I have no doubt that most of my readers have been students of the Bible for a long time, and know their Bible very well. Yet, I do feel confident regarding the title of this new series I am starting today. Years ago, when, for the first time I read the Torah Portion Noah in Hebrew, I had to go back and forth between the Hebrew and the translation, to make sure I was reading the same chapters – it felt like a completely different story! There are many stories like this in the Torah: when we read them in Hebrew (or at least, with some Hebrew understanding), they seem almost unrecognizable! And I am not even talking about those portions of the Scripture that are obviously connected to Hebrew, like, for instance, the verse about Nefilim in Genesis 6: everybody understands that if we turn to Hebrew here, it will definitely help and bring some clarity. No, I am talking about the stories where a reader is completely unaware of the things he is missing because of translation. I will share one of the examples with you today.
Our story happens in Genesis 14, but in order to understand the events of this chapter, we need to start earlier. At the end of Genesis 11, we read that Haran, Abram’s brother, died an untimely death, leaving his son Lot an orphan. Was Lot a sweet little boy, a bitter teenager, or a completely grown young man with his own family when his father passed away? Was it at this time of mourning and grief that Lot formed this special relationship with his uncle Abraham? Had Abraham become almost a father to his fatherless nephew? Had Lot become almost a son to his childless uncle? We don’t know for sure when and how it happened, but clearly, it did happen at some point; otherwise, there is no explanation for those simple words: So Abram departed as the Lord had spoken to him, and Lot went with him… Then Abram took Sarah his wife and Lot his brother’s son… When Abram departed for Canaan in full obedience to God’s call, he was ready to leave behind everything and everybody. He took only his very own with him – and his nephew Lot belonged to this group of Abram’s “very own”. Moreover, not only was Abram willing to take him, but Lot himself was willing to leave everything and follow his uncle to a completely unknown land.
In chapter 13, once Abram is back from Egypt, uncle and nephew part company. Genesis 13:6 describes the moment where they part: Now the land was not able to support them that they might dwell together. True, it refers to their possessions as being so great that they could not dwell together, but somehow the reader gets the feeling that there was more to this conflict than just sharing the land. I think, Abram, exhausted by their endless fights, finally gave up and said with a heavy heart to his “almost son”: “Please let there be no strife between you and me, and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen; for we are brethren…. Please separate from me…”
Very soon Lot finds himself in trouble. The trouble happens in the very next chapter when the neighboring kings made war with… (the) king of Sodom and also took Lot, … and departed. Chapter 14 doesn’t tell us how Abraham feels when he hears that his nephew is taken captive, but neither do chapters 12, or 13, or 22 tell us about his feelings. Instead, we learn that he chased the culprits as far as Dan in the north, nearly 300 kilometers from Sodom; that he crushed the enemies at Hobah, north of Damascus; that he freed his nephew and recovered Lot’s possessions; and that he did all this with 318 of his servants (who served as soldiers in this battle, but clearly were not trained to be soldiers). An angry bear protecting her cub is capable of anything, and it seems that Abram’s deeds that we witness here belong to this same category.
As far as we know, Abraham was a very peaceful man. We don’t see him involved in battles like David. In fact, this is the only time we read about him going to war. This says a lot about him, because it wasn’t even his war; he definitely could have stayed at home. Instead, he gets up and runs 300 kilometers to rescue Lot. He wins the battle and brings back Lot, and all the captives and their possessions. It must have been a triumphant return indeed! The rescued captives were full of joy; Abram himself was extremely thankful to God for this miraculous victory; and who then meets him, in this victorious moment?
Here, at the end of chapter 14, that our story begins – a story you have probably read many times, but that still might feel like a new story today. A Christian reader knows this episode as “Abram and Melchizedek” (many English Bibles even insert this title before verses 18-20 of Genesis 14) – but in fact here, in the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley ), not one, but two kings approach Abram: Bera, king of Sodom, greets him in verse 17, and then Melchizedek, King of Salem, brings out bread and wine and blesses him in verses 18-20.
17 And the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley), after his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him.
18 Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High
Not one, but two kings are here – but for some reason, this fact, along with the whole dramatic tension of the entire situation, is usually overlooked. Why do these two kings, representing completely different values, appear together?
This story gains so much more clarity when read in Hebrew, where the very meanings of the Hebrew words illuminate us as to what is actually going on here. The meeting takes place at the Valley of Shaveh, and the Hebrew rootשוה (shaveh) has two main meanings: equal or worth. Moreover, in Hebrew we have an expression: to reach the Valley of Shaveh,להגיע לעמק שווה – which means “to reach a compromise”. The two kings approach Abram simultaneously because this is a test that Abram has to pass. Their offers might seem almost equal, but Abram had to choose “the worthy one”. The name “Melchizedek” is a transliteration of the Hebrew מַלְכִּי־צֶדֶֿק (malki-tzedek), “my king is righteousness”. The name Bera: בֶּ-רַע means “with evil” or “in evil”. Thus, the Hebrew makes it apparent that it is here, at this Valley, that Abram had to choose between righteousness and evil; it is here, in this valley, that Abraham was tested and tempted to compromise his principles, his integrity – his faith. While Melchizedek blesses Abram and God Most High, ensuring that Abram knows that it was God who “delivered your foes into your hands”, the king of Sodom offers him a subtle temptation. Thankfully, Abram recognizes the truth and the authority of Melchizedek, and refuses Bera’s temptation – and thus passes yet another test of faith.
 Gen. 12:4-5
 Genesis 13:6
 Genesis 13:8
 Genesis 14:2,12
 Gen. 14:17