Parshas Lech Lecha ushers in a new era of history as it marks the beginning of the Jewish People with our forefather, Avraham. The Parsha begins with Hashem promising Avraham, or Avram at that point, that He will always provide for him and make him into a great nation. The stories told throughout the parsha all illustrate this point. An example of one of these stories is Avram’s battle with the Four Kings.
In Perek 14, we are told about a war that took place between the powerful Four Kings against the rebellious Five Kings. After thirteen years of conflict, the Four Kings finally defeated the Five Kings and their armies, and plundered their lands. Among the defeated countries was Sodom, where Lot, Avram’s nephew, resided. Whether because of his status as the nephew of the famous Avram, or simply because he was in the way, Lot was taken captive by the pillaging armies.
Upon hearing of his nephew’s capture, Avram didn’t hesitate. “וַיִּשְׁמַ֣ע אַבְרָ֔ם כִּ֥י נִשְׁבָּ֖ה אָחִ֑יו וַיָּ֨רֶק אֶת־חֲנִיכָ֜יו יְלִידֵ֣י בֵית֗וֹ שְׁמֹנָ֤ה עָשָׂר֙ וּשְׁל֣שׁ מֵא֔וֹת וַיִּרְדֹּ֖ף עַד־דָּֽן” “And Avram heard that his brother was taken captive, and he armed his initiates who had been born in his house- three hundred and eighteen- and he gave them chase as far as Dan” (Bereishis 14:14). The simple explanation of the pasuk is that Avram and his army of 318 men defeated four mighty armies! A tremendous miracle! But the medrash makes it even more spectacular. According to the medrash, the 318 mentioned in the pasuk refers to Avram’s trusted manservant, Eliezer, whose Hebrew name has the numerical value of 318. He and Avram together by themselves were able to defeat four armies and save Lot.
According to either explanation, this was an amazing miracle, but according to the explanation of the medrash, it’s unbelievable. The Kli Yakar asks how this medrash fits into the reading of the pasuk as we never see a pasuk use a number in reference to an individual. Furthermore, later on Avram rescues the king of Sodom, who offers him anything he wants as a reward. Avram refuses anything for himself, but he asks that the men who came with him should receive something. (See 14:24.) If he came only with Eliezer, who are these men that came with him who deserve a reward for fighting?
He explains that even according to the medrash, Avram had 318 men with him when he went to fight; because even when you know you will receive a miracle, you are still obligated to make at the very least some sort of physical effort. The question is how come he took that specific amount? Because the corresponding word to that value holds special significance.
Miracles come in all shapes and sizes. Some are very obviously supernatural occurrences (like the Splitting of the Sea), some fade into the background as seemingly typical events in everyday life (like the miracle of Purim), and many fall somewhere in between where they appear to be miracles but you can still come up with a natural explanation to more or less of a degree. When Avram fought against the Four Kings with his small army, in order for him to be successful, he needed a miracle a lot closer on the scale to an obvious supernatural event. In order to show his trust in Hashem to keep him safe, he brought with him 318 men, corresponding to the name Eliezer, which literally translates into “אלי-עזר”, “God is my Help”. But ultimately, it didn’t matter how many men he brought with him; even if he had just brought Eliezer, they would have been successful together since no one and nothing could have helped him except for Hashem.
You may wonder that if the Torah is a book of laws or a book of ethics, why are we told all these stories in Sefer Bereishis that seemingly teach us neither? The answer is that these stories of our ancestors show us who we are and who we come from. We are a special People to have descended from such incredible individuals. I look forward to sharing these stories throughout Sefer Bereishis and the rest of the Torah with you.
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