Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

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Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Parshat Toldot

More Peace with Avimelech – Whatever Happened to It?

In Parshat VaYera, Avimelech had made a non-aggression pact with Avraham. In this week's parsha, Avimelech or possibly his son, as the name is generic for "ruler", renews the pact, this time with Yitzchak: "If you do [not] harm us, as we have not touched you, and as we have done with you only good, and we sent you away in peace, [so do] you now, blessed of the Lord (Bereshit 26:29).

Whatever, happened to this treaty? Was it ever used?

We recall that when Avimelech made the original agreement, he said that it would be between "me or to my son or to my grandson" (ibid 21:23).

One could argue, therefore, that the pact was intended to only last three generations. This would explain how Avraham could agree to relinquish part of the Land of Israel, as God had promised him that "the fourth generation will return here" (ibid 15:16). Therefore, the treaty merely passed by its "use by" date and then became null and void.

However, one could also argue that the term that Avimelech was used was generic to refer to forever. If so, our question remains, what happened to the treaty?

In order to answer this question, we must look at two episodes in Sefer Shmuel. There we see David, the future king of Israel, living in Gat, a Philistine city.

This is very strange. We must remember that David slew the Philistine champion, Goliath. More than that, he has freed Israel from Philistine control. Indeed, the Israelite maidens would sing about him that "Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands" (I Shmuel 18:7). He has won many battles against the Philistines.

Yet when Sha'ul, the king considers David a traitor and tries to kill him, David flees to Achish, the Philistine ruler of Gat, for refuge. You would think that he would be the last person to help David. Not only that, David even took the sword of Goliath with him to Gat! Yet Achish still gave him sanctuary.

David soon had a problem: "The bondsmen of Achish said to him, "Is this not David, the king of the land? Was it not of this one that they would sing out with musical instruments, saying, 'Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands?'" (ibid 21:12).

In order to feign internment, David feigned madness: "He changed his speech before their eyes, and he feigned insanity before them. He scribbled on the doors of the gate, and let his saliva run down upon his beard" (ibid 14).

Unbelievably, Achish fell for it! "Achish said to his bondsmen, "Behold, you see a man who is mad. Why do you bring him to me? Do I lack lunatics, that you have brought this one to rave in my presence?" (ibid 15-16).

Well, maybe Achish was fooled and really believed David to be a madman. If that is the case, how do we explain the episode a few chapters later?

David is still on the run from Sha'ul and he is not safe in Israel, so he returns to Gat. "David arose. He and the six hundred men who were with him, crossed over to Achish the son of Maoch, the king of Gath (ibid 27:2).

Is it possible that Achish had no idea that he was there? No, not really: "David said to Achish, "If now I have found favor in your eyes, let them give me a place in one of the country towns, and I shall dwell there, for why should your servant dwell in the royal city with you?" So Achish gave him Ziklag on that day; therefore, Ziklag has belonged to the kings of Judah until this day" (ibid 5-6).

Achish gave David a city!! More than that, when Sha'ul fought his last battle, David was Achish's personal bodyguard (see ibid 28:1-2). How was it possible that David, the slayer of Goliath, the tormentor of the Philistines and someone who had feigned madness to Achish previously, become such a trusted aide of his?

Rabbi Benyamin Lau suggests that Achish was a descendant of Avimelech and that he still cherished the treaty that Avraham and Yitschak made with his ancestor. Rabbi Lau even suggests that Gerar is Gat, pointing out that the numerical value of the names of the cities are the same.

Therefore, Achish, as a descendant of the philistine king from this week's parsha, had a duty to uphold the treaty, and therefore, protect David.

Last year's Sedra Short for Parshat Toldot, entitled: "Yitschak's Vision” appears at

Another Sedra Short for Parshat Toldot, entitled: "Yitchack Avinu – Action Man” appears at

A further Sedra Short for Parshat Toldot, entitled: "Twins in Her Womb" can be found at

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