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Torah records that the king of Sodom was defeated in the War of the Four kings against the Five Kings. (The Artscroll Stone Chumash, Sefer Breish’t, Perek 14, posukim 1 – 11)
Torah next records:
“And they [presumably the four kings] captured Lot and his possessions — Avram’s nephew — and they left; for he [Lot] resided in Sodom. Then there came the fugitive and told Avram, the Ivri who dwelt in the plains of Mamre, the Amorite, the brother of Eshkol and the brother of Avner, these being Avram’s allies. And when Avram heard that his kinsman was taken captive, he armed his disciples [noun: a person who is a pupil or an adherent of the doctrines of another; follower] who had been born in his house — three hundred and eighteen — and he pursued them [presumably the four kings] as far as Dan.” (Sefer Breish’t, Perek 14, posukim 12 – 14 rendered to English in The Artscroll Stone Chumash)
The Artscroll Stone Chumash (page 64) provides a commentary regarding the “disciples” who Avram armed and who followed Avram into battle:
Sages fault him for using Torah scholars to wage war, and maintain that this was one of the reasons his descendants were consigned to Egyptian [Mitzri] servitude. (The Artscroll Stone Chumash citing Nedarim 32a)
The Talmud offers a Midrashic interpretation that the 318 warriors whom Avram mobilized consisted of one person, Avram’s loyal servant Eliezer. He [Eliezer] was equivalent to 318 people, as indicated by the numerical value [Gematria] of his name, which equals that number.
The Sapirstein Edition, The Torah: With Rashi’s Commentary, Sefer Breish’t (page 137), renders the word “disciples” [as rendered by the Artscroll Stone Chumash in posuk 14] as “initiates” — for he [Avram] initiated them into the Commandments.
Just two author’s notes here: The Sapirstein Edition, The Torah: With Rashi’s Commentary, Sefer Breish’t, Perek 14, posuk 13 (page 136) which renders “the fugitive came” according to its simple meaning, this is Og, who escaped from the war. “For only Og was left from the remaining Rephaim.” (The Sapirstein Edition, The Torah: With Rashi’s Commentary cites Sefer Devarim, Perek 3. posuk 11)
Upon Hashem’s Covenant with Avram, Hashem added a “Hei” to the name Avram, rendering his name henceforth to Avraham, (As rendered in the Artscroll Stone Chumash, Sefer Breish’t, Perek 17, posuk 3)
Bearing all of this in mind, Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, in his sefer, “Unlocking the Torah Text,” on Sefer Breish’t, asks questions and offers commentary (pages 68-69) :
Why… is it important for us to know, at this juncture, that Avraham is an “Ivri”?
The root of the Hebrew word Ivri is “la’avor.” which means “to cross over.” Avraham is referred to as an Ivri, either because he crossed to Canaan from the other side of the Jordan or because he stands “mei’eiver: across the philosophical divide from the rest of the world. (Rabbi Goldin citing Midrash Rabbah, Breish’t 42:8)
This is the one and only time the Torah uses this term [Ivri] in reference to Avraham. The word does not again appear until the story of Yosef, three generations later.
Why… do we need to be informed that Avraham is dwelling on the property of a man named Mamre the Emorite? Why do we need to know that Mamre’s brothers are Eshkol and Aner… and why do we need to know that these brothers hold a covenant with Avraham?
The Sforno offers a straightforward approach… rooted in the realm of pshat. According to the Sforno, Avraham is referred to as an Ivri to explain why he is being informed about Lot’s capture. Although the “survivor” did not know that Avraham and Lot were related, he did know that they were both “Ivrim.” He [the “survivor,” or “fugitive”] therefore assumed that Avraham would be interested in Lot’s fate.
The Torah draws a connection between Avraham, Mamre, Eshkol and Aner, according to the Sforno, to indicate that these allies will now go into battle together. Their partnership is later indicated in the text after victory is achieved. Avraham refuses to benefit from the battle but says to the king of Sodom, “Aner, Eshkol and Mamre shall receive their portion.” (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Breish’t, Perek 14, posuk 24)
Perhaps, however, a simple re-reading of [Sefer Breish’t, Perek 14, posukim 14 and 24] reveal another, deeper message. The Torah is, in the clearest of terms, describing the delicate nature of Avraham’s position at this juncture of his life.
Avraham, the Ivri, is a vulnerable stranger in the land in which he now dwells. He is surrounded by potential enemies. He parted with his nephew Lot earlier, under less than pleasant circumstances, and Lot made the choice of going to the evil city of Sodom. Finally, Avraham has achieved a degree of safety and stability in that he now quietly lives on the property of his friend Mamre, and also enjoys an alliance with Mamre’s two brothers Eshkol and Aner.
Torah is telling us that Avraham has every reason not to get involved. The battle is not his own; Lot has made his own decisions and determined his own fate. Why should [Avraham] risk everything by becoming involved in a conflict that has nothing to do with him?
Rabbi Goldin concludes (page 70) :
From Avraham’s perspective, Lot is not his nephew, but his brother. Their past disputes are now of no consequence. In fact, Avraham’s own safety and security is immaterial. When your “brother” is in danger, nothing can stand in your way.
Whatever the cost, whatever the complications, when our brothers are in need, nothing should stand in our way.
Seems that this lesson of “brothers in need” being felt and internalized in our times. In light of the current major terror war perpetrated against Israel, and world Jewry, all sectorial and political animus has fallen aside. As Rabbi Goldin writes; “Their past disputes are now of no consequence,” with unity the priority against multiple evil adversaries, at least for the duration of the war. And B’Ezrat Hashem, at the war’s victorious conclusion, let’s pray that our national unity remains and that all realize and internalize that judicial reform enables Israel’s mission as holders of our Covenant with Hashem: to be Ivrim — different, the other side spiritually and philosophically from the rest of nations.
May we, the B’nei Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled, back in Gush Katif and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them, that the thrice expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes and the oft-destroyed Yeshiva buildings in Homesh be rebuilt, as well as the buildings of Yishuv Elchanan, all at total government expense, as the wild beasts of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, all other terrorist units, and if necessary, Syria, Iraqi militias and Iran are B’Ezrat Hashem all destroyed and eradicated. Baruch Hashem that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard is in his third year at home in Eretz Yisrael and has embarked on a new chapter in his life. May Esther Yocheved bat Yechiel Avraham have an aliyah in Shemayim and may her spirit and memory continue to lift Jonathan to at least 120 years. May the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem — as with the return in April, 2019, via Russia, of the remains of Zachariah Baumel, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of nine years ago. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and prevent Chas V’Challila the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we see, in 5784, the REAL Jews from the Ukraine and Russia make Aliyah enmass — via thorough review by Misrad HaPanim. And may we soon and finally see the total end to the Communist Chinese Wuhan Lab corona virus pandemic and all like viruses and variants. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nei Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem Al’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!
Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.