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ALLIED WITH AVROHOM

The land of the Philistines, once a place of potential conflict, now stood as the other half of this newly formed alliance, a land that would know Abraham not as a foe but as a partner in the covenant. * On the sixth reading of Parshas Vayeira with integrated commentary of Rashi.

by Rabbi Boruch Merkur

As the sands of Paran embraced the union of Ishmael with his Egyptian bride, the narrative shifts, unfolding a time when Abraham, Ishmael's father, was recognized by surrounding powers for his unique standing in the world. It was a time of acknowledgment and subtle alliances.


Abimelech, the king, with Phicol, the commander of his army, approached Abraham. Their words carried the weight of the witnessed truths, "God is with you in all that you do." They had observed Abraham's journey, a path marked by divine favor, the kind that left a trail of unexplained successes and wondrous victories.


Their declaration was not hollow; it was based on palpable events that etched Abraham's reputation in the land. They remembered how he had emerged from the corrupt region of Sodom, untainted and whole. They spoke of his battle with kings, a clash where the tides of war had turned miraculously to favor an elderly nomad. Above all, they marveled at the news of Sarah, Abraham's wife, blessed with the promise of a child at an age when such blessings were unheard of.


This was not merely admiration but a testament to a man walking with a divine presence so evident that even kings and generals, men of earthly power, felt compelled to acknowledge it openly. In their declaration, Abraham's life spoke volumes: battles won without explanation, survival against odds, and fertility amidst barrenness. It was clear to those who ruled the lands that Abraham was not just another sojourner. He was a man with a celestial ally, a man whose every action seemed to unfurl with a divine whisper, guiding and guarding.


*


Abraham's response was as immediate as it was solemn. "I will swear," he declared. His voice, steady and sure, conveyed an unspoken understanding that such vows were not made lightly. They were anchors cast into the future, securing the bond between man and man, and between man and God.


The pledge was not adorned with excess words or grand gestures. There was power in its simplicity — a power that everyone present could feel. It was a moment of profound commitment, a spoken promise that would shape the lives of countless generations to follow.


Under the open skies, with the earth beneath their feet as a testament to the gravity of their accord, Abraham's four words sufficed. They were an agreement to walk in truth and a mutual promise that would resonate through the ages, binding their fates and fortifying the ties between their houses with the strength of an unbreakable oath.


*


The accord they had just bound with solemn words still hung in the air when Abraham shifted the tone. With the same certainty that he pledged his promise, he now raised a grievance. The contention was not of a trivial sort, but one that touched the very essence of survival in those arid lands — water.


And Abraham contended with Abimelech, the story unfolds, "about the well of water that the servants of Abimelech had forcibly seized." The Hebrew phrase "וְהוֹכִיחַ אֶת-אֲבִימֶ֑לֶךְ" (ve'hochiach et-Avimelech), understood to mean a dispute, reveals Abraham's approach. It was a direct confrontation, but the choice of words in their tongue suggested a reasoned debate, a calling out with the intent to correct an injustice, not to incite further hostility.


This was not the clashing of swords, but the clashing of wills, where water flowed not just as a source of life but as a current of truth and rights. Abraham's words were measured, his argument clear. The well that had been seized by force was not just a mere point of contention but a symbol of Abraham's rightful place in the land.


There was a deeper undercurrent here — even amidst the talk of promises and oaths, there were actions that could not stand unchallenged. Abraham's stand was as much about the well as it was about ensuring that words and deeds were in alignment, especially with a man like Abimelech, whose servants' actions belied their master's agreements.


The tale continued, capturing not just the minds of those who would one day read it but their sense of fairness too. For what good were oaths if the simplest acts of decency were not observed? What value the promise of land if one could not draw water from its depths? Abraham's contention, thus, was more than a dispute; it was a testament to his unyielding commitment to justice.


*


Abimelech's response came as a calm breeze after a sudden gust. "I do not know who did this thing," he began, a note of surprise—or was it feigned ignorance?—in his tone. "Neither did you tell me, nor did I hear [of it] until today."


The words carried weight, each one carefully placed like stones in a foundation, building an argument of innocence or, at least, plausible deniability. Abimelech's denial was categorical, a clear statement of unawareness of the injustice that had been done regarding the well. It was a deft move, suggesting that had he known, the situation might have been different.


There's a texture to his words, "לֹ֣א יָדַ֔עְתִּי" (lo yadati), "I did not know," that spoke of distance from the deed. The phrase "וגם אתה לא הגדת לי" (vegam atah lo higgadta li), "neither did you tell me," shifted some responsibility back to Abraham, a subtle reminder of mutual obligations in communication.


And also I, he continued, "have not heard of it until today." With this, Abimelech planted his feet firmly in the present, distancing himself from the past actions of his servants. It was a declaration that whatever had transpired before had not come with his knowledge or blessing.


In this exchange, there's a dance of diplomacy and accountability. Abraham had brought forth his grievance, and Abimelech, in turn, had countered with a blend of surprise and a gentle chiding for not being informed earlier. The well was more than a source of water; it had become a vessel containing the truths of their relationship, revealing the gaps and the bonds that held them as neighbors and tentative allies.


This narrative arc offered no immediate resolution but presented a tableau of characters in the midst of negotiation and revelation, each speaking to not just their personal ethics but to the larger principles governing human interactions. Abimelech's words left room for the story to grow, for the truth to be pursued, and for justice to eventually be served.


*


The air of contention that once hung heavy between Abraham and Abimelech seemed to clear as Abraham took the lead in a gesture of peace. Flocks and cattle, symbols of wealth and prosperity, were brought forth by Abraham and given to Abimelech. This act was more than a mere offering; it was a tangible sign of Abraham's desire for harmony and understanding.


The exchange of goods between these two men went beyond the material; it was the exchange of goodwill, the forging of bonds that would be harder to break than the strongest of metals. "וַיִּכְרְתוּ שְׁנֵיהֶם בְּרִית" (vayichretu shneihem berit), "and they both formed a covenant," was not just about the spoken agreement but about the mutual recognition of a shared future, a pact sealed with the handover of livestock.


As Abraham extended his hand, Abimelech accepted, and with this act, the covenant was formed. They were no longer two parties divided by a dispute over water, but allies solidifying their resolve to coexist peacefully. It was a moment of understanding that transcended words, an agreement that would echo in their communities, setting a precedent for how conflicts could be resolved with generosity and trust.


This covenant, marked not by grand ceremonies but by the simple exchange of animals, was emblematic of the values that Abraham stood for—faith, fairness, and the foresight to build bridges before the chasm widened. It was a narrative of restoration and foresight, a testament to the power of proactive peace-making in a world where discord was all too common.


*


In the quiet aftermath of their agreement, Abraham proceeded with a deliberate and thoughtful gesture. He set aside seven ewe lambs from the flock, placing them by themselves. This act, simple in its execution, was loaded with meaning. The number seven, "שֶׁבַע" (sheva), echoed the very essence of the covenant just formed, symbolizing an oath in its cultural context.


The lambs stood apart, a visual testament to the oath, their separation from the flock underscoring their significance. These were not just any lambs; they were the seal, the proof of Abraham’s commitment to the pact with Abimelech. Each lamb was a living symbol, their bleating a soft chorus that reinforced the message of their separation: these are not merely livestock, but the embodiment of a promise.


Abraham’s action was an education in diplomacy and integrity. Without grand pronouncements, the message was clear. The seven lambs were his guarantee, a representation of his word, which he regarded as sacred and unbreakable. The very act of placing them “לְבַדְּהֶן” (levadhen), by themselves, spoke volumes about the gravity with which he approached this covenant.


Through the simple yet profound act of setting aside these lambs, Abraham was not just concluding a deal but teaching a timeless lesson in the sanctity of one's word and the importance of tangible commitments in building trust and maintaining peace.


*


Abimelech observed the seven ewe lambs set apart, and with curiosity, his voice broke the stillness that had settled over the proceedings. "What are these seven ewe lambs, which you have placed by themselves?" he inquired of Abraham. His words, straightforward, sought understanding of the gesture that seemed so deliberate.


Abraham, recognizing the question as an opportunity to solidify the covenant's terms, responded with the care that one might use when setting a cornerstone. Each lamb represented more than a simple gift; they were a signifier of the oath that had been taken, the very fibers of trust woven between the two men.


The question from Abimelech was not merely about the animals themselves but about the intention behind their separation. The answer would be a defining moment, a chance to imbue the covenant with clarity and to ensure that there would be no shadow of doubt about Abraham's actions and his resolve to honor their agreement.


In this exchange, the narrative unfolded, not just through what was said, but through the unspoken understanding that began to crystallize between the two leaders. The ewe lambs stood as silent witnesses to a moment that transcended the ordinary transactions of men, entering the realm of a bond that would endure.


*


As the sun arced lower in the sky, casting long shadows over the men and their flocks, Abraham addressed Abimelech with the weight of a final act that seals a promise. "For these seven ewe lambs," he began, "you shall take from my hand." His voice carried a gravity that seemed to draw the very attention of the land around them. This act was not merely a transaction but a covenantal seal, a tangible expression of his words.


The air between them grew charged with the significance of the moment as Abraham continued, "In order that it be to me for a witness," using the word "לְעֵדָה" (le'edah), echoing the feminine form of testimony, a whisper of tradition and legacy that this act would inscribe upon the land.


The ewe lambs were now more than animals; they embodied a testament that Abraham had dug the well, a truth known to the earth itself. There had been disputes, Abimelech's shepherds claiming, "We dug it," their voices echoing around the disputed well. Yet, an unspoken agreement had lingered amongst them, a test of providence to confirm ownership. The waters, they believed, would rise to greet their rightful claimant.


And so it was that the waters had surged towards Abraham, as if recognizing the hands that had freed them from the earth's grip. Now, before Abimelech, the seven ewe lambs were a silent chorus affirming this truth, that the well from which they drank was Abraham's by right of his labor and the favor of the land that bore witness.


With the exchange of the ewe lambs, an unvoiced understanding was forged between the men, as solid and real as the earth beneath their feet. A story had been woven, not of words, but of deeds and the living symbols that would carry its truth into the future.


*


Under the open heavens, where the firmament stretched like an azure canvas, Abraham chose a name as lasting as the stones that dotted the landscape. He named that place Beer Sheba, a name that, like the well itself, was hewn out of necessity and sealed with the solemnity of oaths. "For there," he declared, "they both swore."


The name Beer Sheba, which can be broken into "בְּאֵר" (well) and "שָׁ֑בַע" (seven or oath), was more than a mere label; it was a narrative in itself. It held within its syllables the story of the seven ewe lambs and the two men whose words and deeds intertwined like the roots of the tamarisk trees.


In this place, the spoken oaths echoed in the rustling leaves and the quiet bubbling of the well, a chorus of nature bearing witness to the covenant. Beer Sheba stood as a testament to the resolution of disputes, the establishment of peace, and the affirmation of rights and responsibilities.


The earth around them, touched by the feet of their flocks and the hands of their herdsmen, would remember. The very water that sprung from the well would serve as a constant reminder of the day when two men found common ground and an agreement was carved into the annals of the land.


The setting of the sun that day left a sky painted with streaks of gold and crimson, a closing curtain on the act of covenant, as Abraham and Abimelech turned away from the well, their bond sealed, the name Beer Sheba an everlasting witness to their solemn accord.


*


In the cool shadow of the tamarisk trees, the covenant was formed, a promise carved not in stone but affirmed in the earthy depths of Beer Sheba. There, the pact between Abraham and Abimelech took on the weight of the world, an invisible bond as strong as the roots of the very trees that stood sentinel over their agreement.


Abimelech, with Phicol, his general, stood shoulder to shoulder, their shadows merging into one on the sunbaked ground. The act of standing was a conscious seal of their commitment, an embodiment of their decision to rise together in agreement and honor.


With the covenant formed, there was a palpable shift in the air; the tension that once hung between their clans dissipated, replaced by the mutual respect of aligned interests. The peace was not merely spoken but lived in that moment, a living, breathing entity birthed from the union of their words and intentions.


The time had come for departure. Abimelech and Phicol, their purpose fulfilled, arose. Their silhouettes against the horizon marked the end of negotiations and the beginning of a new relationship between their peoples. They returned to the land of the Philistines, their steps lighter, their hearts unburdened by the strife that had brought them to Abraham's door.


Their return was not a retreat but a progression, a journey back to their land with the promise of peace as their guide. The land of the Philistines, once a place of potential conflict, now stood as the other half of this newly formed alliance, a land that would know Abraham not as a foe but as a partner in the covenant.


And as the dust settled with their departure, Beer Sheba remained, a silent witness to the covenant, an eternal testament to the day enmity turned to alliance, and suspicion to trust.


*


Amidst the sprawling plains of Beer-Sheba, a new landmark took root—a generous eishel, a word whispering of both sustenance and shelter. There was a dual nature to this living edifice: some would say it was an orchard, bountiful with fruits to grace the tables of weary travelers, while others insisted it was an inn, a welcoming respite offering the varied gifts of the harvest under one comforting roof. Both interpretations twined together in the purpose of this place.


Here, the eishel stood as an open invitation, its branches a testament to the hospitality of its planter. Abraham's hands, which had once wielded tools of war, now tenderly coaxed life from the earth, crafting a haven for all who journeyed under the wide heavens.


In the shade of the eishel, Abraham would call out, not with the thundering voice of command, but with the gentle cadence of invitation. There, in the name of the Lord, the God of the world, he summoned his guests to recognize the source of their sustenance. After their fill of food and drink, he urged them to bless not the hand that fed them, but the Divine Source—the One who spoke the world into being.


Think not that you have feasted from my stores, Abraham would say. "For it is by the grace of the One that we partake in the bounty of creation." In doing so, he turned every meal into a moment of revelation, every bite into an act of faith. Through the simple act of breaking bread beneath the eishel's sprawling branches, guests from all walks of life came to know the providence of the Almighty, a force as enduring and nurturing as the earth itself.


And so, the eishel became more than a landmark of shade and sustenance; it became a beacon of divine acknowledgment, where the name of God was revered, and the concept of a universal Creator was planted firmly in the hearts of humankind.


*


In the land of the Philistines, Abraham settled, finding a rhythm of life amidst the strangers that was more stable than any he had known since leaving his father's house. His tents, which had so often been uprooted and planted anew, now stood for a considerable time against the shifting winds.


Abraham had traversed many lands—lands that were, at first, mere waypoints on a journey ordained by a voice from the heavens. He had been a wanderer, his footprints etched across Canaan, and his shadow briefly cast over the fertile soils of Egypt. In each place, he stayed only as long as the seasons of his life demanded. In Egypt, his visit lasted a mere three months, a sojourn cut short by the will of Pharaoh. And when he returned to Canaan, it was to Hebron he came, to the plains of Mamre, under the sheltering arms of the terebinth trees.


Twenty-five years had passed since Abraham, at the age of seventy-five, had departed Haran. For a quarter of a century, Hebron had been his refuge, his home where he witnessed the destruction of Sodom and felt the shadow of disgrace cast by Lot's actions. Now, at ninety-nine, after the divine visitors had come to his tent on the third day of his circumcision, he found himself in the land of the Philistines.


Scripture is not a tapestry of obscurities but a text of clarification, and so when it speaks of "many days," it speaks not idly. These days were not excessively longer than those in Hebron; they were just one year more—twenty-six in total. The Torah, in its precision, avoids superfluous details, imparting wisdom through its economy of words.


Thus, Abraham's stay in the land of the Philistines spanned this time, a year longer than Hebron but laden with its own significance. And when the time came, as it inevitably did, Abraham would uproot once more, drawn back to Hebron by the inexorable pull of his destiny, which would, in twelve years' time, lead to the ultimate test of faith—the binding of his son Isaac. This is the chronology of a man's life measured not just in years but in steps taken, in rest found, and in the faith that guides each journey.

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