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Redeeming Captives

  • Harav Yehuda Amital





This week’s shiurim are dedicated by Mr Emanuel Abrams
in memory of Rabbi Abba and Eleanor Abrams


This shiur is sponsored by Larry and Maureen Eisenberg
in memory of Devora Leah (Lillian) Grossman






Redeeming Captives

Summarized by Matan Glidai

Translated by Kaeren Fish



Following Avraham's battle against the four kings, we read:


"The king of Sedom came out to meet him, following his return from smiting Kedarla'omer and the kings who were with him, to the valley of Shaveh – the king's valley." (Bereishit 14:17)


The natural continuation of this verse is to be found in verse 21:


"And the king of Sedom said to Avraham, Give me the people, and take the goods for yourself."


It is therefore difficult to understand the reason for the intervening three verses, which have nothing to do with the king of Sedom; they relate that Malkitzedek, king of Shalem, brought out bread and wine, and blessed Avraham and God:


"Blessed is Avram to the Supreme God… and blessed is the Supreme God Who has delivered your enemies into your hand…"


To understand this, we have to return to the beginning of the parasha, where we read of the rupture that occurred between Avraham and Lot. Avraham's shepherds reproached the shepherds of Lot, who were leading their flocks to pasture in fields belonging to others (Rashi 13:7, based on the Midrash). In the wake of this argument, Avraham decided to separate from Lot. Of all places, Lot chose to settle in Sedom, thereby severing himself not only from Avraham but also from Avraham's beliefs and his culture.


Nevertheless, when Avraham hears that Lot has been taken captive, he immediately gathers his disciples and sets off to wage war against the four kings and to liberate his nephew. Chazal criticize this campaign by Avraham:


"Why was Avraham punished, in that his descendants were subjugated in Egypt for two hundred and ten years? It was because he pressed scholars into [military] service, as it is written (Bereishit 14:14), 'He led forth his disciples (chanichav) trained in his house.'" (Nedarim 32a)


According to this Gemara, Avraham's "chanichim" are the people whom he instructed in Torah and the commandments, and he was punished for using them as an army and endangering their lives.


Further on in the Gemara, a different reason is proposed for Avraham's punishment:


"For he distanced people from entering under the wings of the Divine Presence, as it is written, '[The king of Sedom said:] Give me the people, and take the goods for yourself' (Bereishit 14:21)."


Handing over the captives to the king of Sedom meant abandoning them to his degenerate culture. Avraham could have kept these people with him and educated them in his ways; he was punished for failing to do so.


There are yet other reasons for criticism of Avraham. The Torah does not look favorably on killing. Concerning the verse (following the annihilation of Shekhem), "Yaakov was greatly afraid, and distressed" (Bereishit 32:8), Rashi comments (citing the Midrash): "'Yaakov was greatly afraid' – that he might be killed, 'and distressed' – that he might kill others."


The encounter with the king of Sedom, too, is problematic. This evil man represented the most corrupt and cruel culture in the entire region, and it was not appropriate for Avraham to meet with such a person.


Ramban (on 14:18) explains that Malkitzedek, king of Shalem, was king of Jerusalem. Jerusalem was the city of justice, and therefore its king was known as "Malkitzedek" (literally, 'King of Justice') or Adonitzedek ('Master of Justice') (see Yehoshua 10:1). Apparently, the insertion of the seemingly out-of-place verses about Malkitzedek here come to tell us that the representative of the locus of justice in the world came to congratulate Avraham on his achievement in redeeming the captive Lot. Over the course of this episode Avraham had undertaken various actions which were problematic; therefore, prior to his encounter with the king of Sedom, the Torah emphasizes that he acted properly, as confirmed by the representative of justice. Avraham believed that extraordinary measures were justified – meeting with the most contemptible people, endangering the lives of scholars, and even killing in battle – in order to free captives.


[The sicha was given in 5755, following the kidnapping of Nachshon Wachsman Hy"d.]