Good Shabbos to all dear readers!

I dedicate this parsha post as a zechus for a refuah sheleimah for Reb Yehoshua Refael HaLevi ben Yocheved.


Let’s open up to Chamishi, the fifth Aliyah of this week’s sidra of Lecha Lecha:

“Vayomer Melech S’dom el-Avram ‘ten-li hanefesh v’har’chush kach-lach.’  Vayomer Avram el-Melech S’dom ‘harmosi yadi el-Hashem Keil Elyon Konei shamayim va’aretz.  Im-michut v’ad s’roch na’al v’im ekach mikal asher lach v’lo tomar ‘ani he’esharti et-Avram’.’ — The King of S’dom said to Avram ‘Give me the people, and take the spoils for yourself.’  Avram said to the King of S’dom ‘I have lifted my hand to G-d the Most High Almighty, Possessor of heaven and earth.  Neither a thread nor a shoelace; I will not take anything of yours, so you will not be able to say ‘I made Avram wealthy’.'”  {Bereishis 14:21-23}

Perhaps a little bit of a backstory will be of assistance.  For twelve years, a group of five kings, including the royalty of Sodom and Gomorra, served a certain King Kederlaomer.  In the thirteenth year of their service, they decided they had had enough, and asserted themselves in rebellion against the king who held mastery over them.  Kederlaomer  entered into an alliance with three other powerful kings, and war was waged.  The lesser team of four overcame the band of five, who fled in terror to the mountains, leaving behind their wealth, which was of course usurped by their opponents, and their subjects, who were taken captive.  However…  the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah never made it to the mountains; but rather, in their flight, they became entrapped in the deadly mortar pits which abounded the land.  As the battle raged, one of its survivors (according to Midrash, as brought down by Rashi, this was the giant Og who survived the Mabul) came to Avraham and relayed an unfortunate message:  Avraham’s nephew and kinsman Lot, who had claimed land and established his camps and flocks near S’dom, had been taken captive along with the rest of the conquered city.  With the greatest brotherly love, Avraham quickly shifted into action with a legion of 318 trained men (but Chazal maintain just his servant Eliezer, who possessed tremendous strength, and whose name has the gematria of 318!), set off in pursuit against the enemy– Kederlaomer and his allies, who sacked his nephew’s home, and the dwelling of so many others.  Avraham succeeded, aided by the miracles and grace of G-d, and passed with flying colors.  On his mission, he also rescued the King of S’dom, who miraculously survived the mortar pits and reunited him with his kingdom.  After these events, all of the battle-weary gathered in Eimek Hamelech (the King’s Valley), and were met with sustenance of bread and wine.   Furthermore, in accordance with the Midrash’s understanding, all the masses present unanimously declared Avraham a prince of Hashem and noble leader.  After being blessed by Malki-Tzedek (who was in fact Sheim ben Noach), the Kohein, the King of S’dom made the above proposal as given over in the verses.

The king only requested of Avraham to return his people to him, but he was welcome to the reward of the spoils of war.  This appears to be quite friendly and generous, so we may initially be surprised when recounting our forefather’s vehement refusal.

But perhaps we shouldn’t be.

Avraham perceived a danger here.  If he was to accept the wealth that the king offered to him as a gift, the king could grow an inclination to boast that ‘It was I who made Avram wealthy.’  This could ultimately lead to a Chillul Hashem, a desecration of G-d Name.  To counter any possibility of this coming to pass, Avraham declared “Harimosi yadi el Hashem Keil Elyon – I lift my hand to Hashem, the Most High Almighty”; and this, Rashi says “Lashon shevua – This is an expression of an oath.”  What was Avraham Avinu vowing over?  He clarifies and emphasizes: “Konei shamayim va’aretz – Possessor of heaven and earth!”  He publicly attested that the heavens and earth were all in Hashem’s ownership, so certainly even something as small as a thread or shoelace was as well.  For what could man give him that would mean anything or be of any value, when Hashem Himself, Ribbono Shel Olam and Makor (Source) of All promised him wealth, saying “V’avarech’cha – And I will bless you” (according to Rashi, this clause of the blessing refers specifically to material wealth).  And of course, who but G-d can also bless with spiritual abundance?!

Avraham desired to make it clear to the world that it is only G-d who can give blessing, and only from Him does all wealth and benefit come.  He sought to shatter any illusion that man had any real power to enrich, for this, too, is totally in G-d’s hands.  As I type this, I think about a pasuk in the Gemara (Eruvin) that says:  “Omeres yonah lifnei Hakadosh Baruch Hu:  Ribono Shel Olam, yihyu mezonosai m’rurim kazayis Beyadecha v’al yihyu m’tukim kid’vash al yedei basar vadam — The dove requested of the Holy One, Blessed be He:  Master of the Universe, may my food be as bitter as an olive, but dependent upon You, rather than sweet as honey but dependent upon flesh and blood.”  He avoided becoming entrapped, indebted to a mortal king and tied to material abundance.  If only more of our world and society today the same strength and understanding.

Too often do people become work-addicts, enslaved to their jobs in a draining and self-harmful frenzy to make a couple more bucks…  They tragically forget that regardless of how many hours they crunch, it is ultimately up to Hashem how much is a success at the end of the day.  Of course we must invest responsibility and effort– “man was made to toil!”– but Hashem is our partner in all business, and He holds sway over any projects, determining whether or not they will succeed and fruit.  Too often it happens, that people idolize objects and physicality with worshipping language and obsessions.  A person in that case becomes distracted, misled off a good path, and neglects making the most of their time and life.  Desensitized to something deeper and more real, their sights are limited in a tunnel-vision.  It becomes impossible for them to focus in the right way on growing themselves as people, bettering the world around them, and focusing on long-term goals and less transient pleasures.  A wonderful anonymous quote reflecting this thought:  “People were created to be loved.  Objects were created to be used.  The reason the world is in chaos is because objects are being loved and people are being used.”  Only when material blessings and fortune are used in accordance with what they were created for, can they really bring long lasting joy and connection with G-d, with others, and even with yourself. 

Also keep in mind the teaching, that G-d abundantly blesses one who doesn’t pursue.  Avraham didn’t covet wealth, and in fact humbly shunned it even from a king whose life he saved!  But Hashem assured him great wealth.  Shaul, the first king of Israel, hid when he was to be crowned, out of his tremendous humility.  Hashem then caused him to be showered with great honors and celebration.  King Shlomo requested only wisdom from Hashem, to lead his people in the proper way.  Wisdom, but not wealth.  Wisdom, but not long life, and so forth.  And Hashem rewarded him with all of the precious blessings.

Have faith, and know that your are protected and sustained in all your ways by Hashem.  Acknowledge that all blessing comes from Him, and Him alone, even when sent through a messenger.  And you will have made a few of the most vital steps on your path to knowing G-d.


— The Messenger Bird