Pay Your Bills!

Vayomer Avram el melech Sdom harimosi yadi el Hashem K-l Elyon Koneh Shamayim v’aretz im michut v’ad sroch na’al v’im ekach mikol asher lech v’lo tomar ani he’esharti es Avram (Bereishis 14:22-23)

When Avraham heard that his nephew Lot had been captured in battle by the armies of four powerful kingdoms, he and his disciples attacked and defeated them, which enabled him to rescue Lot along with all the other captured people and possessions. Grateful for Avraham’s efforts, the king of Sdom told him that after returning the people, he could keep the property for himself.

Despite the fact that he was legally entitled to the money, Avraham boldly refused to take any gifts from the wicked king, lest he take credit for making Avraham rich. However, when Avraham and Sarah previously traveled to Egypt, Avraham asked her to pretend that she was his sister so that they would give him presents (Rashi 12:13). Why was Avraham so unwilling to accept any perks from the king of Sdom, but did not have the same compunction about receiving them from the wicked Egyptians?

Harav Shlomo Kluger and the Tolna Rebbe point out that there was a critical difference between the two episodes. Rashi writes (13:3) that when Avraham was traveling to Egypt, he didn’t have enough money to pay for his stays at the inns along the way, so he had no choice but to put the cost of his lodging on his bill. Although Shlomo Hamelech writes (Mishlei 15:27) that it is preferable not to take gifts, this concept does not apply to a debtor. Shlomo Hamelech also writes (Ibid., 22:7) that a borrower is a slave to a lender, and when a person owes money, he should feel a burden to pay off his loans that overrides the stringency of not receiving handouts from others. In such circumstances, the appropriate course of conduct is to accept the present and use it to pay one’s bills.

For this reason, Avraham had no qualms about taking gifts from the Egyptians and actively devised a plan to facilitate it — not because he wanted to enrich himself, but because he needed to pay off his debts as expeditiously as possible. Subsequently, when Avraham was interacting with the king of Sdom, he was self-sufficient and did not owe money to anyone, so he spurned the king’s offer to keep the possessions he had rescued for himself.

As a contemporary application of this principle, there was a Rav in Europe in the 1930s who borrowed a significant amount of money to help the needy in his community. When the time to repay the loan arrived, he had no way to obtain the funds, so he decided to travel to Warsaw to appeal to the Imrei Emes for help. When the person who was next in line to speak to the Rebbe noticed the Rav enter the waiting room looking extremely agitated, he allowed the Rabbi to go ahead of him. However, when the Rav emerged from the Rebbe’s chamber, he appeared to be even more aggravated than when he went in.

At that point, the man who had been next in line went in to speak to the Imrei Emes. After discussing the business that had brought him there, as he was preparing to leave, the Rebbe told him that the man who came in before him was a respected Rabbi, and he asked the Jew to accompany him on the train so that he should not have to travel alone.

During their journey, the Rav told his companion that he had come to the Rebbe in desperate need of financial assistance, but after the Rebbe heard his plight, he simply remarked, “If a person lacks the means to pay off a loan, he shouldn’t borrow the money in the first place,” which is why he looked so dejected when he left.

Unbeknownst to him, after he left, the Rebbe sent a telegram to a wealthy Gerrer Chassid in the Rav’s town asking him to help the Rav repay his loans, which he was happy to do. Nevertheless, the Imrei Emes opted not to inform the Rabbi about this arrangement because he wanted to make sure that his message would sink in on the return journey that the obligation for a person to repay his debts is not to be taken lightly, just as we learn from our forefather Avraham.

Q: How many times did Avraham travel to Eretz Yisrael in Parashas Lech Lecha?

A: The Daas Z’keinim points out that although the Torah only explicitly records (12:4-5) the journey that Avraham made to the Land of Israel at the age of 75, he also made another trip that is not spelled out in the text.

At the Bris Bein Habesarim (Covenant Between the Parts), Hashem informed Avraham (15:13) that his descendants would be enslaved in a foreign land for 400 years. However, in Parashas Bo (Shemos 12:40), the Torah records that the sojourn lasted 430 years, not 400.

Rashi explains that the 400 years are counted from the time of Yitzchak’s birth, while the 430 years are measured from the Bris Bein Habesarim, which took place 30 years earlier.

Since Avraham was 100 when Yitzchak was born (Bereishis 21:5), he would have been 70 at the Bris Bein Habesarim, which took place in Eretz Yisrael (Rashi 15:16). Additionally, after traveling to Egypt during the famine, Avraham returned to Eretz Yisrael. Thus, he traveled to the Land of Israel three times in Parashas Lech Lecha — once when he was 70, a second time when he was 75, and a third time after he went to Egypt.


Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.