B’reishit, Chapter 14: The Battle of Siddim

Four powerful kings in Mesopotamia subdued the five kings of the Jordan plain and their people, taking the citizens of S’dom, among them Lot, captive.  Avram immediately gathered together a small army and defeated the four kings, freeing the captives.  Malki-Tzedek blessed Avram; the king of S’dom offered Avram the spoils of war, but Avram refused them.

The Talmud in Tractate Nedarim asks why it is that Avraham’s descendants were punished with 210 years of servitude in Egypt.  It offers three answers:

אמר רבי אבהו אמר רבי אלעזר מפני מה נענש אברהם אבינו ונשתעבדו בניו למצרים מאתים ועשר שנים מפני שעשה אנגרייא בת”ח שנאמר (בראשית יד) וירק את חניכיו ילידי ביתו ושמואל אמר מפני שהפריז על מדותיו של הקב”ה שנא’ (בראשית טו) במה אדע כי אירשנה ורבי יוחנן אמר שהפריש בני אדם מלהכנס תחת כנפי השכינה שנאמר (בראשית יד) תן לי הנפש והרכוש קח לך וירק את חניכיו ילידי ביתו

Abbahu said in R. Eleazar’s name:
Why was our Father Abraham punished and his children doomed to Egyptian servitude for two hundred and ten years?
Because he pressed scholars into his service, as it is written: He armed his dedicated servants born in his own house.
Samuel said: Because he went too far in testing the attributes [i.e., the promises] of the Lord, as it is written: [And he said, Lord God,] whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?
Johanan said: Because he prevented men from entering beneath the wings of the Shechinah, as it is written: [And the king of Sodom said it to Abraham,] Give me the persons, and take the goods to thyself.

Two of the three answers have to do with Avram’s actions in the war from our chapter.  One because he pressured those who were otherwise studying Torah to serve in his army, and the other because he missed an opportunity to get more followers for God (rather than releasing the captives, he ought to have released them on condition).  According to the rabbis, these are the reasons why our ancestors ended up as slaves in Egypt.  Certainly food for thought.

Rabbi Roy Feldman

B’reishit, Chapter 14: The Battle of Siddim

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