Sign In Forgot Password

VA-YEIRA' 5784

11/03/2023 02:37:13 PM


I have written the following briefly in previous years. However, in light of recent events, it seems so relevant that I felt that I had to expand upon it now.

The 6th aliya, end of chapter 21, describes a meeting between Avraham and Avimelech, the leader of the Philistines (located in the Gaza area!) A peace treaty is established between the two of them. Avraham states “I will swear.” (verse 24) [A note on proper English grammar: to indicate  a definite commitment, one says “I will” rather than “I shall.”] The 2 leaders seem determined to make an everlasting treaty.

So.. when I was younger, I learned from here the importance of making peace treaties with our enemies.

That is… until many years ago, I saw the commentary of Rashbam (11th century France). Rashbam, who was Rashi’s grandson, is renowned for his search for “peshat,” that is, the literal meaning of the text. Remember, the treaty between Avraham and Avimelech was at the end of chapter  21. Chapter 22, 7th aliya, begins “ahar ha-devarim ha-‘eileh,” (“after these things.”) And remember: chapter 22 is the chapter that talks about the “aqeidah,”  the binding of Isaac. Until the angel appeared and told Avraham not to go through with  it, Avraham thought he had to kill his son.

Rashbam demonstrates that whenever the above expression appears in the Tanach, it means that the 2nd event occurred immediately after the first one. So, here also, the verse is telling us that right after Avraham made the treaty with Avimelech, a treaty that was supposed to last for several generations, Hashem was angry at this, because the land of the Philistines was destined to be included in the boundaries of the land of Israel. Rashbam continues that this idea is also stressed in the Book of Joshua. Rashbam claims that the word “ nisa’”  in the phrase that introduces the Binding of Isaac does not mean that God “tested” Avraham, as it is usually translated, nor does it mean “elevated,” as Nachmanides had claimed,  but rather “caused him [i.e., Avraham] anguish.”

Rashbam explains, Hashem was telling Avraham: you are so proud that you have a son, so that future generations of Israelites and Philistines have a peace treaty, … now go and sacrifice your son, and see what benefit a treaty will give you.

Rashbam gives further examples of the dangers inherit in this treaty: the wars between Israel and Philistines as related in the Book of Samuel: the 7 lambs that you gave to Avimelech to seal the deal will represent 7 leaders who will be killed by Philistines:  including Samson, King Saul. and Saul’s sons. Rashbam gives other examples.

To translate Rashbam into very contemporary terms: be wary of peace treaties.

[you might want to read the article “the problem with calls for peace” by Malka Simkovitch, that appeared in JNS, the “Jewish News Service.”]


There is an old story: HaShem said to Moses: “I am giving you a land of milk and honey, surrounded by perfect beaches.” So, Moses asked: “what’s the catch?” HaShem answered “wait till you see the neighbours.”

Let’s hear good news!

Shabbat shalom,  Rabbi Menahem White

Tue, May 21 2024 13 Iyyar 5784