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The Systems of the Jewish Year

Who Won?

By Rabbi Sender Haber

The Torah describes a prolonged war between four kings and five kings. It is apparent that the four kings were stronger than the five, but after they attacked Sedom and kidnapped Lot, Avraham did not hesitate to go after them. He won the war and returned with all of the Sedomi prisoners and treasure. The Medrash is clear that the victory was miraculous, but even from the simple text of the Chumash, there is no question that Avraham came to the rescue.

Bera, the king of Sedom came to Avraham with a deal:

“Give me the people and keep the property for yourself”.

Militarily, Avraham had every right to both the people and the treasure, but he refused Bera’s deal: “I will not take a string or a shoelace from you. I don’t want you to say ‘I made Avraham wealthy”.

Avraham came and saved the king of Sedom from total defeat in a war he had been fighting for twenty five years, yet there was a real danger that the king of Sedom would take all of the credit, not only for his victory, but for Avraham’s wealth.

Avraham, who had accepted gifts in the past, was very wary of this “gift”. He wanted to make clear that his good fortune came from Hashem and not from man. He showed his allegiance to Hashem by refusing the money and was rewarded with the mitzvos of Tzitzis and Tefillin which attest tour personal connection to Hashem.

Avraham was also punished. Rav Yochanan says in Nedarim that Avraham was criticized for giving away the people. When the king of Sedom said: “Give me the people and keep the property for yourself”. Avraham should have responded: “you can take the property, but I am going to keep the people”.

Avraham had a way with people and a lesson to teach people. He should not have let them go so fast. He could have shared one piece of Torah, one lesson, or one act of kindness with them. That might have changed the face of Sedom for years to come.

If Avraham had held onto the prisoners of Sedom, things could have turned out differently. We might have no dead sea, no salty desert, and no booths in the mall. But we would have fertile lush ground and a new and improved Sedom.

Avraham recognized the evil of the people in Sedom. He accepted gifts from Avimelech and Malki Tzedek but not from Sedom, because he understood that Sedom was different. Sedom would deny Hashem’s help and take all of the credit for themselves. He chose to give up the wealth and strengthen his faith in Hashem.

Still, according to Rav Yochanan, Avraham had a chance. He had those Sedomi prisoners that he had just rescued. He could have changed them.
Rav Yochanan had a Chavrusa who was a former bandit. He jumped over the Jordan to see Rav Yochanan as he was bathing. He spoke crudely to Rav Yochanan, but Rav Yochanan offered to learn with him Bechavrusa.

They became brothers-in-law and together they taught an entire generation. They appear on virtually every page of Gemara.

We are not allowed to give up on anybody. If Avraham had not given up on Sedom, he might have saved himself some bargaining later. We need to take every chance we have to teach people about the beauty of Judasim. Share a Torah thought, explain what you are doing, or just set a good example.

We may not make any tangible changes, but we will know that we have represented Hashem faithfully to the world and not given up on a single soul.

(Based in part on ”Reflections” by Rabbi Asher Brander)

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