July 14, 2024
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Avraham Rescues the Hostages: A Lesson in Courage

One of the more unusual stories, typically not studied in detail in last week’s parsha of Lech Lecha, is that of the battle of the kings (Bereishit, chapter 14.) There were four kings from the West who fought five other kings from the East near the Valley of Siddim. In the midst of the battle, the kings from the East captured Lot, Abraham’s nephew, and Lot’s family, taking them as prisoners.

News of Lot’s capture reached Abraham, who was deeply concerned for his nephew’s safety. Despite the risks, Abraham gathered a small army, three hundred and eighteen of his own men, and set out to rescue Lot.

With determination and courage, Abraham and his men pursued the enemy kings. In a surprise attack, they defeated the enemy forces and rescued Lot and the other captives. Abraham also recovered the stolen possessions and returned them to the people of Sodom. He was completely successful.

The Midrash Rabbah (Bereishit Rabbah 43) elaborates on Abraham’s bravery in rescuing Lot and his cunning strategy. The Midrash portrays Abraham as a skilled warrior. It suggests that Abraham was an expert in military tactics and devised a clever plan to defeat the powerful kings who had captured Lot. He must have been an expert tactician since his 318 men were probably not a match for the various kings and their greater numbered armies. Other midrashim emphasize that Abraham’s success in the battle was due to Divine intervention. They suggest that God directly aided Abraham in his efforts to defeat the kings and rescue Lot.

The story of Abraham and the war of the kings, as described in the Book of Genesis, and the modern conflict between Israel and Hamas are distinct historical events separated by millennia. While both involve conflict and the use of force, drawing direct parallels between these two situations can be challenging but has some merit in terms of the lessons that can be learned. After all, we have the expression, “maaseh avot siman labanim,” a Hebrew phrase that is often translated as “The deeds of the fathers are a sign for the children.” It is a concept found in Jewish literature and ethics, particularly in the Talmud and Midrashic writings, and it reflects the idea that the actions and behaviors of one’s ancestors or predecessors can serve as a guide or lesson for future generations.

The phrase highlights the notion that the stories and experiences of one’s forebears, as recorded in biblical narratives and historical texts, contain valuable lessons and examples that can inform the moral and ethical conduct of their descendants. By studying the actions and consequences of past generations, individuals can learn from their successes and mistakes, and apply those lessons to their own lives.

If that is the case, what Torah lessons from Abraham and his rescue of Lot can be applied to the modern conflict we are now witnessing between Israel and the terrorists who are holding hundreds of innocent civilians as hostages? Here are but a few:

Respect for Life: The Torah places a paramount value on the sanctity of human life. The principle of “pikuach nefesh,” which means “the preservation of life,” is a fundamental concept in Jewish ethics. It implies that saving a life takes precedence over almost all other religious commandments.

Justice and Righteousness: The Torah emphasizes the pursuit of justice and righteousness. Rescuing hostages can be seen as a manifestation of these values, as it involves freeing the unjustly oppressed and upholding justice.

Redemption of Captives: While not explicitly mentioned in the Torah, the concept of “pidyon shvuyim” (the redemption of captives) is a significant principle in Jewish law and tradition. It underscores the importance of ransoming and rescuing captives whenever possible. The story of Abraham rescuing Lot is the first such story that we read in the Torah which emphasized how important it was to rescue one’s kin and restore them to safety.

Moral Courage: The Torah encourages individuals to exhibit moral courage and take action when they witness injustice or the suffering of others. We cannot stand idly by and do nothing.

While the Torah does not offer specific anecdotes about modern hostage rescue situations, it does provide a moral and ethical framework for approaching such issues. These principles can guide individuals and communities in making compassionate, just, and ethical decisions when faced with the need to rescue hostages or help those in captivity.

When we read about Abraham rescuing his nephew Lot and the extended family who were taken hostage, let us take notice of the lessons to be learned. Yes, we need to have expert tacticians who know how to fight and win. At the same time, we also need to have Divine intervention and guidance. May the same God, who helped Abraham fight and win during the ancient battle of the kings, help the modern nation of Israel win the battle against terrorism and safely bring back our hostages.

Good Shabbos! Am Yisrael Chai!


Rabbi Dr. Avi Kuperberg is a forensic, clinical psychologist and a member of the American Psychology-Law Society. He is the coordinator of Bikur Cholim/Chesed at Congregation Torah Ohr in Boca Raton, Florida. He can be reached at [email protected]

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