It is thought to be the first “world war” in history.
Four mighty kings waged war with five others and, when it was all over, the four were victorious. Among the defeated kings was the ruler of Sodom, and among those captured was Lot, nephew of Avram and (according the Midrash) brother of his wife Sarai.
Og, that giant who managed to survive the Mabul by clinging to the side of the teivah, made his way to Avram to bring him the news. Og had an ulterior motive: he hoped that Avram, going to his nephew’s rescue, would be killed in battle and Og himself would get to marry Sarai.
Og had good reason to assume that Avram would never return alive. The Torah tells us that 318 men accompanied Avraham Avinu; Rashi quotes a Midrash that it was actually only Eliezer, whose name has the numerical value of 318. The two went out to wage war against a massive army of 800,000 well-armed men.
Why indeed did Avram take such a risk on behalf of a nephew who, when parting ways with his uncle, declared, “I want neither Avram nor his G-d”? Why did Avram put himself into such grave danger for a relative who had brought this misfortune on himself by choosing to move to Sodom, a city that embodied evil and cruelty, whose residents lived lives that were the polar opposite of everything Avram stood for?
Presumably, it was the fact that Avraham Avinu had promised him upon their parting, “I will not distance myself from you, but stand for you as a protector and a helper.” This brings us to the next question: Why did Avram find it necessary to give his wayward nephew such a firm commitment?
The Midrash tells us an astonishing fact that sheds light on this. Hakadosh Baruch Hu was angry at Avraham Avinu for separating from Lot! “Everyone he cleaves to, and Lot the son of his brother he doesn’t [cleave to]?” Hashem said.
Lot was far from a positive influence on Avram’s household. Chazal tell us that as long as Avram was accompanied by Lot, Hakadosh Baruch Hu refrained from speaking to Avram. Yet Avram was still faulted for the separation.
Hagaon Harav Chaim Shmuelevitz, zt”l, Rosh Yeshivah, Mirrer Yeshivah, uses this — along with numerous other proofs from Chazal — to show how great is the obligation to reach out and be mekarev others.
[Among the other proofs he brings is the story of Timna, who asked to be converted by Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. They all — doubtless for a valid reason — rejected her. She went on to marry Elifaz the son of Esav, and from that union came Amalek, who caused untold suffering to Am Yisrael. Chazal tell us that Amalek was born to Timna because the Avos erred in rejecting her.]
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There are many other explanations for the “world war” of antiquity.
One is that it wasn’t Lot per se that these kings had in mind. They were aware that Moshiach was to descend from Dovid Hamelech, himself a descendant of Rus, who, in turn, descended from Lot. The four kings — symbolic of the powers of evil — were determined that Lot not be able to father Moav, hence ensuring that neither Rus, Dovid nor, most importantly, Moshiach, would ever be born.
Another explanation is that the victory of the four mighty kings created the erroneous impression that victory belongs to the strong and the mighty. Avraham Avinu — whose life’s mission was to instill emunas Hashem within every human being — was determined to reveal to the world that Hashem is the True King, and He alone decides who shall be victorious and who defeated.
In Divrei Yisrael, Harav Yisrael Taub, zy”a, the Modzitzer Rebbe, explains it esoterically.
“Four” is symbolic of the physical, which is comprised of four elements: fire, water, ruach and earth. “Five” is symbolic of the spiritual essence, which consists of five elements known as nefesh, ruach, neshamah, chai and yechidah.
All too often, the “four” — the physical — manage to defeat the “five” — the spiritual. Nonetheless, even after such a defeat, we dare not be dissuaded from declaring war on the physical and “pursuing it” despite the odds against us. Hakadosh Baruch Hu helps us in our battles against the evil inclination, and like Avraham Avinu we will in the end be victorious.
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The key is never to let a defeat — or even a string of defeats — wear us down. For every moment is a fresh call to battle. Every moment of our life is another opportunity to do a mitzvah, another chance to cleave to our Creator.