Faith and Calculated Risks
How far would you go to save your nephew?
“13 And there came one that had escaped, and told Abram the Hebrew–now he dwelt by the terebinths of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol, and brother of Aner; and these were confederate with Abram. 14 And when Abram heard that his brother (nephew) was taken captive, he led forth his trained men, born in his house, three hundred and eighteen, and pursued as far as Dan.” (Genesis 14)
Four mighty armies from the fertile crescent area come to Sodom to reestablish their dominance and collect due tribute. Sodom and Gomorrah resist. They are quickly defeated, and all their inhabitants are taken captive. When Abraham hears his nephew is a prisoner of war, he gathers his allies: his servants, friends, and followers, and sets out to rescue his nephew.
Yet what is he doing? Did Abraham lose his sanity? Granted that in ancient times family bonds were sacred, yet, Abraham only had 318 untrained men. They would be attacking skilled, victorious armies. These armies had just decimated the most powerful forces in the area.
Why would Abraham enter into a certainly losing proposition to save his nephew? If he is vanquished, two-thirds of his father’s line would be lost.
Abraham was taking a calculated risk. He must have felt he had a chance by ambushing the unsuspecting armies at night.
15 “And he divided himself against them by night, he and his servants, and smote them, and pursued them unto Hobah, which is on the left hand of Damascus.”
In the span of one night, all that would ever be of Abraham and the Judaism that would follow could have all gone up in smoke. But, on the other hand, Abraham could not have lived with the guilt of doing nothing. Furthermore, if he hadn’t followed his faith, his faith in God, and his family, then we might not know of Abraham anyway.
Abraham set a path for his children to have faith and to do what must be done, even in the face of significant risk.
His descendants followed his ways.
In the times of the Judges, when Midian dominated Israel, Gideon, with just three hundred soldiers, brought freedom to our people. His attack was also with surprise in the still of the night.
When the Philistines were gathering for an attack, Jonathan and his weapon bearer surprised them into mass retreat. By causing a commotion in the night, the Philistines thought hundreds rather than two troublemakers were attacking them.
During Syrian/Greek persecution, Matisyahu and his five sons created a rebellion that ousted massive, trained armies.
In 1948, people (including Sec. of State George C. Marshall) urged Ben Gurion not to declare independence, for how could a few hundred thousand Jews win a war against 50 million Arabs?
Yet to Ben Gurion, it was a calculated risk that he felt we had to take.
Every year, on Simchat Torah, we start reading the Torah anew. One could ask, enough already; don’t we know the stories sufficiently? Yet these tales are our narrative. They entail our history, heritage, beliefs, and goals. It’s easier to set a course when we know from where we came.
The Jewish story of overcoming odds begins with Abraham. Nowadays, with challenges internally and externally, it’s easy to be dismayed. But Abraham set a precedence for us. We do what we need to do and hope for the best. It’s 3500 years since Abraham; we survive by keeping his faith.
Manetto Hill Jewish Center
244 Manetto Hill Road, Plainview, NY 11803