SR Hewitt
Author of Personal Parsha Prose

Lessons from the War of Kings

“Lot looked about him and saw how well watered was the whole plain of the Jordan, all of it…so Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan…” (13:10-11).

Lot should have used a realtor! If he had, perhaps he would have known that the beautiful patch of land that had caught his eye and beckoned him with unspoken promises of wealth to come was actually a hotbed of trouble.

There is no recording of how long it was after Lot moved to Sodom that the entire valley was enmeshed in war, only hinting, later, that it was long enough for him to be considered settled and for his identity and his connection to Avram to be known. Lot moved to Sodom in Bereishis 13, and all of perek 14 is a description of a regional conflagration that, until its conclusion, has nothing to do with Avram, Sarai, or the future of the Jewish people, which makes it almost odd that it was included in the Torah when so many smaller, more meaningful moments in Avram’s life were not.

If one was only to study Bereishis as a means of understanding the lives of our ancestors, then the text should simply have stated that King Chedorlaomer of Elam and his three closest cohorts defeated the rebellion of the five kings of the valley region of Sodom and, on their way home, looted Sodom and took Lot (and all of his possessions) captive. Only in the hostage-taking of Lot and Avram’s actions afterward appear relevant to understanding our forefather.

But the Torah, in between noting the defeat of “The Five” and the taking of Lot, includes six verses explaining the background of the conflict. King Chedorlaomer and his hosts made the valley kings into his vassals and, 13 years later, they rose up in rebellion. The war was actually the suppression of this rebellion, and the Torah includes the details of all the places that the armies with King Chedorlaomer conquered on their way to battle “The Five” in the Valley of Siddim. Then the Torah offers a taste of the character of the kings of Sodom and Amora, who, “in their flight, threw themselves into them [the bituim pits], while the rest escaped to the hill country” (14:10).

As interesting as this side-note of history may be, the question must be asked as to why it received so much detail, so many verses? What eternal lesson can we gain reading about the petty politics of the ancient residents of the land of Canaan?

One common answer is that the Torah records these details – the kings and the names of the cities that were conquered – in order to emphasize the incredible nature of Avram’s defeat of the looting victors. This was, as the Radak says, “due to God wanting that Avram acquire the reputation of being a mighty warrior, if need be. This is part of the way in which God fulfilled His promise to Avram “I will make your name great.”

Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch points out that this war had the potential to affect Avram in the same way as the famine when he first entered the land. No sooner had he returned from Egypt, where he went to avoid the famine, then he discovers that Canaan is a land coveted and fought over by kings of city-states big and small. The lesson to be learned from this – the lesson being shown to Avram and recorded for all of his posterity – was that the Promised Land was not a land of easy promise.

Rav Hirsch states: Left to itself the land of Israel lay open to famine and political dependence. Situated where Europe, Asia and Africa meet, hardly any world-war has occurred into which it has not been drawn. And just because of this was it chosen. If, in spite of this, a national life would blossom against which no conqueror would dare attack … if all the kingdoms of the world would clash together there and make war on each other, but no sword would dare enter this blooming and yet defenceless land, then the eternal fact would have been brought to the eyes of the nations [that] here God lives.

Obviously Rav Hirsch, who lived in the 19th century, had enough knowledge of history to see how true this message was. And we who live in the 21st century, who have had the privilege of celebrating the State of Israel’s 71st anniversary, have been able to witness how our people have been blessed with the land flourishing once again and, with Divine providence and immense sacrifice, the enemies that have threatened its borders continuing to fail.

It is interesting to consider that perhaps the Torah includes so much detail about the history of this conflict to demonstrate that Avram, who was a shepherd and therefore travelled the land, would have known about it. Perhaps having accepted that his inheritance of the land was a promise for the future he did not feel that the war had anything to do with him. The capture of Lot, who maintained some of the spirituality he had acquired with Avram, was Hashem’s indication to Avram and his descendants that never again could they be casual about world affairs. They were now to be central to history – sometimes in the foreground but often in the background – and no matter of world affairs can be assumed to be innocuous. Time after time, as the Jewish diaspora spread around the globe, the Jewish people found themselves deeply affected by situations not of their making. And, time after time, like their forefather Avram, their fellow Jews have stood up to help their brothers in need.

About the Author
Sarah Rochel Hewitt, formerly the Publications Coordinator for NJOP, and author for 10 years of its popular daily email/blog (JewishTreats.org), is a freelance writer in Montreal. Raised in Pennsylvania, Sarah Rochel is a graduate of the University of Maryland @ College Park (English and Jewish Studies) with a master's degree in education from Brooklyn College. She is also an alumnae of Midreshet Rachel V'Chaya in Jerusalem and the mother of five. Sarah Rochel Hewitt began composing Personal Parsha Prose posts shortly after leaving NJOP in July 2018. Her hope is to inspire others to invest themselves in discovering the incredible layers of meaning that can be found in the Torah.
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