Students require more than simply learning facts. Especially when it comes to history, a student needs to be shown the link because cause and effect. An excellent teacher not only highlights the cause of each event, but states explicitly, with as much clarity as possible, how a certain factor caused the event under study to occur.
Making cause and effects and their mechanics clear isn’t necessary just for history classes, but is just as crucial in Torah studies. In this week’s Sedra we find the first “Middle East Spring,” as subjugated nations rise up against a twelve year dictatorship. As much as Avraham is geographically caught in the middle of this war, he tries to stay out of it militarily. As his relative, Lot, is taken captive, Avraham is drawn into the conflict. It is in this episode that we see a perfect example of cause and effect taught well.
After Avraham saves Lot, he saves the Kings of Sodom and Gomorrah. Hashem recorded in the Torah, “Now the valley of Siddim contained many clay pits, and the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled and fell there.” Rashi explained that the Midrash records that the king of Sodom got stuck in the clay and through a miracle the king of Sodom escaped. Why did this miracle happen? There were sceptics who did not believe that Abraham had been saved from the fiery furnace of Ur, but since the king of Sodom escaped from the clay, they believed in Abraham retroactively.”
Ramban questioned the simple interpretation of the Medrash. The sceptics wouldn’t be more willing to believe that Hashem performed a miracle for Avraham and believe in Hashem upon seeing the miracle of the King of Sodom escaping from the clay, because the king of Sodom was an idolater, and a miracle done for an idolater only strengthens the idea that the idol helps its believers! A miracle for the King of Sodom would only place doubt in the hearts of those who believed that Hashem did save Avraham!?
Rather, explains the Ramban, what happened was that Avraham was passing by and the King of Sodom was able to extricate himself just at the moment Avraham was passing by, for a miracle was done to honor Avraham. People reasoned, if a miracle was done to the King of Sodom for Avraham’s honor, then all the more so it would be done for Avraham himself.
The Ramban’s comments explicitly draw the line between the cause – Avraham walking by the pit and then the King of Sodom being saved – and the effect – people believing in Hashem. Without that connection being taught, the Medrash’s recording doesn’t make much sense. The Ramban showed that more than any other subject, Chumash study needs explicit and clear explanations.
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