A friend of mine shared the following story:
Cute story from my neighbor, her daughter is in the army. The mother told her daughter that now that she’s around all these chayalim, she should look out for a nice guy for herself. The young woman, who is herself religious, answered: “A few days ago, I could have, but now I can’t tell who is dati and who isn’t, every single soldier is wearing a kippah and tzitzis!”
This week, Avraham Avinu goes to war. After Avraham arrives in Canaan, there is a war between one group of 4 kings and another group of 5 kings. And as the war progresses, the 4 kings take hostages, including Lot, Avraham’s nephew.
Avraham finds out, he runs to battle with his men, defeating the 4 kings, and saving Lot.
And after the war concludes, the King of Sedom is so appreciative of all Avram has done for him, and they meet in a place called ‘EMEK SHAVEI”.
But then, all of a sudden, there is a visitor who comes to join the group:
(יח) וּמַלְכִּי צֶדֶק מֶלֶךְ שָׁלֵם הוֹצִיא לֶחֶם וָיָיִן וְהוּא כֹהֵן לְאֵל עֶלְיוֹן:
Malkitzedek the King of Shaleim brought out Bread and Wine, and he is a priest to the Gd above.
Some explain that Malkitzedek is really Shem the son of Noach. And that Shalem is actually Yerushalayim.
And Malkitzedek offers a bracha to Avraham, and a bracha to Hashem for allowing Avraham to be victorious.
But the whole scene is pretty strange:
1) Why does Malkitzedek show up in the first place?
2) Why does he bring wine and bread, a feast?!
Rav Yehoshua Baumohl was the rav of Kahal Adas Yeshurun in Williamsburg, Brooklyn in the 1920s and the first president of Aggudas Yisrael of America. He wrote a sefer, Emek Halacha, in which he asks these questions and offers the following answer:
After the war was over, the people in Avram’s life began to look at him differently. Before the war, they knew Avram as a Baal Chesed. He was a kiruv master, bringing the warmth of a life of monotheism to as many people as he could. He would spend time in his tent, offering meals and discussing philosophy with anyone who would listen.
But then he had to go to battle. And in battle he was fierce and determined to defeat the enemy.
And after the war, the people surrounding Avraham don’t know how to view him anymore. Is he that kindhearted, softspoken, soulful teacher they knew and loved? Or had he changed? Had he become more like them?
And in fact, says Rav Baumol, this explains the place where they meet Avraham. It is called EMEK SHAVEI, which literally means, the valley of equality. The people around Avraham began to feel like maybe he was no longer this amazing, unique, Godly man anymore. He had lost his luster, he had become more like them. And so, they began to view him as SHAVEI, as equal to them.
It is in response to this notion that Malkitzedek arrives on the scene:
And he arrives with a message:
וּמַלְכִּי צֶדֶק מֶלֶךְ שָׁלֵם הוֹצִיא לֶחֶם וָיָיִן וְהוּא כֹהֵן לְאֵל עֶלְיוֹן:
Malkitzedek, before he says anything, takes out bread and wine. Why bread and wine?
Because there is a halachic principle when it comes the laws of brachos, of blessings on foods.
When it comes to most fruits, for example, an apple or an orange, the bracha is borei pri ha’eitz. However, when the fruit is juiced, the bracha on the juice is shehakol nihiye bidvaro.
And the rule in general, is that the more specific the bracha, the higher level it is. So to drop from Borei Pri Ha’Eitz to Shehakol nihiye bidvaro is considered a downgrade.
And this is true with most items that have one bracha when they are whole and then the bracha is downgraded once it is broken down. With two exceptions: Bread & Wine.
Bread comes from wheat. The bracha on wheat is borei pri ha’adama, which is for all items that grow from the ground. But once that wheat is ground, turned into flour, and baked into bread, the bracha is now: “HaMotzi Lechem Min Ha’Aretz”. A bracha SPECIFICALLY FOR BREAD ONLY.
And the same is true for grapes. Grapes on their own are a borei pri ha’eitz, which applies to all fruits. But when it is crushed, fermented, and turned into wine it receives a higher level bracha: Borei Pri HaGafen, which is ONLY for wine.
For all other items, chazal say they are Nishtane L’greiusa, they are changed in a way that downgrades their status. When it comes to bread and wine, yes they change, very significantly, they go through changes that can even take months or years. And yet, when they change, chazal tell us: Nishtane L’Maalyusa. The change UPGRADES their status. It makes them greater than they ever were before.
Malkitzedek arrives at EMEK SHAVEI, a place in which the people tried to tell Avraham that because he had acted as a warrior that he must have turned into them. And he arrives with bread and wine to deliver a message to everyone present, but especially to Avraham himself: Yes, you HAVE changed. You have gone from being a baal chesed, and a rebbi, and a teacher, and you have become a warrior who goes out to battle to protect his family. But don’t you DARE BELIEVE that this change has caused you be degraded. Chalila v’Chas. Just the OPPOSITE! This change, this willingness to go to battle in defense of your family, risking your life so they can live theirs, has elevated you to a place in the world that you never have reached before!
Yes, you have been Nishtane. You have changed. But it has been a shinui l’maalyusa! A change that has elevated you even more!
We all know, either in our own families, or through our friends, beautiful, sweet, amazing young men and women who spend most of their lives living elevated lives as Jews. They are mothers and fathers, doctors, lawyers, rebbeim in yeshivot. These are kind, respectful, chesed-oriented people who have been required to turn themselves into warriors. Not because that is what they want, but because that is what the moment calls upon them to do.
And yet we know, that with all they are going through at this very moment, and with all the change they experience in these moments, they are elevated, they become our greatest heroes and they are our role models. And their greatness is not only found in how they come back from war, but in how they execute war in the first place!
I saw a photo this week of Rav Avigdor Nevenzhal, the rabbi of the Old City of Yerushalayim, visiting an army base where our own Eitan Martin is stationed. And Rav Nevenzhal points out in his sefer on the parsha that Avraham is only called Ha’Ivri, the Avraham who was different from the rest of the world, who was unique and elevated, when he engages in WAR.
Because it is in war that you really see the difference between different types of people. When those who are willing to be honest with themselves see the difference between how Hamas wages war and how l’havdil elef havdalos, TZAHAL engages in war, that is all you need to know about who we are as a people.
And yet, as we know, it is not only the soldiers of the IDF who are at war now. We join them in that battle. Whether that is by providing funding for their equipment, sending letters of chizuk, davening and learning with more intensity than ever before, or our willingness to stand up and advocate for Medinat Yisrael.
And let’s be honest, some of these activities are a challenge for us. But if we are willing to push ourselves to become MORE ACTIVE IN OUR CHELEK, OUR RESPONSIBILITY in the war effort, then we, too, have the opportunity to be NISHTANIM L’MAALYUSA! To be changed for the better!
At this moment, we don’t know exactly what is happening in Gaza, but if you were paying attention before Shabbos, there was a significant incursion on the ground by IDF forces. They were stepping up their intensity, and we MUST do the same.
And I believe that for each of us, that place to step up should NOT ONLY be the place where we are most comfortable. It should ALSO be in the place that CHANGES US.
- If tefillah is not something we typically do with much regularity during the week, NOW IS THE TIME TO START!
- If we haven’t been consistent with learning, NOW IS THE TIME TO FIND A CHAVRUSA OR A SHIUR OR A SEFER.
- If we aren’t as active in giving tzedakah, NOW IS THE TIME TO PUSH OURSELVES TO GIVE MORE than EVER!
- And if we aren’t so comfortable being involved in Israel advocacy, attending rallies, sending emails to members of congress and the President who have been extremely supportive of Israel and NEED TO HEAR FROM US EVERY DAY – NOW IS THE TIME TO START!
Yes, these activities will CHANGE US TOO, and they will be a SHINUI L’MAALYUSA. We have an opportunity to stand alongside our chayalim, to change ourselves and ELEVATE OURSELVES right along with them!
As this war continues, we need to pace ourselves, but we also cannot let our guard down. We cannot stop pushing ourselves. The soldiers are not going to stop, so we cannot either. And as we continue to push ourselves to grow and to change and to go to war alongside our brave chayalim, may Hashem see all of our changes as changes L’maalyusa, and may He respond by protecting all of Am Yisrael, so we can bring a more elevated way of life to the entire world.