Don Isaac Abravanel (1437-1508) was a preeminent Jewish thinker, scholar, and prolific Biblical
commentator. In Genesis chapter 14, the Bible chronicles Abram’s dashing military success, which freed
Lot and the other captives who were snatched from their homes in Sodom, and led away.
“And the king of Sodom said to Abram: Give me the persons, and take
the goods for yourself. And Abram said to the king of Sodom: I have
lifted up my hand unto God, the God most high, Maker of heaven and
earth, that I will not take a thread nor a shoelace nor anything that is
yours, lest you say: I have made Abram rich, except only that which the
young men have eaten, and the portion of the men who went with me,
Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre. Let them take their portion.”
Further, the Bible records a conversation between Abram and the king of Sodom. It turns on the
question of war spoils. The patriarch, out of strong feelings of family ties for his captured nephew Lot,
risked everything to save him. In a daring military raid, under cover of night, Abram and his Canaanite
allies, saved the day. All of the Sodom prisoners, together with that city’s chattel were wrested away
from the enemy. The valorous patriarch was greeted by a jubilant king. Sodom’s royal highness desired
to reward commander Abram handsomely, legitimately so.
Abravanel is puzzled by Abram’s refusal to accept the prizes of war, offered by Sodom’s monarch. Fair is
fair. From time immemorial, there have been conventions about these matters. Victorious warriors were entitled
to the lion’s share.
Why, Abravanel asks, did the patriarch turn the king down? Abravanel goes further, questioning if the
patriarch exhibited hubris by declining the king. Indeed, Bible students need to understand Abram’s
position. What was he conveying or signaling?
Abravanel lays important groundwork into morality. He says that it comes down to honing ethical
excellence; at least one aspect of it: gift giving and gift receiving. In a word, the moral man works within
a well-guarded milieu. He fraternizes with like-minded truth seekers.
When the patriarch refused the king’s munificence, he conveyed a not-so-subtle message. That is,
Abram was not interested in befriending the king of Sodom. Why?
Sodomites weren’t just licentious, though that would have been enough to turn Abram’s stomach. They
were heartless to the poor and needy, enshrining it in their bylaws and local governance.
Of course, the patriarch wanted nothing to do with it, for it was an anathema to his refined inner fiber. A
king of Sodom is still a Sodomite and Avram was discerning when it came to choosing friends.
And thus, the patriarch spurned an injudicious alliance with Sodom’s king, stating: “I will not take a
thread nor a shoelace nor anything that is yours…”