SALT - Monday, 3 Cheshvan 5778 - October 23, 2017


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  • Rav David Silverberg
            The Torah in Parashat Lekh-Lekha tells of the war Avraham waged against the four kingdoms that had captured Sedom and its surrounding cities, seized the cities’ property and took their people captive.  A refugee escaping the war informed Avraham that his nephew, Lot, who had been living in Sedom, was captured, and Avraham immediately mobilized a small army and set out to rescue the captives.  The Torah (14:15) tells, “Va-yeichaleik aleihem layla” – “the night split for them,” meaning, Avraham and his troops launched their attack in the middle of the night.
            The Midrash (Bereishit Rabba 43:3) draws a connection between Avraham’s midnight attack against the four kingdoms and the plague of the firstborn which God visited upon Egypt at midnight: “The Almighty said: Their forefather acted on My behalf at midnight; I, too, will act on his descendants’ behalf at midnight…in Egypt.”  How might we explain this association?  What connection is there between Avraham’s battle to rescue his nephew and the Exodus from Egypt?
            Although Avraham was a wealthy, prominent and well-respected figure, he personally led his men to battle against the four kings.  He didn’t just send an army to rescue Lot and his fellow townspeople; he led an army to rescue them.  Likewise, as we emphasize in the Haggadah on Pesach night, God directly rescued Benei Yisrael from Egypt.  He intervened openly, by performing supernatural miracles, rather than free the people through the ordinary mediums of the natural order.  The Midrash here draws our attention to the fact that just as God descends from His lofty position in the heavens to assist the downtrodden, similarly, Avraham did not allow his position of prominence to prevent him from personally involving himself in the effort to rescue the captives of Sedom.
            An additional point of resemblance, perhaps, is that God rescued Benei Yisrael from Egypt despite their being unworthy of redemption, just as Avraham rescued the people of Sedom despite their sinfulness.  The prophet Yechezkel (20) speaks of how God redeemed Benei Yisrael from Egyptian bondage despite their having been entrenched in pagan worship.  And the Torah here in Parashat Lekh-Lekha (13:13), amidst the account of Lot’s decision to settle in Sedom, emphasizes that the people of Sedom were sinful.  In both instances, the people in distress were not necessarily worthy of being helped, but were nevertheless freed from the oppression they had been enduring.
            Thus, the Midrash here teaches us that we are to lend assistance to those in need despite their standing or stature.  Avraham followed the example set by God, who bestows kindness upon His creatures even if they are strictly undeserving, and so he set out to rescue the people of Sedom from captivity despite their sinfulness.  We, too, are bidden to dispense kindness and help people in need even if we have reason to question their worthiness, following the model of kindness and compassion set by the Almighty Himself, who provides and cares for us even when we are unworthy of His beneficence.