Positivity now

“War is worse than hell” the lead character in the 1970s TV show MASH exclaimed. “Why is that?” asked the priest. “Because” he responded, “only sinners go to hell. In war, everybody, particularly the innocent, get caught in the crossfire.”

Early in this week’s introduction of Abraham, the Torah describes his battlefield success. He leads local Canaanite Kings in a war that results in the rescue of his captured nephew Lot.

I’ve always wondered why military prowess seems important here. Details about his actual clashes are omitted. Instead, the aftermath that finds Abraham declining a reward from the King of Sodom takes center stage. He responds to an appreciative Sodomite King, “Let you not say, “It is I would made Abram rich” (Gen. 14:23).  Abraham is expressing an important conviction. There should be no reward for bloodshed. War is a the worst condition known to humankind. It multiplies agony, loss, and suffering. It brings even more badness and sadness than a plague does.

More noteworthy for me this year is how Abraham’s decision to do one positive thing puts him in a position to do another positive thing. His choice holds important downstream consequence. If Abraham had taken the reward from the King of Sodom, his subsequent arguments in defense of the innocent in Sodom might have been seen as a conflict of interest. The implications of a quid pro quo would have risked diluting his principled stand with God against injustice.

Abraham is far from flawless. As a husband and father his conduct is, at times, very troublesome. But he is a person of action who values the future effects of positive acts. One occasion of integrity can lead to another of standing up for the innocent.

Perhaps this then is why the Torah is highlighting Abraham’s battlefield prowess. It locates the infectiousness of positivity in its least likely setting.

The coming week is as good as any to do something positive. After you do, may you discover how you’ve put yourself in a position to do so again when the next opportunity presents itself.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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