Yesterday, we noted the question raised by numerous commentators as to why Avraham on one occasion accepted lavish gifts offered by a wealthy king, but he turned down such an offer made on a later occasion. During his brief sojourn in Egypt, Avraham’s wife was taken to Pharaoh’s palace, and as a result, Avraham was showered with gifts (12:16), such that he returned to Canaan a very wealthy man (13:2). Later, however, after Avraham led a military attack against the four armies that had captured the people and property of Sedom, he declined the offer made by the king of Sedom that Avraham keep the property which he had rescued (14:22-23). Many different theories have been advanced to explain why Avraham accepted Pharaoh’s gifts but declined the offer made by the king of Sedom.
One simple explanation, perhaps, is that Avraham refused to accept the wealth of Sedom to avoid giving the impression that he went to battle for the sake of personal gain. In principle, Avraham was not averse to accepting lavish gifts, as he did in Egypt. However, after leading a fierce battle, which resulted in the death of many people, it was imperative that Avraham make it perfectly clear that he had no ulterior motives in launching his offensive, that this was done purely for the sake of justice, to rescue his nephew and the other captives. Indeed, the Midrash (cited in Torah Sheleima, chapter 14, #147) comments on Avraham’s declining the king of Sedom’s offer, “At that moment, Avraham glorified the Name of the Almighty, [ensuring] that the king of Sedom would not think that Avraham waged war against the four kings for the sake of money.” Avraham sacrificed an enormous amount of wealth for the sake of bringing glory to the faith he preached, in order to make certain that he would not be accused of waging war for the sake of profit. He was perfectly entitled to keep the riches he rescued, but he forfeited them for his and his religion’s reputation. And so although he had no reason not to accept the gifts sent to him by Pharaoh, he felt compelled to decline the offer made by the king of Sedom.
Avraham’s example shows us that we must be prepared to forfeit even that to which we are rightfully entitled for the sake of the Jewish People’s reputation, to avoid giving the impression of greed. The fact that we are technically owed or eligible for a sum of money or a certain privilege does not necessarily mean we should insist on receiving it. Just as Avraham feared leaving room for his adversaries to charge that he fought a war for money, so must we be wary of those who jump at every opportunity to disparage the Jewish People and accuse us of greed and manipulation. And just as Avraham forfeited a large fortune for the sake of protecting his religion’s reputation, so must we be prepared to sacrifice even that which we rightfully deserve to avoid appearing unethical and selfish.