Thursday, November 3, 2011

Great Rashi on Lech Lecha

In parshat Lech Lecha Avraham rescues the five kings who were defeated by the four kings. 
Rashi quotes Midrashim in Tanchuma and comments on the names of the five weaker kings.  The midrash uses a common technique where the names of individuals are taken to describe something about a person's character or personal hsitory. According to Rashi the names of the five kings all have very negative conotations. 

For instance: the name of one king was BeRa - which Rashi takes to mean he was Ra - Hebrew for bad - to the heavens and Ra to people.

One of the kings was named Shem-Ever.  The midrash says his name was from Sam Ever which means "he placed wings."  According to the midrash, SheEver was famous because he invented somekind of artificial wings that he "attached to his body in order to fly and to leap and to rebel against Hashem."

Shem-Ever was some kind of early Icarus.  Sometimes I suspect that certain midrashim may be alegories, but I am inclined to believe that this one may be historic.  It makes sense that mankind since ancient times has been obsessed with trying to fly and that the best inventors of every era put their minds to solving the problem. 

There is a gmeara in Makkot that speaks of a "flying camel" that helped people cross distances very quickly, but was seldom used.  Rashi comments that the flying camel was just a really fast camel that seemed to 'fly' when it went so fast.  In Yeshiva I read a different commentary that suggested that the flying camel was actually a machine that existed in the ancient world that was some sort of glider.  Just like the locamotive was called the iron horse, they named the machine the flying camel.

What is Rashi coming to teach us with these midrashim?

Rashi cautions us not to think that the weaker side was somehow the more righteous side. Even though they were weaker then the four kings, the five kings were evil in their own rights.

In modern times people often assume that the Arabs must have a more righteous claim in the conflict with Israel based soley on the perseption taht the Arabs are weaker and therefore must be the more just.

Rashi comes to teahc us not to fall into that trap. The five kings in the days of Avraham were also wicked. At that point in time they happened to be weak, but as we see, when the people of Sodom (who were represented by these five kings) had the power they used it for evil.


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