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Lech Lecha

The Torah tells the story of five kings who lost their war against four other kings. On the losing side were the kings of Sodom and Amorah who fled and fell into pits. The winning armies then came to collect the booty.

And they took all the goods of Sodom and Amorah, and all their provisions, and went their way. And they took Lot, Avram's brother's son, and his goods, and departed; for he lived in Sodom (Bereishis 14:11-12).

The words “for he lived in Sodom” are part of a definite statement being made by the Torah.

Earlier in the parashah, we learned about the relationship of Avram, our Patriarch, and his nephew, Lot. Although Lot was a disciple of his uncle, and learned many good things from him, he was not ready to live by all of his teachings. So, after his shepherds quarreled with those of Avram, the tzaddik suggested to his nephew that they part their ways. Lot, like Avram, knew how corrupt the inhabitants of Sodom were, yet he did not hesitate to move there, once he saw how rich their lands were. However, he did set up a barrier between him and the wicked ones. The Torah tells us, “Avram lived in the land of Canaan, and Lot lived in the cities of the plain, and he pitched his tent until Sodom” (Ibid. 13:12). He lived near the Center of Evil, but not in it.

Consequently, when the conquering armies captured the families of Sodom and their possessions, Lot should not have been included; since he did not live there with them. Therefore, lest we ponder this point, the Torah explains to us, “For he lived in Sodom.” In other words, he did not uphold his resolution to keep his distance from Sodom. First he lived near them, and eventually he moved in to live together with them.

And there came one who had escaped, and he told Avram the Hebrew; for he lived in the plain of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshkol, and brother of Aner; and these were allies with Avram (Ibid. 14:13).

When Avram was informed that his nephew was taken captive along with the other inhabitants of Sodom, he must have realized that his former student had strayed even further than he had thought. Perhaps the wise sage had even warned his follower not to trust himself and not to even go near the surrounds of evil, for fear that he would be lured into their snare, but the younger scholar had insisted stubbornly that he could be trusted to be careful. Now look what had happened. Avram’s worst fears had come true. Lot was indeed not as strong as he had imagined and now he was in danger, spiritually and physically.

Someone else in Avram’s situation might have thought to himself that it serves Lot right to have been captured together with the bad associates he had chosen to befriend. Had he listened to his mentor and not quarreled with his men in the first place, all of this could have been avoided. He deserved what he got and he had no one to blame for it but himself. Certainly there was no obligation to put oneself into danger because of him and go to battle, almost single-handedly, against four mighty kings who had just defeated five awesome opponents. But that was not Avram’s reaction at all.

And when Avram heard that his brother was taken captive, he armed his trained servants, born in his own house, three hundred and eighteen, and pursued them to Dan. And he divided himself against them, he and his servants, by night, and defeated them, and pursued them to Chovah, which is on the left side of Damascus. And he brought back all the goods, and also brought again his brother Lot, and his goods, and the women also, and the people (Ibid. 14-16).

The secret of Avram’s reaction lies in the words, “And when Avram heard that his brother was taken captive.” Avram understood full well that Lot had strayed far from the path he had tried so hard to lead him on. No doubt he was very hurt by that reality. Perhaps at some other time he would strongly rebuke him for his mistakes and misdeeds. But now this was not the time for such thoughts nor for such action. Now, Avram concentrated on one point only: his brother was taken captive. Whether or not Lot behaved the way he wanted him too; he was his brother nevertheless. And one must do all that he can, even endanger himself, to protect and save his brother.

I once heard a great story from Rabbi Chaim Balgley, zt”l, a student of the Chofetz Chaim ztvk”l.

In Russia, there once was a rebellious political group known as the Bundists who wanted to overthrow the government. The members of the group were cruel and sadistic, and certainly not G-d fearing. Unfortunately, many estranged Jews were also members of the party.

As the government became more and more fearful of revolution, the Bundist Party was outlawed. When the threat became bigger, the government decreed that anyone even found with Bundist propaganda in his possession would be immediately arrested and executed.

Yom Kippur night, before Kol Nidrei, the Brisker Rav (I believe it was Reb Chaim Soloveichik, although it may have been his son, Reb Velvel) was informed that a Jewish resident of his town had been arrested with Bundist paraphernalia in his pocket. One can very well imagine what kind of Jew he must have been if, in spite of the government’s decree, he still carried the forbidden material on him. Certainly that information alone would have been enough for us to shake our heads and decide that he deserved what awaited him, without feeling any obligation to try and save him from certain death.

But the Brisker Rav behaved differently. Like our forefather Avram, the message the Rav reflected upon was only one: His brother was in trouble. For all Jews are brothers and sisters; whether they be religious and law-abiding or not. And one is obligated to help his brother in any and every precarious situation.

The Brisker Rav immediately dispatched two of his students to go around to every shul in town and make an appeal for immediate funds to bribe the Russian officials to free the imprisoned Jew. He stressed that although it was Yom Kippur, he did not want pledges, even if they would be fulfilled immediately after the Holy Day. He wanted cash on the spot.

Furthermore, he told his congregants that he would not allow them to begin the Yom Kippur service until he had in his hands the entire amount necessary.

The students eagerly ran from shul to shul with the Brisker Rav’s message, while the Rav waited impatiently. Within a little while, the entire amount had been collected and delivered to the rabbi. The congregants hoped that they could finally begin saying the awesome Kol Nidrei which meant so much to them. But Rav Soloveichik had another surprise for them. He told his students to quickly run to the police station and deliver the ransom, and he declared that he refused to begin davening until he was informed that the Jew had actually been freed!

No pleas from the congregants could force the Rav to change his mind. He stood firmly and would not budge from his decision. Some time later, only when he was notified that “his brother” was safe from danger, did he allow the Yom Kippur services to begin.

Such is the way of the true leaders of Israel. And such is the path we are meant to follow. Let us always remember that “Kol Yisroel chaverim – All Jews are friends” – regardless of the way he or she looks or what he or she believes. And as a true chaver, we must always be ready and available to help them in their hour of need, and then Hashem will help us too, even though we may not look the way He wants us to either.

Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel