By Rabbi Daniel Travis
And Avram said to the King of Sodom, “I lift up my hand [in oath] to
the Almighty God of the Heavens and the Earth, that I will not take so
much as a thread or a shoelace from you.” (Bereshith 14: 22-23)
According to halachah, the spoils of war rightfully belong to the victors.
(1) Since there was no legal or halachic reason why Avram should not have
kept the spoils, his actions must have been based on other considerations.
According to halachah, in cases in which God’s name will be sanctified if
a person returns an item to it’s previous non-Jewish owner, it is
preferable – and praiseworthy – for him to return it, even though
technically he is permitted to keep it.(2) Avram’s first priority was to
spread the concept of monotheism throughout the world, and he was always
looking for opportunities through which to sanctify God’s name. Therefore,
in this instance he went beyond the letter of the law and showed absolute
integrity by returning all the spoils of war to the king of Sodom, even
insignificant items such as threads and shoelaces.
Avram’s reward for this noble deed was so great that his descendants
benefited and were given mitzvoth reminiscent of the threads and shoelaces
that he returned. These mitzvoth are techeileth – the blue strand of
thread tied into the tzitzith, and the leather straps that are used to
bind the tefillin to one’s head and arm.(3) How do these rewards relate
to Avram’s act?
The mitzvah of tzitzith is to tie strings to the corners of one’s four-
cornered garment in order to remind oneself constantly of the 613
mitzvoth. (The combination of the 8 strings, 5 knots, and the numerical
value of the word “tzitzith,” which is 600, all add up to 613.) The
mitzvah of the techeileth thread of the tzitzith is an added bonus, which
reminds us of God Himself: its blue color alludes to the Divine Throne
(blue is the color of the sea, which reflects the sky, which resembles a
sapphire, which is reminiscent of the Divine Throne). According to most
opinions, however, one fulfills the mitzvah of tzitzith even without the
thread of techeileth.
Likewise, although the Torah requires one to bind the tefillin to one’s
arm and head, this could have been accomplished without using the leather
straps that are a requirement of the mitzvah. Tefillin straps are rich in
symbolism, and according to mystical tradition, are like chains that bind
man’s evil inclinations.(4) Just as Avram went beyond the letter of the
law by returning the spoils of war in order to sanctify God’s name, so too
the strands of techeileth and the straps of the tefillin are
embellishments to the primary mitzvoth which go beyond the letter of the
1. Torah Temimah.
2. Choshen Mishpat 266:1.
3. Sotah 17b.
4. Tikuney Zohar Chadash 101b.
Text Copyright © 2006 by Rabbi Daniel Travis and Torah.org