Kenneth Cohen

Abraham’s Sins

There is a well known saying of the Rabbis, that Hashem is very particular with the righteous. The expectation of exemplary behavior is much greater on them, than on average individuals.

This could be the explanation of a strange Gemara in Nedarim. It gives three apparently, minor infractions of Avraham Avinu, that was treated very harshly, and was the cause of the exile to Egypt of the Jewish people. He questioned G-d by asking for some proof that his seed would continue his beliefs.

His deal with the King of Sodom, was wrong in that he returned his prisoners. He should have taught these prisoners about the One, true G-d.

And the third infraction is very difficult to understand. The Gemara says that Avraham was guilty of taking Torah students away from their studies, and making them fight in that battle of the four kings verses the five kings.

The Torah says, וירק את חניכיו, translated by Artscroll, “He armed his disciples.” The version of the Talmud is that he emptied his students of their studies.

All of these minor sins can be seen as a very strong response by Hashem. But this last point is especially troubling. It could very well be that there is a double message here.

There is no doubt that fighting in Hashem’s army, is one of the loftiest pursuits for a Jew. We cherish the holy soldiers of the IDF. But we must never minimize the contribution of diligent Torah scholars, whose devotion and dedication also brings protection to the Jewish people.

Even in the time of Abraham, this message rang clear. We must love our soldiers defending us. But we must also love our Torah scholars, who also defend us.

About the Author
Rabbi Cohen has been a Torah instructor at Machon Meir, Jerusalem, for over twenty years while also teaching a Talmud class in the Shtieblach of Old Katamon. Before coming to Israel, he was the founding rabbi of Young Israel of Century City, Los Angeles. He recently published a series of Hebrew language-learning apps, which are available at
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