Lech L’cha — 5771 — Pulling a Malchizedek

24/10/2010 at 10:23 Leave a comment

“Pulling a Malchizedek”

Shabbat Lech L’cha

16 October 2010

Neil F. Blumofe


On this Shabbat, we often hear of the significance of Avram’s travel to the Promised Land after he hears the voice of God to lech l’cha – to get up and go from all things familiar – from his place of birth, from his country, from his childhood home — to a land that will be revealed.  One can only imagine the anticipatory thoughts that Avram had on the journey into the unknown – what would the land be like?  How will I survive?  Who will I meet along the way?  What will I do when I get there?


And Avram, along with his wife Sarai and his nephew Lot do come into contact with many – and their journey is not direct and straightforward. – soon after he arrived to the place that God had determined, Avram went to Egypt, another country, because of a famine in the Promised Land.  After they return, there is a separation of family and then war – and here we see Avram not in the gentle position of welcoming guests of placidly obeying God’s inscrutable words – here we see Avram taking up arms to save his nephew after the four kings of Mesopotamia defeated the five kings of Canaan in war.  In an account usually passed over, because of the other dramatic events of this parasha, Avram gathers his own war party and pursues the Mesopotamian kings to the far north of the country – defeating them at night – chasing them past Damascus and eventually bringing back the spoils of war – all of the originally captured people and possessions – including his nephew, Lot.


Here we find a curious incident – when Avram returned from defeating the Mesopotamians, all of the surviving king of Sodom came out to greet him, escorting him to the city of Salem, which is understood to be Jerusalem, where they were met by the king of the city, Malchizedek who offered Avram, bread and wine.  Malchizedek is portrayed differently than the king of Sodom – you may recognize the two Hebrew words that comprise his name – melech, which means king, and tsedek, which means righteousness – a name which reflects a powerful difference in action from the leader of Sodom – who asks Avram for the people to take back to his wicked town.


As you can imagine, our tradition makes much of Malchizedek – our Midrashim envisioning him to be a holy priest.  Our Talmud thinks of him as Shem, one of the sons of Noah, who after the flood, opened a large yeshivah for Torah learning and instruction.  It was here, in Malchizedek’s school that the future patriarchs, Isaac and Jacob were instructed in the ways of Torah.  Also, as Malchizedek learned hospitality and greeting guests from Avram, in turn, Avram learned the ways of the priesthood from him.


We see that Avram later displaces Malchizedek as the priest – in other words, Malchizedek was a priest of the most high God, however his children were not – the priestly line ended with him.  Again, our Midrashim teaches that this was brought about because of simple, yet profound words on the part of both Malchizedek and Avram.


As a world we have had an extraordinary week – in a rare occasion, we have all watched the 33 Chilean miners rescued from underground as they were pulled to safety after two months — demonstrating a rare partnership among nations and organizations who provided assistance and help.  Especially compared to the earlier struggles to cap the overflowing Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico earlier this summer, which resulted in the largest oil spill in American history, this rescue seems to be a refreshing miracle – it would be easy to slap each other on the back, be proud of our scientific advancements and our human will to survive and then we all go back to our places, happily disturbed that we could work together in extreme circumstances – and if the world’s spotlight is shining on us.


In the Torah, this would be called, pulling a Malchizedek.


Amid our happiness, we should recognize from where our power and our technology to save, is drawn.  Malchizedek has good intentions – he offers Avram food and drink and then serves up a blessing for him, saying, baruch Avram l’El Elyon koneh shamayim va’aretz, u’varuch El Elyon asher migein tsarecha b’yadecha.” The man, who has the combination of king and righteousness offers what appears to be a sweet and grateful blessings to the victorous Avram – he says, “blessed is Avram of God, the Most High, Maker of heaven and earth – and blessed is God, the Most High, who has delivered your foes into your hand.”  And Avram returns a blessing, stating, “harimoti yadi el Adonai El Elyon koneh shamayim va’aretz.” This is a gentle overhaul of Malchizedek’s blessing – did you notice what he did – he gave haShem full credit so it does not even appear that he himself can be equated to possess the power of God.


It is for this reason, our tradition tells us, that Avram received the priesthood from Malchizedek – the school remained open and Malchizedek had the merit to teach the next generations all of the secrets of the Torah – however the promise of the covenant passed to Avram and his family – while he too was leading a life of action, his priorities were in the right place and he recognized that past all of the accomplishments that he was able to perform, that the power of God was at the heart of them all.


So, in our lives, past all of our challenges, some of which turn into triumphs, let us pull an Avram, putting God first in all things and not pull a Malchizedek, which, while our intentions are in the right place, leaves us momentarily elated and then ultimately unconvinced and dejected as the world continues to move forward and as a matter of course, rather than being rescued, miners regularly die from shoddy mining practices and oil continues to spill and rather than rescues, casualties rise in war and terror.  Let us recognize that God is always first as we continue to make our world smaller with our advancements and as we shine and bask in the glare of our progress.


Shabbat Shalom.


Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

Noah — 5771 — Survivor Vayera — 5771 — Shalom, Shalom

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