In our Parsha we read of a war between the Four Kings and the Five Kings. The former, in the course of winning the battle, take Abraham’s nephew Lot captive. We read of Abraham’s response in Gen. 14:14:
“And Abraham heard that his brother was taken captive, and he armed his disciples, those born in his household, three hundred and eighteen, and he pursued them up to Dan.”
Let’s examine the verse phrase by phrase, to see how our Patriarch Avraham dealt with Lot in his hour of need:
- “And Abraham heard that his brother was taken captive…”
Comments the Tanchuma:
Was (Lot) then his brother? From here we see Abraham’s outstanding character; despite the dispute between Lot’s shepherds and those of Abraham, Abraham still calls Lot his brother.
Lot’s shepherds were guilty of nothing less than theft, grazing in the fields of others. The rift between the meticulous Abraham and the lax Lot was thus inevitable, hence their parting of ways. Nonetheless, when the latter was captured, Abraham instantaneously considered him as his flesh and blood—his brother. All other considerations fell by the wayside.
- “…and he armed his disciples…”
Abraham had dedicated his life to the overarching goal of bringing the knowledge of the One G-d to mankind. But when a former disciple—wayward though he may have been—was placed in jeopardy, he dropped everything and gave his charges the greatest education he could: action.
- “…those born in his household, three hundred and eighteen…”
Rabeinu Bachya comments: “this verse comes to teach us that Abraham had no less than 318 charges dependent on his financial support.” Abraham had far more than an average-sized family, but he nonetheless turned his attention to Lot’s straits.
In the previous verse (Gen. 14:13) we read:
- “And the refugee came and told Abraham the Ivri, and he dwelt in Elonei Mamrei…”
What is the relevance of telling us of Abraham’s whereabouts at this dramatic juncture? Particularly since in the previous chapter (Gen. 13:18) we had already been duly informed of Abraham’s abode! The subtle message may be that despite Elonei Mamrei/Hevron’s proximity to the site of the rising world power, Abraham chose not to flee and save his own tribe from the inevitable conquest of his area nor to lie low and act with political expedience, but on the contrary, to muster his own meager force to save the life of a single recalcitrant soul in danger.
There are many historic examples of hopelessly “irreversible” evils in the world. Louis XIV’s France was one example. The Soviet “Evil Empire” was another example of irreversibility more recently. The people of Israel was irreversibly enslaved in Egypt. And Abraham the Ivri was born into a world immutably steeped in idolatry.
Luckily, “irreversible” was a word not found in Abraham’s lexicon, and therefore the title “Ivri” () is given him in introduction to his valorous actions on behalf of the captured Lot. As was his wont, Avraham reversed the irreversible.
What was the underlying impetus for Abraham’s seemingly illogical determination in the face of so many solid justifications for turning a blind eye? The Midrash Rabba tells us explicitly:
Gen. Rabba 43:2 – “And Abraham heard that his brother was taken captive” this is what is meant by the verse: he seals his ears from hearing bloodshed (Is 33). “And he armed his disciples”…R. Yehuda said (Abraham’s disciples) were angry with Abraham and said, five kings were unable to defeat (the four kings); shall we be able to? R. Nehemiah said, Abraham was angry with them and said: I will go and fall in sanctification of G-d’s name.
The secret of Abraham’s tenacity in defiance of all apparent reason was the secret of Abraham’s entire existence: the sanctification of G-d’s name. Abandoning a captive -all logic and arguments notwithstanding- amounts to a desecration of G-d’s holy name. To avoid this, one is obliged to sacrifice not only career and livelihood, but indeed one’s very life.
Later on in Genesis, Yehuda makes the bold pledge on to his father on behalf of Binyamin:
“I shall be a guarantor for him, from my hand shall seek him; if I do not bring him back and return him to you, I shall be considered to have sinned before you all my days.”
The Midrash recounts that King David reenacted his ancestor Yehuda’s pledge in taking on the giant Goliath in order to deliver Binyamin’s descendent Saul and Israel from their Philistine foes. David overcame all the odds and defeated the enemy colossus; and in the merit of his self-sacrifice the Temple was built in Yehuda and Binyamin’s portions.
May the Almighty hear our prayers and redeem our brother Yehonatan ben Malka, and may the Almighty redeem all of Israel from our sufferings, and rebuild the Beit Hamikdash speedily in our times.
 Gen. 14:1,2
 Tanchuma, Lech Lecha 16
 Gen. 13:7-9
 Rashi, Gen. 13:7
 I.e., the Four Kings (Gen. 14:1,2)
 “Horiku panim.” Lit. their faces blanched.
 Tanhuma Vayigash 8
Yehoshua is a retired U.S. Army Chaplain and currently lives in Israel with his wife and children.
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Latest posts by Yehoshua (Jeremy) Steinberg (see all)
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