For the week ending 31 October 2009 / 12 Heshvan 5770

Parshat Lech Lecha

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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Ten generations have passed since Noach. Man has descended spiritually. In the year 1948 from Creation, Avram is born. By observing the world, Avram comes to recognize G-ds existence, and thus merits that G-d appear to him. At the beginning of this weeks Torah portion G-d tells Avram to leave his land, his relatives and his father's house and travel to an unknown land where G-d will make him into a great nation. Avram leaves, taking with him his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, their servants, and those whom they converted to faith in G-d. When they reach the land of Canaan, G-d appears to Avram and tells him that this is the land that He will give to his descendants. A famine ensues and Avram is forced to relocate to Egypt to find food. Realizing that his wifes beauty would cause his death at the hand of the Egyptians, Avram asks her to say that she is his sister. Sarai is taken to Pharaoh, but G-d afflicts Pharaoh and his court with severe plagues and she is released unmolested. Avram returns to Eretz Yisrael (Canaan) with much wealth given to him by the Egyptians. During a quarrel over grazing rights between their shepherds, Avram decides to part ways with his nephew Lot. Lot chooses to live in the rich but corrupt city of Sodom in the fertile plain of the Jordan. A war breaks out between the kings of the region and Sodom is defeated. Lot is taken captive. Together with a handful of his converts, Avram rescues Lot, miraculously overpowering vastly superior forces, but Avram demurs from accepting any of the spoils of the battle. In a prophetic covenant, G-d reveals to Avram that his offspring will be exiled to a strange land where they will be oppressed for 400 years, after which they will emerge with great wealth and return to Eretz Yisrael, their irrevocable inheritance. Sarai is barren and gives Hagar, her Egyptian hand-maiden, to Avram in the hope that she will provide them with a child. Hagar becomes arrogant when she discovers that she is pregnant. Sarai deals harshly with her, and Hagar flees. On the instruction of an angel Hagar returns to Avram, and gives birth to Yishmael. The weekly portion concludes with G-d commanding Avram to circumcise himself and his offspring throughout the generations as a Divine covenant. G-d changes Avrams name to Avraham, and Sarais name to Sarah. Hashem promises Avraham a son, Yitzchak, despite Avraham being ninety-nine years old and Sarah ninety. On that day, Avraham circumcises himself, Yishmael and all his household.


An Historical Backwater

“And it was in the days of Amrafel, king of Shinar...” (14:1)

In the middle of this week’s Torah reading, the Torah seems to make a detour into the backwaters of Canaanite political history. For an entire chapter of 25 verses the Torah describes a war between the four kings and the five kings. Ostensibly, these events have little to do with the story of Avraham and the genesis of the Jewish People.

Or maybe there is more here than meets the eye.

The four kings and the five kings represent two inimical world-views.

The four kings represent a world-view where everything in creation is subsumed under the ‘forces of nature.’ This view holds that there is nothing else in this world except this world. Four always denotes ‘this-worldliness’. There are four points of the compass. We speak of the ‘four winds’. The world is composed of four ‘elements’: earth, wind, fire, and water. The letter dalet which has the numerical value of four consists of two lines at right angles to each other, suggesting the four points of the compass.

You can look a this world as being no more than what can be contained within this world — within the four directions, the four winds, and the four elements. Or you can look deeper and higher and see that this world is focused on an Existence beyond this world. This is the world-view represented by the five kings.

Five in Hebrew is represented by the letter heh. If you look at the letter heh you will see that it is composed of the letter dalet (the letter which stands for four and all it signifies) plus the letter yud. Yud is a unique letter. It is the only letter that doesn’t touch the line on which you write. It is no more than the smallest of dots floating above the line. The letter heh is a pictogram of this world focused and revolving around that which is above this world — the dalet (the “four” of this world) with the yud at its axis.

Avraham fought on behalf of the five kings against the four kings. Avraham was the first person to look at this world and see that there was an Existence beyond that which is contained in this world. If there was a ‘manor’, there had to be a ‘Lord of the manor.’

After Avram fought the war against the four kings, G-d added a letter to his name. Not surprisingly, that letter was the letter heh. For Avraham represents all that the heh represents, that this world revolves around a Higher Existence.

It was also after the war against the four kings that G-d made a covenant with Avraham, the covenant of Brit Mila. Brit Mila represents the sublimation of the physical to the metaphysical. It signifies that the human body is only complete when we dedicate it to its Maker.

The natural cycle of this world is seven. There are seven days in the week, seven notes in the scale, and seven colors in the rainbow. Brit Mila is performed on the eight day because it symbolizes the dedication of the physical to that which is above the physical.

Just a little war between four kings and five kings. Just a little backwater historical chapter in the Canaanite history books.

  • Sources: An Historical Backwater by Rabbi Eliezer Breitowitz in the name of the Maharal of Prague as heard from Rabbi C. Z. Senter

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