wide, other monarchs arose in various regions. There was Arioch, the stalwart leader of Ellasar, Kedorlaomer, the cunning ruler of Elam, and Tidal, who presided over Goyim.
Now, many whispered about the true identity of Amraphel, suggesting he was none other than Nimrod—the same who had once audaciously challenged Abram, demanding he leap into a furnace of roaring flames. Their interactions were the stuff of legends, tales told by mothers to their children, by teachers to their students.
The domain of Tidal, Goyim, was an intriguing place, its name symbolizing the melting pot it had become. Several tribes and communities had gathered there, uniting under one banner, seeking a shared purpose and strength in their diversity. The name 'Goyim' wasn't just a moniker—it was a testament to their collective spirit. Amidst them, Tidal emerged as the unifying force, binding different backgrounds, cultures, and beliefs under his rule. His leadership was marked not just by the vastness of his territory, but by the depth of its cultural tapestry.
And so, in an era of powerful leaders and shifting allegiances, these kings made their mark, etching their stories into the annals of history.
Amidst the shifting sands and the growing power of monarchs, a tension simmered between five kings. The dominant forces, led by Amraphel and his allies, turned their attention to five rulers, each with a story of his own.
There was Bera, the king of Sodom, whose very name hinted at his nature—harmful to both the heavens and the people. It was whispered in the corners of his kingdom that his wickedness touched everything he came across. Not far from him was Birsha, the king of Gomorrah. His rise to power was rooted in wickedness, a path forged through treachery and deceit.
Then came Shinab, king of Admah, whose disdain wasn't reserved just for his subjects. His very name suggested a deeper rebellion—one against the Heavenly Father himself. A rejection so profound, it seemed he despised the very essence of divine creation.
Shemeber, the king of Zeboiim, had a curious reputation. Rumors swirled of his unique abilities, almost supernatural in nature. It was said he had the prowess to leap and soar like the birds, a defiance against the natural order of things, as if challenging the Creator Himself.
Lastly, there was the ruler of Bela, which was also known as Zoar. Unlike the others, his name bore no weighty significance or whispered tales. It was, simply, the name of the city he ruled.
The stage was set. A tapestry of ambitions, rivalries, and powers was about to unfold. The choices of these kings would reverberate throughout their realms, and their destinies would soon be intertwined in ways none could foresee.
The shifting alliances and strategic friendships weren't just a game of thrones for the five rulers, but an essential maneuver to survive the ever-turbulent landscapes. They congregated at a renowned location, Emek HaSiddim. The place bore its name not merely from its geographical distinction but from the vast fields that characterized it. These were fields which, in time, would yield stories of their own.
However, as generations would come to know, Emek HaSiddim had a destiny intertwined with nature’s most potent force. Where once the land was solid and teeming with green fields, a transformation occurred. The waters encroached upon its territory, turning its fertile soil into a vast expanse of saltiness. This place of collaboration and gathering would become known as the Salt Sea.
Legends whispered of even more profound changes—the surrounding cliffs tearing open, letting streams of water flow into its heart. Whether by nature's design or divine intervention, the meeting ground of these kings would evolve into a symbol of impermanence and change.
The seasons changed, years passed, and beneath the shadow of the evolving Emek HaSiddim, political landscapes shifted. Five monarchs, each ruling their domains with distinct styles and ambitions, found themselves in a subservient position. They had been serving Kedorlaomer, a king whose reputation was as vast as his kingdom. For twelve long years, these rulers acknowledged his superiority, bending their crowns and wills to his mandates.
However, as is the nature of rulers and realms, after over a decade of subjugation, the winds of resistance began to blow. With the dawn of the thirteenth year, the five monarchs could no longer suppress their growing discontent. Their kingdoms had known subordination for long enough. The spirit of rebellion stirred, and they chose no longer to bow. The years of compliance had laid the foundation for what was about to become a period of unprecedented revolt.
In the aftermath of the rebellion, the tides began to turn. The five monarchs, united in their newfound defiance, drew strength from each other. But the fourteenth year brought with it the rumble of hooves and the glint of armor. Kedorlaomer, the king not easily swayed or defied, responded to the revolt.
He didn't come alone. Alongside him, three powerful kings joined forces, their combined might creating a formidable front. This was not just about reclaiming control. This was a statement, a demonstration of Kedorlaomer's unyielding grip on his territories.
Their campaign was brutal and decisive. They first struck at the Rephaim in Ashteroth Karnaim, a people renowned for their strength and might, yet they fell before Kedorlaomer's force. The Zuzim in Ham, known in some circles as the Zamzumim, faced a similar fate, their once-mighty warriors now a testament to the overwhelming power of the combined monarchs. And in Shaveh Kiriathaim, the Emim, another strong nation, felt the sting of Kedorlaomer's wrath.
It was clear that the mastermind behind this conquest was Kedorlaomer himself, taking charge and leading the assault. The message was unmistakable: rebellion would not go unpunished, and Kedorlaomer's reign was not to be questioned.
As Kedorlaomer and his allies carved a path of dominance, the once mighty were falling one by one. Their campaign continued relentlessly, sweeping through varied landscapes, encountering a mosaic of cultures and peoples. Among their next targets were the Horites, who lived among the hills. These weren’t just any hills, but their ancestral hills, the very backbone of their identity. The rugged terrain of Seir, with its hidden nooks and crannies, had always provided a protective blanket for its inhabitants.
From there, their force pressed forward to El Paran, which wasn't a plain as some might think. No, El Paran was distinct. Just as there are places named for their particular characteristics – like the oaks of Mamre, known as Elon or the plains by the Jordan River called Kikar, El Paran had its unique flavor. It stood adjacent to the vast expanse of the desert, a liminal space where the solid certainties of the hills met the vast uncertainties of the wilderness.
Kedorlaomer's ambition seemed boundless. Like a river flowing over the land, he was shaping its course, his presence felt everywhere, imprinting his legacy on the histories of numerous peoples and territories.
The battles seemed unending as the conquering alliance retraced its steps, marching towards a place known as Ein Mishpat, later called Kadesh. But Kadesh wasn’t just any place. The sands of this region held whispers of a future still unformed. In days yet to come, this would be the backdrop for a contentious event involving Moses, Aaron, and the very waters that bubbled from its source. The disputes over these waters would echo through time, giving the place its name. For the present, it was a gathering spot, where locals converged for judgments, settling disputes under the desert sky.
Yet, the alliance's thirst for power was not sated. They moved against the territories of the Amalekites, even though Amalek himself had not yet been born. The land, it seemed, already bore the weight of a name destined for a future filled with conflict and contention.
They continued their campaign, clashing with the Amorites who resided in Hazazon Tamar, known to many as Ein Gedi. Its luscious springs and palm groves offered a sharp contrast to the surrounding arid wilderness, a sanctuary in the midst of vast sands. Yet, this oasis too, couldn't escape the tremors of war.
As the winds shifted, a new tension stirred the atmosphere. From the heart of Sodom emerged its king, a man of power and strategy. He wasn’t alone. The monarchs of Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Bela (which was also called Zoar) stepped forth in a united front. Their robes fluttered, their crowns gleamed, and their eyes told stories of ambition and pride.
The valley of Siddim, known for its murky pits and treacherous terrain, became the chosen stage for an impending showdown. Each king and his entourage occupied strategic points, setting up camps, rallying troops, and finalizing their plans of engagement. It wasn't just a battle over land or resources; it was a tussle for dominance, a test of alliances, and an assertion of legacy.
In the shadow of these preparations, the local residents of the valley could only watch in trepidation. Whispers of past conflicts, alliances made and broken, and the changing dynamics of power filled the air. The ground seemed to bristle with anticipation, awaiting the clash of titans that would undoubtedly mark a pivotal moment in history.
The landscape of the valley bore witness to another powerful formation. From the distant lands of Elam emerged King Chedorlaomer, a force to be reckoned with. He was joined by Tidal, the king of nations, Amraphel of Shinar, and Arioch of Ellasar. These four kings, though fewer in number, were known far and wide for their might and strategic brilliance.
Their strength was palpable, each commanding respect not just by their regal attire, but by the tales of their past conquests. The balance of power was evident: four against five. Yet, the unity of these four was legendary. Their fewer numbers, instead of being a disadvantage, became a testament to their prowess. They had managed to conquer and subdue, despite being outnumbered.
As these kings established their dominion in the valley, an undercurrent of respect and caution rippled through the region. Still, Abraham, even in the face of such formidable foes, remained undeterred. His resolve was strong, as he prepared to chase after them, emphasizing the relentless spirit and determination that defined his character.
In the aftermath of the tumult, as the sun glared down on the now silent battlefield, a new group emerged. They weren’t warriors in the traditional sense but opportunists, quick to spot a chance to benefit from others' misfortunes. With Sodom and Gomorrah's armies either trapped in the treacherous pits or fled to the mountains, their cities stood vulnerable, open to plunder.
These invaders moved with a calculated efficiency. They swiftly descended upon the cities, their intentions clear. The wealth and prosperity of Sodom and Gomorrah, amassed over generations, were theirs for the taking. Gold, silver, jewels, and fine garments – nothing was spared from their greedy grasp. But their rapacity didn't end with inanimate treasures. They raided granaries, storehouses, and marketplaces, stripping them of all sustenance.
Soon, the streets that once bustled with life and commerce were littered with the remnants of a hasty pillage. The air was thick with a mix of fear and disbelief as the citizens, those who had remained behind, peeked from their hideouts. Their city, their home, had been despoiled in the most brazen manner. All they had built and cherished was now in the hands of strangers.
As quickly as they had descended upon the city, the plunderers gathered their ill-gotten gains and departed, leaving behind a city scarred and its people in despair. The treasures of Sodom and Gomorrah, once a symbol of their grandeur, were now being carried away, a haunting reminder of the fragility of wealth and the transience of power.
The air was thick with tension as the invaders plundered the riches of Sodom and Gomorrah, sweeping up all in their path. But among their catch was a prize far more significant than gold or jewels. They captured Lot, the nephew of Abram, a man who had chosen to make his home amid the very prosperity and indulgence of Sodom that now lay ransacked.
One might wonder, what was Lot doing there? What had drawn him to this place? The allure of Sodom was undeniable. Its wealth, its grandeur, its shimmering horizon were enough to captivate anyone. But with the splendor came the city's shadows: its cruelty, its depravity, its disconnection from the moral compass. It was the choice of residence that had now become his undoing.
In the grip of the invaders, Lot's thoughts raced. He had distanced himself from his uncle Abram's tents, seeking the life he thought he wanted in Sodom. But the city's riches had been fleeting. Now, amid the chaos and devastation, it became abundantly clear: his very decision to dwell in Sodom had led to this perilous moment.
The invaders, ignorant or indifferent to Lot's lineage, treated him as they did all other prisoners. As they made their hasty retreat from the smoldering cities, Lot, the man who had once made choices led by allure and prosperity, was carried away with them, a stark emblem of the unpredictable consequences of one's decisions.
The sun had barely risen when a lone figure, panting and sweat-drenched, entered the serene surroundings of the terebinth trees of Mamre. This was no ordinary place; it was where Abram, known as the "crosser" – since he had journeyed from beyond the river – resided. The atmosphere was one of peace, far from the hustle and decadence of the cities now consumed by conflict.
The man was a survivor, one of the few who had escaped the carnage of war. Recognizable by the deep lines of exhaustion on his face and the hints of past strength in his stature, he was Og. Tales whispered among the people spoke of Og's resilience. He was said to have evaded the Great Flood's sweeping rage, and now he had dodged the arrows and swords of the war that had ensnared so many. But why had he come here, to Abram?
Abram, currently under the shade of the trees, was in the company of his allies: Eshkol and Aner. These men weren't just neighbors or acquaintances; they had bound their fates with Abram in a covenant, a pact stronger than any fleeting alliance.
Og approached with urgency. Yet, behind his immediate tale of war and escape, there lurked another motive. Whispers claimed he had intentions towards Sarai, Abram's wife. But for now, the immediate news of war and Lot's capture took precedence. Abram, Eshkol, and Aner exchanged glances. It was clear. They had to act.
In the cooling twilight, the whisper of the desert breeze carried a message to Abram, one that would change the course of events. It was not a message delivered by the winds or the sands, but by a man, weary from battle. Abram’s face tightened as he learned his nephew Lot had been taken captive. Every fiber of his being urged him to act.
Abram, known by many as the "Hebrew" for he had journeyed from beyond the river, didn't waste a moment. There was a sudden alacrity in his movement, a sense of purpose and urgency. The tents of Mamre stood silent witnesses as Abram mustered those he had trained, the ones he had introduced to a life of purpose, teaching them to uphold righteousness.
Leading the charge was Eliezer, more than just a servant, but someone Abram had mentored in the ways of faith and morality. A confidant, a disciple, one who stood with Abram, bearing the weight of the responsibility. To the unsuspecting observer, it would seem as though Abram had rallied an army of hundreds, but in truth, it was Eliezer who was equivalent to many. His name, when broken down, carried the weight of three hundred and eighteen, a curious hint at the might he possessed.
With a force, seemingly larger than it was, Abram gave chase, determined not to let the darkness or distance deter him. They pursued the captors as far as Dan. But there, in that place, Abram felt a hesitation, a hint of unease. It wasn’t just the physical exhaustion or the weight of the journey. It was a vision of the future, a shadow cast over the place named Dan. He saw a time when his descendants would erect a golden calf, an act that would challenge the very foundation of faith he was laying.
Yet, with unwavering determination, Abram pressed on, driven by love, duty, and faith, ready to face whatever lay ahead.
Abram's determination was evident. When he heard of his brother's capture, he didn't pause to weigh his odds. Instead, he swiftly mobilized his trained men, numbering 318. Among these, there was one who stood out, Eliezer. The bond between Abram and Eliezer was special. Abram had not only raised Eliezer in his household but had initiated him into a life committed to righteous deeds.
Their journey took them northward, as far as Dan. But it was in Dan that Abram felt a momentary pang of unease, an inexplicable sense of foreboding. Perhaps it was a premonition of the idolatry that would one day emerge in that very place.
As night approached, instead of retreating or setting camp, Abram opted for a surprise tactic. He split his forces, allocating them across different fronts. This division wasn't merely tactical; it was strategic, ensuring they would corner and ambush the unsuspecting enemy. And they didn’t let the darkness deter them. They chased relentlessly, making full use of the night as their cover.
As they pursued their enemies, an intriguing occurrence unfolded. The night itself seemed to split in two. The first half saw miracles unfold for Abram, aiding him in his quest. By the time the second half arrived, he was reminded of a significant event from his past - the midnight hour in Egypt.
The chase culminated at a place called Chovah. Now, while there might not have been a place named 'Chovah' in the maps of that era, the name held a future significance. It hinted at a time when this place would be a hub for alien worship, echoing the challenges Abram's descendants would one day face.
But for now, in this moment, Abram's singular focus was on the rescue mission at hand. The backdrop of the night, with its divided halves, seemed almost poetic, mirroring the divisions and reunions Abram experienced in his journey.
The dust from the battle had barely settled when Abram's men began their return. And they didn't come back empty-handed. In their possession was every bit of stolen wealth. Every shekel, every ornate vessel, and every embroidered garment—everything that had been taken was now reclaimed.
But among all these spoils, one rescue stood out above the rest: Lot. Abram's nephew, who had inadvertently become entangled in this power play, was now safely back under the protective arm of his uncle.
In addition to Lot, there were others too. Many had been taken in the conflict, people who had been minding their own business, only to be caught in the crossfire of kings and their ambitions. There were women, children, elderly - innocents who had become casualties of war.
Abram’s heart ached as he saw them. They were terrified, having experienced the horrors of capture and the uncertainty of their fate. But now, they were free. They looked up to see a familiar landscape, the comforting hills, and valleys of their homeland, and most importantly, the sight of loved ones rushing towards them.
The reunion was poignant. Husbands embraced wives, mothers clutched their children, friends reconnected, and amid all the joy, there was an undercurrent of immense gratitude. Gratitude towards Abram, who had risked it all for their safety, who had taken on kings, and who had brought them back home. The heroism of that night would become the stuff of legends, passed down through generations, not merely as tales of valor but as testimonies of love, sacrifice, and unwavering commitment to kin and kind.
The sun hung low in the sky, casting long shadows across the expansive, flat plains of Emek Shaveh. It was an area clear of trees or obstructions, named for its openness and evenness. In this vast space, the king of Sodom waited, anticipation knotting his insides.
He had heard of Abram's remarkable victory over Kedorlaomer and the associated kings, a victory so complete it seemed almost supernatural. The rumors that swirled about the land were filled with tales of Abram’s courage, strategy, and overwhelming might. And now, the king of Sodom was about to meet this legendary figure face to face.
In the distance, the triumphant procession led by Abram was steadily approaching. The vast, open space made their approach all the more dramatic. As they neared, the king of Sodom noticed the rescued captives – his own people – walking free, and their stolen wealth being transported back. An immense feeling of relief and gratitude washed over him.
Emek Shaveh wasn't just any open valley. It was also known as the King’s Valley, named for its significance in royal gatherings. In its depths lay an area reserved for the king to partake in royal leisure, a sanctuary away from the demands of his court. And according to some stories whispered among the nations, this was the same valley where, long ago, various nations had come together to acknowledge the unparalleled leadership and divine favor of Abram.
The scene was set for a historic meeting. The king of Sodom took a deep breath, ready to greet the man who had not only defeated formidable foes but had earned the respect of nations far and wide.
The stillness of the King’s Valley was momentarily disturbed by another figure emerging from the horizon. This wasn't just any individual, but Malki-Tzedek, the King of Salem. Known to some as Shem, a son of Noah, he held a unique position in the world's history.
As Abram's procession came into view, Malki-Tzedek made his move. With a gesture both grand and welcoming, he brought forth bread and wine. It wasn't just sustenance for weary travelers after a battle; it was a statement. By this act, Malki-Tzedek subtly conveyed a deep respect for Abram. It was as if he was saying, "I bear no ill will towards you, even though you defeated my kin." The offering of bread and wine was a universal gesture of peace and acknowledgment, and in this context, it was loaded with meaning.
But that wasn’t all. Those who looked closer, those who knew the deeper traditions, could see an additional layer in Malki-Tzedek’s gesture. The bread and wine hinted at future offerings, sacrifices that Abram’s descendants would one day make. It was a silent prophecy, a whisper of the rituals that would come to define a nation.
Malki-Tzedek, wearing the dual hats of both king and priest, now stood before Abram as a bridge between the past and future. He represented an ancient lineage, while also pointing towards a destiny yet to unfold.
Abram’s procession slowly approached the King of Salem, and the air grew thick with anticipation. The world seemed to pause as Malki-Tzedek stepped forward. With an earnestness that seemed to pull at the very heartstrings of the universe, he extended his hand over Abram and began to speak.
Blessed be Abram, he began, his voice both a whisper and a roar, "by the Most High God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth." The very words seemed to dance upon the wind, taking on a life of their own, as if the universe itself was echoing back the praise.
The phrase "Creator of Heaven and Earth" wasn't a mere formality. It was more than a title; it was a statement of fact. To say that God is the 'Creator' means He isn’t just an observer or a distant power. By His very act of creation, He claimed ownership, He declared mastery. Every rock, every tree, every star in the night sky was fashioned by His hand, and thus, all belonged to Him.
As Malki-Tzedek spoke these words, it was as if he was reminding everyone present of the delicate balance of the cosmos, and of the divine power that held it all together. And in doing so, he also subtly acknowledged Abram's unique role in this grand design.
With Abram still standing in silent reverence, Malki-Tzedek continued, "And blessed be the Most High God, who has shielded your foes into your hand." The words resonated deeply, acknowledging the very hand of the Divine in the victories Abram had achieved. It wasn't just about military might or strategic prowess; it was the divine protection, the unseen barrier, that had steered Abram's path, ensuring his adversaries would not prevail.
Abram's eyes sparkled with a mix of gratitude and recognition. For him, every battle wasn't just a physical contest but a spiritual journey. The guiding force behind his every step was always the Most High. He felt the protective embrace of the Divine, like a parent's arms around a child, steering him away from harm.
Without a word, Abram approached Malki-Tzedek and handed him a tenth of everything he had, a symbolic gesture recognizing the role of the Most High in his life and the priestly position of Malki-Tzedek. It was a silent act of gratitude, a humble acknowledgment of the forces greater than oneself, and a moment that transcended words. For in that silent exchange, two souls connected, acknowledging a shared belief in a power far greater than any earthly kingdom.