SALT - Friday, 10 Cheshvan - October 19, 2018

  • Rav David Silverberg
            The Torah in Parashat Lekh-Lekha tells about Avraham’s military offensive against the alliance of armies that invaded the city of Sedom and captured the city’s inhabitants, including Avraham’s nephew, Lot.  As soon as Avraham heard that his nephew fell captive, he mobilized a small army that pursued the invaders and succeeded in rescuing the people of Sedom and the city’s property.
            In describing the battle, the Torah emphasizes (according to one interpretation of the verse) that Avraham’s men reached the armies at midnight – “va-yeichaleik aleihem layla” (literally, “The night split for them” – 14:15).  The Midrash, commenting on this verse, explains the significance of the night “splitting” for Avraham, teaching, “Yotzero chilko” – “His Creator divided it.”  Meaning, as the Midrash continues, “The Almighty said: Their forefather acted for Me at midnight, so I, too, will act for his children at midnight.  When?  In Egypt.”  The Midrash draws an association between Avraham’s courageous nighttime assault on the armies that captured Lot, and the Exodus from Egypt, which occurred when God struck the Egyptian firstborn at midnight (Shemot 12:29).  Just as Avraham “acted for” God at midnight, pursuing his nephew’s captors, God “acted for” Avraham’s descendants at midnight, striking the Egyptians and freeing Benei Yisrael from bondage.  And thus God “divided” the night, in a sense, making a “deal” of sorts with Avraham, with Avraham doing his share by rescuing Lot, and God doing His share, so-to-speak, by rescuing Avraham’s descendants from Egyptian slavery.
            How might we explain this connection drawn by the Midrash between the rescue of Lot from captivity and the rescue of Benei Yisrael from bondage?
            The common denominator between these two events, it would seem, is that neither Lot nor Benei Yisrael deserved to be rescued.  Lot had betrayed his uncle’s faith and values by choosing to settle in the sinful city of Sedom (as Chazal noted, famously cited by Rashi to 13:11), and, as such, he could be said to have deserved the fate that befell the city.  Likewise, tradition teaches that Benei Yisrael were not worthy of being redeemed from Egypt, as they had embraced pagan worship and distanced themselves from the faith of their patriarchs over the course of the Egyptian exile.  (This is stated explicitly and in detail by the prophet Yechezkel, chapter 20.)  And yet, Avraham risked his life to rescue Lot, and God overturned the laws of nature in order to rescue Benei Yisrael.  Avraham did not excuse himself from helping Lot due to Lot’s fault for the situation; instead, he did everything he needed to do, even exposing himself to great danger, for the sake of rescuing him.  In reward, God came to rescue Avraham’s descendants from oppression and captivity despite their being unworthy of His help, following the example set by Avraham who rescued Lot from a crisis situation of his own doing.
            Significantly, the Midrash describes Avraham’s courageous campaign with the words, “pa’al imi” – “acted for Me,” as though Avraham did a “personal favor” for the Almighty.  This can only mean that exerting effort for the sake of one’s fellow in distress – even when that person is fully to blame for his or her crisis – is something done for the sake of God, as it were.  God continues loving and caring for His beloved children even when they make grave mistakes and miscalculations that bring ruin upon themselves.  He wants us to help other people even if they are at fault, and not necessarily deserving of our assistance.  Just as we ask God for many things which, as we must acknowledge if we think about it honestly, we do not necessarily deserve, we must likewise lend assistance to people who need help even if we deem them unworthy of assistance.  When we do so, we are considered as having done a “personal favor” for God, caring for and helping His precious children.