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Abraham: The First Messianic King

The idea of kingdom and kings arouses a sense of discomfort among people in our era – and justifiably so. From the Bible and through to recent generations, a king is almost synonymous with tyranny, corruption, bloodshed, and general evil. But is this the only choice? We have to refresh the image of kingdom and learn about it from the source. What is a king? What is kingdom? What is the best type of regime? It is time to do some rebranding for kingdom.

 Nimrod (Let Us Rebel)

Even upon its first debut in the Torah, kingdom appears in a negative context. In the Torah portion of Noah, we read of Nimrod: “He was a strong hunter before God…and the beginning of his kingdom was in Babel.”[1] The sages afford him the dubious crown of a rebel against God. He was also the head of the construction of the Tower of Babel. The kings that we meet at the beginning of the Torah portion of Lech Lecha are also not the most righteous personas. Not Pharaoh, not the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah, and not the coalition of the four kings who fought against them (in the first war recorded in the Torah).

Human society naturally organizes into a political framework with some sort of leadership. “Man is naturally political” (Maimonides in Guide for the Perplexed). Often, the person who reaches the peak of the ruling pyramid is he who is more inclined to trample others without a second thought. Often, it is these people who rule with an iron fist and not with justice. They seek to glorify and empower their kingdom and themselves. They will build towers that reach into the sky (no matter how many workers are lost in the process) and rebel against God. This is the persona of Nimrod.

The Valley of King Abraham

What about Abraham, the star of the Torah portion of Lech Lecha? On the surface, it may seem that Abraham is far from being a king. He is the lone, wandering man of faith. “All the world is on one side and Abraham is on the other side.”[2] Abraham does not have his own inheritance. The land promised by God to his descendants is still held by the Canaanites. The sages teach that Abraham opposed Nimrod. He protested the construction of the Tower of Babel, shattered the idols and was thrown into the furnace – like a prophet of rebuke who calls for the destruction of the kingdom along with its idols.

Surprisingly, however, the sages say that Abraham was a king. After he defeated the four kings, the Torah relates that the king of Sodom went out to meet him “to the Valley of Equality, which is the Valley of the King.”[3] Rashi explains: The valley where they equalized all the nations and crowned Abraham upon them as a prince of God and a ruler.”

What exactly did Abraham rule over? He does not have a kingdom. He even had to pay the full price for the land in which he buried Sarah. Abraham is “the prince of God.” His kingdom is not predicated on material acquisitions, but rather, on the acknowledgment of the people that he is great. He is not a dictatorial strongman, but a person who teaches faith and radiates love. He directs his followers to be just and kind.

The King of Justice

Along with Abraham, there is another positive persona of a king in his era, “Malkitzedek, the king of Shalem (who according to the sages was Shem, the son of Noah). He also recognizes the Supreme God, the Source of justice. But the actual kingdom of justice turns out to be more fitting for Abraham, and the kingdom is transferred to him (as depicted by the sages) – for Abraham represents distilled faith. Abraham restores the kingdom to God. This is why he becomes a king. He points above and declares to all that God is King.

When necessary, Abraham is ready and willing to strap on his sword and go to war. He also knows that in the future, his descendants will rule over a large land, from the river of Egypt to the Euphrates River. But true kingdom is not acquired at the point of the sword or by acquiring land. It is a gift from God, given to he who is most fitting to represent God’s kingdom.

Abraham’s kingdom does not come only to fill the real need for leadership for society. It is a kingdom that teaches truth and faith, justice and judgment, loving kindness and compassion. It represents God’s kingdom. When we say, “I believe in the coming of the Mashiach,” we mean that we believe that a descendant of Abraham can – and will – be a king like him. The pinnacle of the description of the Mashiach in Isaiah is with the words “And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins.”[4] A perfect description of Abraham, who personified faith and justice and bequeathed them to all the world.

 

[1] Genesis 10:9.

[2] Breishit Rabbah 42:8.

[3] Genesis 14:17.

[4] Isaih 11:5.

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