Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

My Photo
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 13, 2008

Parshat VaYera

Avimelch's Pact with Avraham

We have another strange episode in this week's parsha.

Avraham is an old man of one hundred years old. He is landless and wandering all over Canaan. Suddenly, out of the blue, Avimelech, king of Pelishtim comes to him with his general Phichol, and says: "God is with you in all that you do. Now, swear to me here by God, that you will not lie to me or to my son or to my grandson; according to the kindness that I have done with you, you shall do with me, and with the land wherein you have sojourned" (Bereshit 21:22-23).

Avimelech then proceeds to make a non-aggression pact with Avraham.

Why does Avimelech, a king with an army, want a non-aggression pact with Avraham, a nomad? What is he afraid of?

We could answer by saying that Avimlech recognizes Avraham's greatness especially the fact that God is with him in all that he does, and therefore, its logical for him to want to be in his good books.

However, if that is the case, then we must ask, why now? Avimelech already knew this. In fact, Avimelech and Avraham had already met some time earlier when Avimelech had taken Sarah his wife. Then God appeared to Avimelech in a dream saying that Avraham: "is a prophet" (ibid 20:7) and warning him not to hurt him.

Surely that would have been a more opportune moment for Avimelech to seek a pact with Avraham.

The answer lies in the timing. The episode begins with the words: "Now it came to pass at that time" (ibid 21:22). Something important had just happened. Avraham had just had son; he now had an heir. So what?

For many years, this old man Avraham had been travelling the length and breadth of Canaan preaching monotheism and that one day he would inherit this land.

Most people would not have taken him seriously; for he had no son. However, now he had that son. Suddenly Avraham is a threat to Avimelech. Avimelech knows first hand that God is with Avraham, but now that Avraham has finally had a son, he fears that Avraham's prophecy will come true. This means that his kingdom is not safe. Avraham's descendants will take it away from his. Therefore, Avimelech, comes with his top general and seeks a multi generational non-aggression pact.

With this pact Avraham now has now outside confirmation that his whole life's mission will succeed, and he uses it to his advantage.

First "he planted an eishel tree", signifying his ownership of the land, as well as planting something for his future descendants to enjoy. Then he "dwelt in the land of the Philistines for many days" and "called there in the name of the Lord, the everlasting God", (ibid 21:33-34) i.e. he spends the rest of his life travelling the land of the Pelishtim and preaching about God. But now he is able to use the pact with Avimelech, the Philistine king, as proof that even he now believes in God – shouldn't they?

Last year's Sedra Short for Parshat VaYera, entitled: "The Fate of Mrs. Lot" can be found at

Another Sedra Short for Parshat VaYera, entitled: " Yishmael the Impersonator" can be found at

Another Sedra Short for Parshat VaYera, entitled: "She's my Sister – Again!!" can be found at

Labels: , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home