Volume 4 Issue 43
by Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky
Family Feuds. They happen in the best of families though blood somehow is
thicker than water. But, obviously, blood is not the sole criteria to hold
back the sword. Yaakov's brother Esav is the father of Edom and
grandfather of Amalek. And there is no love lost between our two nations.
Yet the Torah tells us about two families - cousins, albeit very distant -
against whom we may not wage war. Moshe tells the Children of Israel that
Hashem told him "you may not provoke war with Moav for to the children of
Lot I have given Ar as an inheritance" (Deuteronomy 2:9). The Moavites
were descendants of Lot, Avraham's cousin. Their forebear, Moav, was
fathered through an incestuous union of Lot and his daughter - who named
him, unabashedly, Mo Av, from my father.
Rashi points out that even though the Jews were forbidden to wage war with
Moav, they were, however, permitted to antagonize and provoke them. That's
why Moav hired the evil Bilaam, prophet, to curse the Jews. They were
afraid of them.
The descendants of Ammon, on the other hand, fared better. Though he,
too, was born incestuously, the name Ammon hides that shameful act. In the
merit of their mother's modesty, the Jews were not permitted to antagonize
the nation of Ammon.
Lot's children were, however, treated better than any other folk. There is
no warning not to taunt or attack the children of Ishmael Avraham's own
son. The Midrash explains that it is not Lot's blood-relation to Avraham
that sheaved our sword, it is our gratitude. Fearing certain death, when
he went down to Egypt with his wife Sora, Avraham claimed that Sora was his
sister. Otherwise, the Egyptians would have killed the husband of this
beautiful woman and sent her to Pharoah's harem. Lot was with Avraham and
Sora on that journey and could have divulged the truth. He did not. Lot
went along with the ploy and did not give Avraham and his wife up. His
children were rewarded: the Jews could not wage war on them.
But that merit doesn't stand on its own. It seems that Lot's discretion at
the Egyptian border was enough to stop the Jews from waging all out war
against his descendants. Yet, instilling fear was not ruled out. Why?
When Napoleon was fleeing the Russian Army after his defeat in 1813, he
escaped into the home of a peasant. "Please hide me," he cried. "When I
return to my throne in Paris I will reward you greatly!"
The farmer hid the emperor under a bed, covering him with some old rags.
Moments later, Russian soldiers burst into the tiny home looking for their
The Russians ransacked the home and prodded the bed with sticks and swords.
Napoleon was unharmed. When they left, Napoleon crawled out from under
his hiding place and reiterated his pledge. "When I get to Paris, I will
call for you. I promise you anything you wish!"
Months later the farmer was summoned to the palace where he was allowed an
audience with Napoleon. After conferring gold and silver upon the pauper
the Emperor asked the question. "Ask me anything you want, I will respond in
"The man looked down at his feet and smiled. "Oh Emperor, I really don't
want much. Just one small thing." Napoleon's eyes widened. "And what is that?"
"The farmer gathered his courage. "How did you feel when they were poking
their swords through the bed?"
Napoleon flew into a rage. "Is this what you came to request? Is this the
way you treat the emperor of France? Arrest this man," he shouted to the
guards. "I want him shot."
The man turned white as they led him to the wall of the outer courtyard.
Napoleon accompanied them and declared that he would count to three and the
firing squad would do its duty.
The man was bound, gagged, and blindfolded, and placed in front of the
"One!" shouted the Emperor. The soldiers aimed their rifles. "Two,"
screamed the Emperor. The soldiers cocked their triggers.
Suddenly, Napoleon held up his hand. He motioned to the soldiers to lower
their arms. He walked over to the innocent man waiting to be executed and
removed the blindfold. Then he put his arm around the man's shoulder and
whispered in his ear, "That is how I felt!"
Lot's descendants were spared war with Jews because Lot did not hand
Avraham over to be killed. But he never alleviated Avraham's fears while
travelling to Egypt. And that fear pierced the heart of Avraham during the
entire journey. Kindness must be done with graciousness. And if Lot was
supportive of Abraham, he should have been a true, unwavering comrade. His
merit should have been for strong loyalty and not for his last second
decision not to hand Avraham over to Egyptian authorities. He may have
spared Avraham sure death, but he did not spare him fear of it. So his
descendants the Moavites, albeit spared from war are reminded that though
it may meritorious to spare one from the spear, it is even better to spare
one from its fear!
Rabbi Mordecai Kamenetzky
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