Following his heroic victory in the war against the Four Babylonian Kings and Lot’s release from captivity, Avraham receives a hero’s welcome from the King of Sedom. Oddly enough, before Melech Sedom says anything, the Torah interrupts itself –Malchitzedek Melech Shaleim, a priest of God, brings out bread and wine and blesses Avraham and God. Only afterward, the Torah resumes its previous narrative, recounting how Melech Sedom offers to divide the spoils of war with Avraham (BeReishit 14:21): “Ten Li HaNefesh VeHaRechush Kach Lach,” “I will take the captives and you can have their possessions.”
Even from the time that we first open our Chumashim in elementary school we have been trained not only to focus on the Pasuk’s content but also to consider its placement and arrangement in a broader context. This small section of The Torah calls out for our attention. Why does the Torah feel the need to insert Malchitzedek’s celebration in the middle of Melech Sodom’s meeting with Avraham? Why does the Torah not allow us to finish hearing what Melech Sedom says before introducing Malchitzedek and his meeting with Avraham?
One of my Rebbeim explained to me that the Torah uses this insertion to sharply contrast Malchitzedek and Melech Sedom. Both men have just experienced a miraculous victory. Both men and their respective nations are now out of harm’s way. The contrast is their response to this miracle. Melech Sedom is completely focused on material gain; he says, “we won the war”; he asks, “so how many captives do I get?” Malchitzedek, on the other hand, sees the world from a different perspective. His response to “we won the war” is not “what do I get out of it” but rather “we won the war,” how did that happen? How can I properly express my gratitude to Avraham and my praise for Hashem?
The contrast extends beyond these two individuals. Malchitzedek is the king of Yerushalayim, the city that represents the awareness of Hashem’s presence in this world. Melech Sedom, on the other hand, represents Sedom, the city that for all eternity is the symbol of a lack of spirituality and awareness of God.
As a guidance counselor, I wonder why two human beings experience the same episode, in this case victory in a war, and respond so differently. What helped Malchitzedek emerge as a person with a deep spiritual awareness? How can Melech Sedom experience the same victory without even considering God’s role? More importantly, how do we develop Malchitzedek’s perspective? What can we do to insure that we do not see the world through Melech Sedom’s simplistic eyes?
Rabbeinu Yonah, in his Mishlei commentary, explains how different people develop different character traits by quoting (Mishlei 27:21), “Ish Lefi Mehalelo,” “and a man is tried by his praise.” Rabbeinu Yonah explains they way a person relates to the world around him will be defined by the things that he praises and the values and holds most important. In our case, we find two individuals equally enthusiastic. Both are running to greet Avraham. But each of these individuals has something that he treasures, something he is passionate about. For Melech Sedom, life is about wealth and power. Over time he becomes a person who is only focused on accruing more. He becomes a person incapable of seeing anything other than money and power, seeing only the best way to acquire them. Malchitzedek has a different passion and a different set of values. Thinking first and foremost of Hakarat HaTov, he desperately needs to express his thanks to Avraham and of course to Hashem above. Hakarat HaTov is possibly the most powerful tool in our life-long labor of developing a deep awareness of the role that Hashem plays in every aspect of our lives. A person who always recognizes and appreciates what others do for him will have an easier understanding that his is dependent on Hashem’s kindness for everything that happens.