After Lot leaves Avram (as he still known at that point) to settle in S’dom, the Torah cuts away to inform us of the first recorded world war between the empires of four kings on one side, and the five kings of the local area on the other. Rashi informs us that the four kings control massive empires, akin to the imperial jockeying of the 19th century. The question presents itself: Why are they going to the trouble of waging war with five city-states?
The Torah informs us that when Lot was selecting the area he was going to move to, he saw the fields of S’dom, their irrigation, all at once like Gan Eden and Egypt. S’dom and its environs were considered the ‘Emirates’ of that era, with fantastic wealth derived from copious natural resources. The empires of the East naturally came along and subjugated them with the intention to secure a solid food supply and cheap rates.
The question we pose now is why is it that suddenly the five kings decided to rebel after more than a decade of peaceful co-operation? The answer is found once again hidden in Rashi’s comments. When the four kings are listed, Rashi makes sure to let us know that Amrafel, king of Shin’ar is in fact Nimrod, who through midrashim we know attempted to kill Avraham by throwing him into a fiery furnace, and in fact succeeded in executing Lot’s father Haran. Why was Nimrod personally invested in putting down the rebellion, and specifically taking Lot captive (cf Ber. 14:12)?
One of my teachers explains that the rebellion can be traced to Lot’s presence in S’dom. In the previous chapter, we are spectators to the difficult separation between two ‘brothers’ Avraham and his surrogate, Lot. This of course stands in stark contrast to the previous occasion that two brothers disagreed. Lot remained Avraham’s protégé and his foremost student, yet wanted economic security and peace of mind. This trait was similar to his father, Haran, who Rashi tells us vacillated between supporting his brother Avraham or Nimrod the king. Notwithstanding this latent indecision, Lot continued to act as the representative of the innovations Avraham brought to the world in S’dom.
The people of S’dom were, as the Torah tells us, “exceedingly wicked”, but even they were receptive to throwing off the yoke of a tyrant. This was anathema to the empires of the East, who had previously tried to eradicate it since the time of the building of the Tower of Bavel. Avram had survived Nimrod, and was therefore invincible. Lot, however, had no such protection, being the son of Haran who had perished in the furnace, and his sedition needed to be put down.
Following Avram’s subsequent victory and return, he is approached by the King of S’dom, who offers him all the wealth in return for the people. Avram’s response is the foundation of all the basic humanity that we take for granted: “Not a string or a shoelace!” People are not chattel to be bartered with! Every individual is capable of cosmic achievement. After the passing of Maran HaRav Ovadiah Yosef zt’l this week and appreciating the vacuum that that his absence constitutes, that message is all the more relevant, and should influence us to spur our efforts to ever more self-improvement.