שבת טעם החיים לך לך תשע”א
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Lech Lecho 5771
Avraham’s battle and lessons in Gratitude
אם מחוט ועד שרוך נעל ואם אקח מכל אשר לך ולא תאמר אני העשרתי את אברם, if so much as a thread to a shoestrap; or if I shall take from anything of yours! So you shall not say, ‘It is I who made Avram rich.’ (Bereishis 14:23)
How often do we hear the word gratitude and then find ourselves saying, “Yes, I need to show more gratitude to the people in my life?” Perhaps not often enough, but by studying the Torah properly we can gain insights that will help us increase our gratitude towards HaShem and to people.
In this week’s parasha, Lech Lecho, we learn about the battle of four kings versus five kings. The Torah relates that the four kings defeated the five kings in battle and in the process the four kings captured Lot who had been residing in Sodom. Avraham was informed that Lot was captured and Avraham waged a battle against the four kings, defeating them and releasing Lot in the process. Subsequent to Avraham defeating the four kings, the Torah relates what occurred in the aftermath of the battle. The Torah states that Avraham brought back all the possessions and Lot, as well as the women and the people. The Torah then states that the king of Sodom came out to meet Avraham but the Torah does not record what occurred at the meeting. It is then said that Malkitzedek king of Shaleim came out to greet Avraham with bread and wine and blessed him. Only then does the Torah state that the king of Sodom requested from Avraham that he return the captured people and keep possessions. Avraham responded that he would not even keep a thread or a shoestring, so the king should not say that he made Avraham rich. Avraham only requested that the king of Sodom give him what the young men had eaten and the share of the men who had accompanied him. This ends the dialogue between Avraham and the king of Sodom. There are a number of difficulties with this passage. First, why does the Torah state that the king of Sodom came out to greet Avraham and then interrupt with Malkitzedek coming out to greet Avraham with bread and wine? Furthermore, why was Avraham concerned that the king of Sodom would say that he made Avraham wealthy? Is it not ultimately HaShem who makes one wealthy? Lastly, the commentators are puzzled why Avraham was concerned about taking from the spoils of Sodom, which were rightfully his, yet he was not concerned earlier when Pharaoh showered him with gifts?
The four kings sought to conquer Avraham and his ideology
In order to answer these questions we must gain a deeper insight into this battle of the four kings versus the five kings. It is said (Bereishis 14:7) vayashuvu vayavou el ein mishpat hi Kadeish vayaku es kol sidei haAmaleiki vigam es haEmori hayosheiv bichatzitzon Tamar, then they turned back and came to En-mishpat, which is Kadesh; they struck all the territory of the Amalekites; and also the Amorites who dwell in Chatzitzon-tamar. The Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 42:3) states that the intention of the kings was to conquer Avraham who was the eye of the world. Thus, we see that the battle of the kings was not merely a power struggle amongst themselves or a war solely for territorial gain. Rather, the struggle was of an ideological nature, and they sought to destroy Avraham and what he represented in the world. If we were to ask a wicked person what his biggest obsession is, he wound probably answer that it is the idea of a good G-d and people who act kindly. Avraham would demonstrate to anyone that he encountered that HaShem is good and must be thanked for that goodness. This is what is known as hakaras hatov, recognizing goodness. The people of Avraham’s time, led by the notorious king Nimrod, were opposed to Avraham influencing the world in such a positive manner. The four kings thus justified an entire battle to achieve their aims of ridding the world of what appeared to them as a menace. We can now understand why the Torah states that subsequent to the battle the king of Sodom came out to greet Avraham but the Torah does not immediately tell us why he came out to greet him. The answer to this question is that the king of Sodom, despite having been saved by Avraham from the four kings, was not grateful to Avraham for his benevolence. The Torah then juxtaposes the offering of Malkitzedek to Avraham. Rashi cites the Medrash that maintains that Malkitzedek was Shem, and although Shem’s descendants had died in the battles, Shem demonstrated to Avraham that he was not upset at Avraham for having been the catalyst of his descendant’s death. Thus, as the Ohr HaChaim writes, the Torah contrasts the wickedness of the king of Sodom with the gratitude of Malkitzedek. We can now understand why Avraham was concerned that the king of Sodom would say that he had made Avraham wealthy. While Pharaoh had also showered Avraham with gifts, these were gifts of gratitude, so that Avraham would be appeased after the Egyptians had kidnapped Sarah from him. The king of Sodom, however, did not appear to be grateful to Avraham and was even so bled as to demand back his people, who were legitimate captives of war. It would have been proper for the king of Sodom to beseech Avraham to return the captives rather than to demand them from him. The Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 43:5) states that the king of Sodom said to Avraham, “just like you descended into the fiery furnace and were saved, so too I descended into the bitumen wells and was saved.” Thus, we see that the king of Sodom deemed himself to be on equal footing with Avraham. The Torah therefore highlights this ingratitude and contrasts it with the gratitude that Malkitzedek displayed.
Og also had a merit for being the catalyst in saving Lot
There is another lesson of gratitude that we can learn from the battle of the four kings against the five kings. The Torah states that Og was the one who informed Avraham that Lot had been captured. We find that Moshe was afraid to battle Og, as he was concerned that Og had a merit because he had been the catalyst for saving Lot. The commentators wonder why Moshe was concerned, as the Medrash states that Og’s intention was that Avraham should enter the battle and be killed and then he would take Sarah for a wife. Og’s devious act surely should not warrant that Moshe spare his life. Perhaps the answer to this question is that the Gemara states that HaShem does not refrain from rewarding every one of his creatures, even if that person was wicked. This too is a lesson in gratitude. Og had been the catalyst of Lot’s salvation, and HaShem recognized that. Nonetheless, HaShem informed Moshe that Og would die by his hands. In summary, the episode of the battle between the kings allows us to draw on a great lesson in gratitude to Hashem and people in our lives who help us in some manner.
The Shabbos connection
The Gemara states that Hashem said that He has a good present in His treasure house which is Shabbos. We often get used to Shabbos, as it comes every week. This parasha should be a lesson for us that we are required to show gratitude to HaShem for giving us the wonderful gift of Shabbos, a time when we can grow in our spirituality.
Alive in Vietnam
[Growing up in a small town in Massachusetts, Hank Webb spent his days like most Americans ― playing guitar, going on camping trips, and planning his future as a lawyer. After joining the ROTC in college, Hank went to boot camp in 1968, and received orders for deployment to Vietnam. He recalls:]
A year or two before I came to Quang Tri, the place was a hotbed of activity. By the time I arrived, things had calmed down considerably, but the attacks were still frequent. We always had to be on the alert, because the attacks could begin again at any time. Sometimes, however, there would be peace and quiet for weeks.
The base in Quang Tri was very primitive. Some soldiers poured buckets of water over each other to “shower.” Later, makeshift wooden structures were built with a number of small shower stalls that provided the luxury of a true shower, albeit still with ice-cold water.
In Quang Tri, I became both the Battalion Signal Officer and the Signal Equipment Maintenance Officer. I was responsible for everything from field phones to counter-mortar radars. I had to ensure that everything was installed and working properly…
Although I didn’t know much, I soon became the self-appointed Jewish lay leader on the DMZ. The place lacked Jewish books and supplies, though, and I wrote my father, telling him of our situation. My father contacted the National Jewish Welfare Board in New York, and a short time later
I received a box that was filled with tallaisim, yarmulkes, siddurim, and other much-needed materials. The package was accompanied by a warm letter that was written by a woman named Eiga Hershman. She recommended that I contact the Jewish chaplain, Chaplain Glenn Stengel, whom I had already met, to help me.
Chaplain Stengel was brought to us by a Special Forces helicopter from Phu Bai on a Friday afternoon. Shortly before his arrival, we received intelligence reports warning us of plans for an imminent enemy attack on our base. Therefore, on Friday night, I slept in my boots and flak jacket and kept my loaded weapon handy next to my bed.
Unfortunately, the report proved to be accurate. At about 0300 hours (three o’clock in the morning), we were awakened by the shrill whistle of incoming rockets. After several seconds, there was an earsplitting explosion. The sky lit up as the rockets continued coming in, one after another. Soon we could discern the sound of our own artillery and nearby machine guns returning fire. The place was in an uproar.
We all jumped out of bed, preparing to run towards our assigned battle positions. One fellow, Captain Doug McGill, also slept in my hooch.
“Here,” McGill said, holding out his flak jacket to Chaplain Stengel. “Take this. You will probably be needed down at the battalion headquarters bunker to assist the dying with their spiritual needs.”
I looked at my friend incredulously. I could not believe that he was ready to go into battle without his flak jacket for protection! I wasn’t about to part from mine, and here he was offering to give his away to a Jewish chaplain whom he barely knew. It was truly amazing! After handing the jacket to Chaplain Stengel, he ran out, completely exposed, to do his job.
I followed Doug into the night, running toward the sector for which I was responsible. The noise was incredible, and the entire sky was illuminated, so that I had no trouble seeing where I was going.
In addition to one’s regular duties, everyone on base also had a designated position that he had to assume in the event of an attack. I was in charge of defending one section of the perimeter, which included nine bunkers that were each manned by four or five soldiers. The “bunkers” were not dug into the ground, but they were small areas that were enclosed with sandbags for protection.
I was in constant communication with the men I commanded, directing their fire toward the enemy’s position. After some time, I suddenly lost communication with some of the bunkers. It was imperative that I be in contact with my men at all times. I was now forced into the terrible position of having to order one of my men into a life-threatening situation. Luckily, one young soldier, Sergeant Bob Emery, instantly agreed to crawl toward the perimeter and try to restore communication.
As Emery slithered away through the mud, I highly doubted that I would ever see the man alive again. There were bullets flying everywhere, and it was unlikely that he would manage to avoid them all. Nonetheless, the sergeant bravely did his job. He followed the wire and, incredibly, managed to repair it while the firefight raged around him. I believed I was witnessing a miracle when I saw him crawl back unscathed shortly thereafter. I was immensely relieved to see him back alive.
The battle continued uninterrupted for two hours. About halfway through, I could no longer command effectively, since I was unable to see what was going on outside my bunker. There was an observation tower with four soldiers inside directly above the bunker where I sat huddled with several men. I decided to go up there to get a better view of the enemy’s position.
While the tower itself was fortified against enemy fire, I was exposed during my climb up the ladder. I tried to ascend as quickly as possible, despite the heavy protective equipment that I was wearing and the rifle slung over my shoulder. Just as I was standing on the top rung, about to step over the tower’s railing, a bullet came straight towards me. I felt a breeze as it whizzed by, grazing my right ear as it passed. I hurled myself over the railing, startling the four guys who were crouching inside as I fell on top of them.
As I lay on my back, looking up at a sky ablaze, I wondered whether I was still alive. Was this what death felt like? I had heard the bullet; I had felt its breeze. Was it possible that my life wasn’t over yet?
I pinched myself hard. Surprisingly, it hurt. An odd sensation came over me, as I listened to the sound of my breathing in disbelief. I had never felt more alive, as I suddenly became keenly aware of each intake of breath.
At that moment, I was overcome with a tremendous sense of gratitude to God. “Thank you, God,” I whispered. “You kept me alive. Please help me get through this until the end. I know that you saved me for a purpose. I must have something important to do with my life. I will try my best to figure out what that is, and I will do whatever You want of me. Just keep me alive and give me a chance to fulfill this promise.”
All this happened in a matter of seconds, but it was a moment of truth and incredible inspiration. I quickly got to my feet and surveyed the battlefield. I saw incoming fire that originated from an enemy position on the right side of the perimeter. I directed my men to aim toward that position, and I fired at it as well. Soon the firing from that location ceased. I will never know if my bullets killed or injured anyone, but I do know that we all fired in self-defense.
At about 0500 hours, just as the first rays of sunlight appeared, the incoming fire stopped completely. The long, terrible night was finally over.
As I climbed down from the observation tower and inspected the surrounding area, I found a young man who had been hit in the stomach. I stopped a sergeant who was driving a jeep nearby. Together, we dragged the man onto the front seat, placing him between us. While the driver made his way toward the hospital tent, the young soldier was losing color in his face with each passing moment. He was bleeding profusely, and I literally had to hold his stomach together with my hands. At last, we reached the surgical area, where doctors began treating him immediately. (The man lived for several days, and I stopped by twice to visit him. Sadly, he died while he was being transferred by air to a hospital in Japan…)
By now, I could no longer ignore the deep yearning I felt in my heart for a more committed lifestyle. My sudden brush with death was a major turning point, and it made me long for a more meaningful life. Thus, shortly after the terrible battle, I decided to begin observing the Shabbos. I was trying to make good on my commitment to God that “I will do whatever You want of me.”
What Goes Around Comes Around
Several years ago, I fractured my femur. After Purim, was still having problems getting around, and with Passover cleaning drawing near, I realized I needed help. So I called a friend of mine who is the principal of one of the local teachers’ seminaries, and asked if one of her students could come and give me a hand when school let out for the Passover break.
She sent me Deeny, a lovely girl, who worked diligently to make my house ready for Passover. One day, during a conversation; I told Deeny what Passover preparations had been like when I was a young girl living on the Lower East Side of New York.
Deeny then said, “I think my grandmother lived on the Lower East Side, but it was many, many years ago. I never had the opportunity to visit her there, since she passed away when I was a young child, and we lived out west.”
“What was your grandmother’s name?” I asked.
When she told me, a sudden bell rang in my mind. I recalled very clearly that once about two weeks before Passover, her grandmother, who was an acquaintance of mine, came to me and confided that she had a problem and was embarrassed to tell it to anyone. Her husband had lost his job (there were no unemployment benefits at that time), and she had hardly any money for the expenses of Passover. With a large family to provide for, she did not know where to turn.
Of course, I told her not to worry, and that I would see to getting her enough money for all her holiday expenses, and it would be completely confidential. I immediately went to all my friends, and each one gave generously. When I handed her the money, she said to me, “I cannot repay you with money at this time, but God will surely bless you for your kindness.”
Now, so many years later in Jerusalem, God had sent me her granddaughter to help me with my Passover work! From all the hundreds of seminary girls, she was chosen. Here we can see clearly not only the divine intervention, but also how an act of kindness is repaid! (http://www.innernet.org.il)
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Lech Lecho 5771
Is sponsored by Mrs. Nina Greenstein:
“in appreciation of my husband,
and in honor of our
17th wedding anniversary.”
Have a wonderful and delightful Shabbos
Prepared by Rabbi Binyomin Adler
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