Please include Israel's captive soldiers in your tefillot: Zecharia Shlomo ben Miriam Baumel, Tzvi ben Penina Feldman, Yekutiel Yehuda Nachman ben Sarah Katz, Ron ben Batya Arad, Guy ben Rina Chever.
Friday, 7 Cheshvan 5775 – October 31, 2014
We read in Parashat Lekh-Lekha of how Avraham went to war to rescue his nephew, Lot, who was captured along with the other residents of Sedom by the four eastern powers. Upon Avraham’s triumphant return, he was greeted by two leaders: Malkitzedek, the king of the city of Shalem who served as a spiritual figure (“ve-hu khohein le-Kel Eloyon” – 14:18), and the king of Sedom.
The reactions of these two men to Avraham’s astonishing victory are strikingly different from one another. Malkitzedek brings food and wine for a celebration, and heaps praise on Avraham and on the Almighty for the remarkable events. By contrast, the king of Sedom, who saw his city captured and looted, and then rescued by Avraham, expresses not a word of gratitude or congratulations. Instead, he proceeds directly to the negotiations, offering Avraham the property he rescued in exchange for the people. The question that needs to be asked is why Malkitzedek, who does not appear to have directly benefited from Avraham’s victory, hosts a celebration and publicly salutes Avraham, whereas the king of Sedom, the primary beneficiary of Avraham’s campaign, “gets right down to business” without any words of appreciation or praise.
The likely answer is that these two leaders – Malkitzedek, the “priest to
the Lord Most High,” and the king of the corrupt city of Sedom – viewed
Avraham’s bold campaign from two very different perspectives. Malkitzedek saw a man who
courageously put his life on the line to rescue his estranged nephew and
extricate the region from the brutal control of a powerful empire. (We should note that
Amrafel, the leader of the four kings, as the ruthless emperor Nimrod – Rashi,
14:1, Eiruvin 53a.) The king of
Sedom, on the other hand, who ruled a society characterized by greed, saw
Avraham as an opportunist who seized the moment in his pursuit of wealth and
prestige. And thus after Malkitzedek
blessed Avraham and praised God for the victory, the king of Sedom turned to
Avraham and went straight to what he thought was the heart of the matter – the
money. Living in and leading a
greedy, self-centered society, the king projected this mindset onto Avraham,
figuring that this campaign was waged purely out of greed.
The more we are exposed to corruption and immorality, the more difficult it is to admire and seek to emulate great people. We become suspicious of their hidden motives and skeptical of their sincerity, and try to see through the veneer of idealism and virtue. Just as the king of Sedom could not acknowledge Avraham’s sincere motives for rescuing his fallen city, we, too, oftentimes view good people with cynicism and negativity, jaded and disillusioned as we are by the numerous stories we read and hear of corruption and deceit. The contrast between Malkitzedek and the king of Sedom should remind us to try, as much as possible, to view the people and events around us in a positive light, and to retain our belief in the “Avrahams” of the world despite the negativity we see around us. We must distinguish between blind, dangerous naiveté and healthy optimism, and between a careful, discerning eye and suffocating cynicism. It is possible, and necessary, to acknowledge the presence of evil without looking for it everywhere we look. We must learn from Malkitzedek that despite the unfortunate manifestations of “Sedom,” there are still “Avrahams” in the world for us to admire and seek to emulate.
Rav David Silverberg
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