Returning from the battlefield after rescuing Lot and dealing the “Four Kings” a resounding defeat, Avram is greeted by two individuals: Malki Tzedek, King of Jerusalem, and Bera, King of Sodom. Bera offers him riches he rightfully deserves, – namely, the booty of war-, yet Avram declines. Malki Tzedek, on the other hand, asks for nothing, deserves nothing, and yet Avram gives him a tenth of everything he owns. In short, he gives what he does not owe, and refuses to take what is owed to him. “After these events”, the Torah tells us in the coming verse, “God’s word came unto Avram in a vision”; a vision in which God promised Avram a child who would perpetuate his legacy and father the nation of Israel.
“After these events”.
Words which connote a connection between the forthcoming event and that which preceded it.
What, one wonders, is the connection between the war Avraham waged, its aftermath, and God’s promise to grant him a child-successor for the ages?
Our masters teach that there is an important pattern amongst our forefathers and their children which teaches us a great deal. Avraham, we know, epitomized kindness in everything he did. Yitzchok, on the other hand, embodied justice. Yet both, our Sages teach, had children who misconstrued these attributes and utilized them in perverse fashion.
Esav, son of Yitzchak the Just, “excelled” at murder. While both justice and murder involve harsh exactitude (oy, derr Deitscher punktlichkeit), justice means exacting harsh justice for the sake of truth, while murder entails exacting harsh revenge for the sake of nothing.
Yishmael, son of Avraham the Kind, “excelled” at promiscuity. Both kindness and promiscuity, explain our Sages, involve the expansion of oneself to include another. The difference, however, is that while kindness means lending oneself to another for the otherindividual’s benefit, promiscuity means drawing another individual into oneself for one’s own hedonistic benefit. [Indeed, notes Rav Dessler, the very word “chesed”, which usually means kindness, is also used in the Torah to describe immoral relationships].
Indeed, we find not only Avraham’s son, but Lot as well, Avraham’s nephew, protege, and companion, similarly drawn to the den of promiscuity that was Sodom. Seemingly, he had likewise internalized the Avramic tendency of self-expansion, yet never mastered the art of confining that tendency toward drawing others into his goodness, rather than drawing what they had to offer into himself for his own selfish benefit.
Apparently, then, Avraham had to first solidify his trait of kindness before fathering a son, lest that son inherit the basic tendency of self-expansionism in its raw fashion, where it could yet be diverted towards self-serving egocentrism. Thus, he had to first express a willingness to launch a full-fledged and all-but-hopeless war on behalf of his nephew Lot, all in the hopes of returning him to the fold of properly-implemented self-expansionism. Subsequently, Avraham needed to refuse an offer from the King of Sodom to rightfully “expand” his wealth Sodom style, i.e. simply for the sake of self-serving expansionism, while simultaneously volunteering to “give up” from himself to Malki Tzedek simply for the sake of giving. Only then, after he had exercised kindness in its purest, most anti-conceited form, was God ready to introduce him to the son that would forever implement his attributes in the most positive of fashions.
We are all born with raw traits. Unfortunately, we can’t simply “trait” them in. What we can do, however, is make sure to use them right. Exacting? Be exact with yourself. Kind? Be kind to others. Soft? Comfort. Firm? Empower. Humurous? Entertain. Serious? Hmmmmm. I’m not sure…..