Parshas Lech Lecha
No Justice, No Peace 1
The king of Sodom want out to meet him after his return from defeating
Kedala’omer…at the Valley of Shaveh…Malki-tzedek, king of Shalem, brought
out bread and wine. He was a priest of G-d the Most High.
The two kings could not have been more different. Perhaps that is the whole
The king of Sodom is quite clueless about his humiliation. He owed his life
and his kingdom to Avraham, to whom he had rendered no assistance. Avraham
had triumphed on the battlefield with his band of ragtag irregulars, while
the Royal Sodom Legionnaires had been trounced. Were he conscious of his
sorry state, he would have had to come begging to Avraham, his frame bent
over, and with averted eyes. He did beg – but as an equal. He asked Avraham
to honor his collegial request as a professional courtesy. You know, the
kind of things rulers do for each other. The king’s personal debasement
didn’t figure. What mattered was that he was still a monarch, still royalty,
and failures don’t really count. The pitiable monarch met with the hugely
successful Avraham – and insisted that they were equals. Thus, they met in
the Valley of Shaveh, which means “equal.”
To the king of Sodom, nothing mattered so much as the station and rank of
his monarchical privilege. Completely dependent upon Avraham, he did not
even think of coming to him with a tribute or gift, let alone something
practical, like food and drink for Avraham’s famished soldiers. Kings can’t
be expected to involve themselves in pedestrians concerns like that..
Malki-tzedek, king of Shalem, downplayed the trappings of external majesty,
in favor of the inner majesty of regal and sterling character. He owed
nothing to Avraham, and sought nothing from him. Nonetheless, he understood
that food might be needed and appreciated, and so he brought it.
The difference between them is indicated in the pasuk. Malki-tzedek served
“G-d, the Most High.” Serving G-d made the difference between the emperor
with no clothes and the one who reflected Divinity.
We would think that these two personalities are entirely incompatible. That
was not the case, however, in the ancient pagan world, in which many deities
were acknowledged and served by choice, like items in a Chinese menu. To his
contemporaries, Malki-tzedek served one particular G-d, albeit the most
elevated of them. They may have understood that peace emanated from Shalem,
and that it was achieved only because it was joined with justice/ tzedek.
Such a combination appealed to some people – but there were other gods
available who could be served in very different ways. The god of
licentiousness could be served through moral license and abandon; the god of
war loved large body counts. Serving them was much more…convenient.
With so many gods available, it was a spiritual buyer’s market. The effect
of this was to box in the qualities that Malki-tzedek represented. His G-d
held sway in His small neighborhood – but had no great influence elsewhere.
In Shalem, one propitiated the Deity by working for justice; elsewhere, you
served the local deity through whatever struck that god’s fancy. The king of
Sodom, for all we know, served a god of egotistic arrogance and pompous
ceremony. The king may have been as dedicated a servant of his lord as
Malki-tzedek was to his.
The effect of such polytheism was to leave room for Malki-tzedek’s G-d –
even to see Him as the chief among many – but to circumscribe His influence.
People in those days could even comprehend that this highest of gods
demanded justice and a righteous life, but consigned Him to a small sphere
of influence. He may have been the highest god, but he didn’t get the
highest ratings. The G-d of Malki-tzedek brought the blessings of peace to
devotees of justice – but only to a small group of people, living in a
particular area. The Jewish people would champion these same values of
justice and peace, and understand their co-dependency. They, however, would
insist that these become the legacy of the entire world. Jews would not be
satisfied with keeping His gifts restricted to a narrow application. They
would not rest until He would become the object of veneration of all of
humanity, and His words would become its guiding principles.
In the many centuries that followed Malki-tzedek, his tradition was kept
alive in his city, Yeru-Shalem. The values of justice and peace were
cherished and kept in trust for the rest of humanity. It is perfectly
understandable that centuries later, when addressing Dovid, the new king of
Shalem, HKBH would remind him of an earlier possessor of the same title.
“Hashem has sworn:…You will be a priest forever, on the order of
Malki-tzedek.” Your commission is to propagate the ideals that were first
advanced by that ancient king, who also acted as a priest in the service of
It is a commission we still cherish today.
1. Tehilim 110:4