Unconventionally, I will begin this week with a few questions from the book of Bereshit that have a direct bearing on this week’s Torah portion.
Avraham was instructed to leave Charan and go to Eretz Yisrael. The verse (Bereshit 12:5) says he took his wife Sarah and his nephew Lot with him. Why take Lot – Hashem didn’t tell him to?
Avraham arrives in Israel and there is a famine, so he goes down to Egypt with Sarah hidden in a suitcase. “What’s this?” the Egyptian customs official asks. “Oh, she’s my sister!” answers Avraham. “Why is she in a suitcase?” the suspicious official queries. “She is agoraphobic!” All this time Lot is there with Avraham and nodding his head “Yes, his sister! Yes, agoraphobic!”
Avraham and Lot return from Egypt laden with wealth, but they cannot coexist peacefully, so they part company. Lot moves to S’dom. Soon after, there is a “world war,” the five kings vs. the four, and Lot is taken captive. Avraham musters a fighting force and defeats the mighty four kings and frees Lot.
What is Lot’s hold over Avraham? Why let him tag along in the first place? Why risk his life to rescue him against all odds?
Avraham obeys Hashem’s command and performs a brit milah. While recuperating, he is visited by three angels – Raphael (to heal Avraham), Michael (to tell Sarah she will bear a son) and Gavriel (to destroy S’dom and rescue Lot). Why is Gavriel visiting Avraham if his mission is in S’dom? Why does Gavriel not wait at the intersection for his comrades to finish their mission with Avraham and then continue with them to S’dom? (Perhaps Gavriel has a hankering for tongue in mustard sauce with 18 pounds of matzo?)
S’dom is destroyed and Lot and his daughters are rescued. Hiding in a cave and thinking the entire world has been destroyed, the daughters give their father Lot wine to drink, sleep with him, and bear children from him. So much ink spent on Lot until now, and after this last account – zero! Lot is never mentioned in the Torah again.
Fast forward to this week’s parsha. Balak, king of Moav is in a panic! According to the Arizal, he has a dream. In his dream he sees a “table” (petorah in Aramaic – Onkelos, Shemot 25:23). So what does he do? He sends for Bilam!
“Bilam, quick I need your help! You will never guess what I dreamed about ….” and the rest is history, as they say.
So many questions; let’s try to answer them.
Avraham is obsessed with Lot. With no command from Hashem to do so, he shleps Lot with him when he leaves Charan. Lot accompanies him wherever he goes, to Egypt and back. Even when they part ways because of the tiffs over grazing land, Avraham promises to always be there for Lot in time of need. He makes good on that promise when he takes on the world “superpowers” and rescues Lot from captivity.
Lot is not such a big tzaddik. He is living in Avraham’s household, soaking up the Torah, but the first chance he gets he breaks free and makes a beeline for S’dom – the spiritual cesspool of the world (albeit an agricultural paradise at the time). However, Lot has one thing going for him.
When Avraham went down to Egypt with Sarah hidden away from the morally decrepit Egyptians, Lot could easily spill the beans: “Sister! What sister? She is his wife!” But Lot keeps his mouth shut and does not tattle-tale. For that chesed he did for Avraham, Hashem rewards Lot, mida kenegged mida, that he will give birth to two descendants who will lay the foundation for the lineage of Mashiach.
The Sages say that when you see the world superpowers battling with each other – Mashiach is on his way! (What does that tell us now with Russia, Europe and the USA all at loggerheads over the Ukraine?). Amrafel is Nimrod, the same Nimrod that tried to kill Avraham in Ur Kasdim. This war with the five kings vs. the four kings was never about power or land – it was all about trying to get rid of Avraham and the ancestor of the Mashiach (Lot). Two birds with one stone. But it failed.
The three angels came to visit Avraham. What was Gavriel doing there? His mission was in S’dom. Sefer Zerah Barech says that part of Gavriel’s mission was connected to visiting Avraham. When Michael asks “Where is Sarah?” Avraham replies “She is in the tent!”
“Why did she not also come out and greet us?” asks Michael. Avraham replies, “It is the man’s job to greet, not the woman’s!” It was to hear this that Gavriel had to be there. In this, Avraham was declaring a halacha: Derech ish lekadem, loh derech isha lekadem.”
Later in the Torah it says that an Amoni and Moavi can never enter the Kahal Hashem, the “Congregation of Hashem,” because they did not “greet you” with bread and water after the Exodus from Egypt. With the halacha stated above, Avraham was saying “Amoni” and not “Amonit.” Moavi and not “Moaviah.” In other words, it is not the women’s job to greet, it is the men’s job, so the women of Amon and Moav are not punished and are permitted to enter the Kahal Hashem, i.e, become Jewish converts. Thus Rut, the descendant of Moav, son of the incestuous relationship between Lot and his daughter, may enter Kahal Hashem and therefore Lot must be saved. Gavriel needed to reveal whether to save Lot or not; that is why he was there.
After the story with Lot and his daughters giving him wine that was in the cave from the time of Creation for this purpose, the Torah never again mentions him. Lot’s role in history is at an end. He did a chesed for which he was amply rewarded, but once Moav is born, Lot is redundant.
Balak is in a panic, he sees a vision of a “table” floating in the air. What table? The Shulchan Lechem Hapanim. What does this mean? The Shulchan is a symbol of royalty – it is intricately connected with David HaMelech. Balak sees in his vision that his granddaughter Rut will eventually give rise to the lineage of Mashiach, something he cannot allow. So he calls for Bilam to prevent this from happening.
As the four kings in the time of Avraham failed, so too did Balak and Bilam. Rut was born, and with her the Mashiach ben David.
Parshat HaShavua Trivia Question: It says that Balak “saw” what Am Yisrael did to the Emori. How could he see if he was not there at the time?
Answer to Last Week’s Trivia Question: How tall was Og Melech Habashan? The Midrash says that Moshe was 10 amot high, that he took a pole also 10 amot high and “pole-vaulted” up an additional 10 amot (a total of 30 amot) and struck Og in the ankle. The height of the ankle is about 2.3 inches. An average man’s height is about five feet, 11 inches. So the ratio of a person’s height is about 30 times their ankle height. 30 amot times 30 is 900 amot. If an amah is one foot, eight inches (Chaim Na’eh), then Og was almost a third of a mile high.