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Monday, October 29, 2012

Who Won?

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)

Posted on 10/29 at 04:49 PM • Permalink
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Meet Rabbi Sender Haber

Rabbi Sender Haber is the Rabbi of the B'nai Israel Congregation in Norfolk, VA. He is well known throughout Hampton Roads, having arrived over twelve years ago as one of the original four members of the Norfolk Area Community Kollel. In that capacity, Rabbi Haber was involved in community wide programming, teaching, and outreach. He has inspired many Jews to expand their Jewish identity and increase their love of Torah and commitment to its observance. Everyone who knows Rabbi Haber is touched by his breadth of Torah knowledge and his ability to convey the wisdom of the ages in such a way as to make those esoteric writings accessible to persons of all levels of experience and a variety of backgrounds.

Rabbi Haber has served in a number of capacities during his years in Norfolk. Since 2003 Rabbi Haber has been a teacher of Jewish Studies at Toras Chaim Day School in Portsmouth, teaching boys and girls of all ages, with a focus on Gemara, Halacha, and Chumash. He has also taught at Yeshivas Aish Kodesh and Bina High School in Norfolk, and served as Assistant Rabbi of B’nai Israel for 6 years. He also serves as the Rabbi of the “Lost Tribe,” Tidewater’s Jewish Motorcycle group! While handling all of these responsibilities, he has continued to participate in numerous Chavrusos (one-on-one learning partnerships) covering a wide range of topics and writings.

Rabbi Haber and his wife Chamie have been married for thirteen years. They have four children, Minna (9), Moshe (6), Ely (4), and Akiva Meir, born in August of 2012. They both come from rabbinic families steeped in Torah, Kiruv and Chesed. Rabbi Haber received his Rabbinic Ordination (Yoreh Yoreh) from Rabbi Sender Rosenbloom and Rabbi Mordechai Freidlander of the Jerusalem Beth Din. He was awarded a Teaching Certificate by Torah Umesorah Association for Jewish Day Schools in 2004 and again in 2009. In addition, Rabbi Haber has spent over a decade studying Talmud, Jewish Law, and ethics in some of the world’s most prestigious Yeshivos including Beth Medrash Gavoha in Lakewood, NJ and Yeshivas Mir in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Haber can be contacted through the Synagogue office at 757-627-7358, or through e-mail at