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Beit Midrash Series Parashat Hashavua

About a Refugee, Merits, Treatment of Women, and Covenants

After Avraham’s nephew Lot was taken captive by the four Mesopotamian kings, the Torah relates: “The refugee (palit) came and told Avram the Hebrew, who was dwelling in the plot of Mamreh the Emorite, the brother of Eshkol and Aner, and they were members of a covenant with Avram” (Bereishit 14:13). Among the many things to ask about this pasuk: Who was the palit and from what did he escape? What is the connection between the palit’s arrival and the friends in whose company Avraham was dwelling?
Rabbi Yossef CarmelCheshvan 10 5779
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After Avraham’s nephew Lot was taken captive by the four Mesopotamian kings, the Torah relates: "The refugee (palit) came and told Avram the Hebrew, who was dwelling in the plot of Mamreh the Emorite, the brother of Eshkol and Aner, and they were members of a covenant with Avram" (Bereishit 14:13). Among the many things to ask about this pasuk: Who was the palit and from what did he escape? What is the connection between the palit’s arrival and the friends in whose company Avraham was dwelling?

Chazal identify the palit as Og, King of the Bashan, with whom Moshe fought in the desert hundreds of years later (Nida 61a), and he had escaped from the mass death of the flood. The midrash (Bamidbar Rabba, Chukat 19) explains that he escaped being killed or captured by the Mesopotamian kings, which is what enabled him to make it to Avraham and update him about Lot.

Before Moshe fought Og, Hashem had to reassure Moshe that he need not fear, as Moshe would conquer him and his nation. The gemara (ibid.) explains that Moshe had been concerned about Og’s merit for having helped Avraham. Chazal do not tell us in merit of what did he make it to that point in the first place, i.e., that he had not been killed in the flood or by Nimrod and friends. His merit in regard to Avraham is also hard to understand according to Chazal, who say that his plan was to draw Avraham into an unwinnable battle, so that after Avraham’s death he could marry Sarah. Is that a good deed that deserves merit?!

Let us answer with a look back at the social norms in the time of Sefer Bereishit. We are told that the powerful people took beautiful women without so much as asking anyone’s permission (Bereishit 6:2). Then the generation of the flood continued corruption in the field of adultery (Sanhedrin 57a). Avraham had reason to believe that Paroh and the Egyptians would kill him because of his wife and indeed they seized her without permission (see Bereishit 12:12-15). When these are the societal norms, Og’s plan to entice Avraham to go out to battle, without Og trying to kill Avraham himself, makes him better than the other giants and other powerful men of his time.

How do we combat these sinful tendencies that people at the time had? We see the answer in our parasha. Beyond the covenant with mankind about not destroying mankind with another flood, Hashem made a covenant with Avraham using the foreskin at the place of a man’s organ linked to sexual desires. It is not by coincidence that Avraham was told about this new covenant and about the coming birth of Yitzchak at the same place that he came in contact with Og. As it proved to be, in the merit of keeping to this covenant, Bnei Yisrael merited things such as conquering Og, who had much lower level accomplishments in these regards.
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