The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit
Jerusalem in the Bible
Yeshivat Har Etzion
in the Torah (II)
Encounter with the King of Sodom and with
As discussed in the previous shiur, Jerusalem is not mentioned
explicitly anywhere in the Torah.
Its first appearance by name in all of Tanakh is in
Yehoshua 10:1, where Adoni-Tzedek is mentioned as being King of
Jerusalem. Nevertheless, the name
is hinted at in Sefer Bereishit in two incidents involving
Bereishit 14, when Avram returns from his victory over the northern
kings, he is welcomed by Malki-Tzedek, King of Shalem which is recognized as
the King of Jerusalem.
Bereishit 22, Avraham is commanded to offer up is son, Yitzchak, as a
sacrifice upon Mount Moriah which is also in
this shiur we will address the first instance, Avram's encounter with
Malki-Tzedek, King of Shalem, and with the King of Sodom.
geographical look at the meeting
The meeting is described in its entirety in Bereishit
King of Sedom went out to meet him (after he returned from smiting Kedarla'omer
and the kings who were with him), at the Valley of Shaveh, which is the King's
Valley. And Malki-Tzedek, King of
Shalem, brought out bread and wine; he was a priest to the Supreme God. He blessed him and said, "Blessed is
Avram to the Supreme God, possessor of the heavens and the earth. And blessed is the Supreme God Who has
delivered your enemies into your hands." Then he gave him a tithe of
everything. And the King of Sodom
said to Avram; "Give me the people, and take the goods for yourself." But Avram
said to the King of Sodom. "I have
raised my hand [sworn] to the Lord Supreme God, possessor of the heavens and the
earth, that I will take nothing, from a thread to a shoelace, nor will I take
anything that is yours, that you shall not say, 'I made Avram rich' except
only for what the young men have eaten, and the portion of the men who went with
me Aner, Eshkol, and Mamrei; let them take their
Avram lives in Hebron, and it is there that he returns after his
campaign. The Torah does not detail
the route that he took from the North following his victory, but we know that
there are three possible main routes for a southward return journey from the
North: along the King's Highway, on the eastern side of the Jordan; along the
Jordan Valley; and on the "Patriarchs' Highway" from the Jezreel Valley
southward via Jenin, Shekhem, Beit-El, and Jerusalem.
Whichever route Avraham chose, it is exceptionally difficult to ascend
towards Hebron directly from the east, from the Dead Sea region. Logic therefore dictates that even if
Avram journeyed home along the eastern side of the Jordan or along the Jordan
Valley, somewhere around Jericho he must have turned westward, towards
Jerusalem. The Jerusalem area is
topographically lower than its more northerly and southerly environs, and it is
therefore quite likely that Avram journeyed through there on his way
2. "The Valley of Shaveh, which is the
King's Valley" (14:17)
From the above information and from the description in verse 17, it is
difficult to determine exactly where the meeting took place. The "King's Valley" is mentioned in one
other place in Tanakh: in Sefer Shemuel (II 18:18) we read that
Avshalom, during his lifetime, built "a pillar that was in the King's Valley
and it is called 'Avshalom's monument' to this day." But even this mention on the
assumption that we are speaking of the same "King's Valley" does not allow for
easy identification of the site , and there are several opinions on the
Josephus  places the King's Valley at a distance of two "ris" from
author of the apocryphal scroll on Bereishit  writes: "He came to
Shalem, which is Jerusalem, and Avram stopped over at the Valley of Shaveh,
which is the King's Valley, in the Beit Ha-kerem Valley." A place by the name of Beit Ha-kerem is
mentioned in Yirmiyahu 6:1 and in Nechemya
scholars  locate the place not far from the "King's Garden" in Jerusalem (see
II Melakhim 25:4; Yirmiyahu 22:30; 39:4; Nechemya 3:15), in
the region of the meeting point between the Ben-Hinnom Valley and Wadi
 identifies the place as the Valley of Refaim, based on the assumption that
"the Shaveh (lit. "balanced," "equal") Valley" can also mean a "straight valley,
with no rises" a description that fits Emek Refaim. Perhaps the name "the King's Valley"
arises from David's victory over the Philistines there. The distance between the City of David
and Emek Refa'im matches the distance of "two ris" (370m) mentioned by
Elitzur z"l , posited that the place is located to the north of the
Old City's Damascus Gate today.
What is common to all of these opinions is that all agree that THE PLACE
IS CLOSE TO JERUSALEM. Thus, while
we cannot point to a specific site, it is clear that the valley in question is
in the region of Jerusalem and in this regard the description matches several
possibilities (Wadi Kidron, Emek Refaim, and others).
It is clear that the identification of Shalem, the place where
Malki-Tzedek ruled, can help us to understand Avram's route on his return
journey to Hebron, and convey the proper significance to the encounter in the
"Valley of Shaveh, which is the King's Valley."
sources simply identify Shalem as Jerusalem. The origin of this opinion is to be
found in several rabbinical sources, for example in the Midrash Rabba
(Bereishit Rabba 43, 6):
King of Shalem" this place makes it inhabitants righteous (matzdik):
Malki-Tzedek, Adoni-Tzedek (Yehoshua 10:1). Tzedek (righteousness) is called
"Jerusalem," as it is written (Yishayahu 1:21), "Righteousness lodged in
Midrash identifies Malki-Tzedek, King of Shalem, as King of Jerusalem on the
basis of the appearance of the word "tzedek" in his name. Firstly, this word also forms part of
the name "Adoni-Tzedek" concerning whom we are told explicitly
(Yehoshua 10:1) that he was King of Jerusalem, as well as the name of
Jerusalem's last king Tzidkiyahu.
Secondly, Jerusalem itself is called "Tzedek." Accordingly, the names "Malki-Tzedek"
and "Adoni-Tzedek" may be understood to mean, "The King of Tzedek," and "the
Master of Tzedek," respectively .
Aramaic translators also render the name "Shalem"
first to build the city was the ruler of the Canaanites, whom our forefathers
called "Melekh Tzaddik" ("righteous king") and he was just like his name, for
he was the first who ministered to God, and it was he who first built the
Temple, AND GAVE THE NAME "JERUSALEM" TO THE CITY THAT HAD FORMERLY BEEN CALLED
The author of the apocryphal book on Bereishit, as well as Rav
Sa'adya Gaon in his commentary on Bereishit and many of the Rishonim,
adopt the same explanation. The
Ramban (on Bereishit 14:8) bases this identification on the verse, "His
Tabernacle is in Shalem, and His dwelling place in Zion" (Tehillim 76:3),
making "His Tabernacle" equal to "His dwelling place," and "Shalem" the same as
ancient source Heronimus  writes that Shalem is not Jerusalem but rather
a city close to Skitopolis (Beit Shean), which he claims was called "Shalem"
even in his days, and where the palace of Malki-Tzedek was displayed. In the Book of Yehudit 4, 4 
a city named "Shalem" is mentioned, located in the Beit Shean region. Rav Hoffman upholds this view in his
commentary on Bereishit .
writes, quoting the Netivot Shalom, that some opinions maintain that Shalem is
the name of the region rather than the name of a specific
the view of the Rishonim, we shall adopt the view that Malki-Tzedek was the King
of Jerusalem .
It should be noted that, according to this interpretation, the very fact
that Malki-Tzedek participates in the welcome for Avram strengthens our
assumption that the "Valley of Shaveh," which is the King's Valley, is located
near Jerusalem. Since Malki-Tzedek
does not approach Avram as a debtor, but rather receives him and blesses him as
the victor in the first world war against the northern powers, it is reasonable
to assume that he would not exert himself and travel far for this purpose. He simply goes out to greet Avram with
bread and wine as the latter passes by on his way home, close to Malki-Tzedek's
city of Shalem.
Thus far we have focused on a general geographical analysis, clarifying
the identity of "the Valley of Shaveh, which is the King's Valley," and of
Shalem. We shall now move on to an
analysis of the three-way encounter between Avram, the King of Sodom, and
B. Analysis of the encounter and its
Avram unquestionably returns as a great victor, having overcome the four
northern powers and succeeding in restoring both the captives and the
property. On the simplest level,
then, the encounter may be viewed as a royal welcome extended to the person who
liberated the Canaanite nations from the northern threat. Indeed, this is reflected in
Chazal's interpretation of the words, "Emek Shaveh" (Valley of
Berakhya and Rabbi Chalbo said in the name of Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachman, "There
all the idolaters were humbled and they cut cedars and made him a great podium
and sat him atop it and they praised him, saying (Bereishit 23:6), 'Hear
us, our lord: you are a prince of God in our midst!' They said to him, 'You are
our king, you are our prince, you are our god!' He said to them, 'Let the world
not lack its King, nor let the world lack its God.' (Bereishit Rabba
Midrash here aptly reflects the political situation in the region, as we
understand it from the verses. The
kings of the region the King of Sodom and the King of Shalem wanted to
coronate Avram in the wake of his great victory over the northern powers. But Avram, according to the Midrash, was
not interested in being king, since he understood that earthly rule is opposed
to the rule of God .
Let us now turn our attention to the meeting itself. The participants are the King of Sodom
, Malki-Tzedek, King of Shalem, and Avram. But surprisingly enough the actions
and statements of Malki-Tzedek are presented in a sort of parenthetical way,
creating a break between the departure of the King of Sodom to welcome Avram
(described in verse 17) and his words to Avram (which appear only in verse
21). Why does the Torah not
describe in a smoother and more consecutive fashion the arrival of the King of
Sodom and his statements, and only afterwards the actions and statement of
Malki-Tzedek, King of Shalem? It would seem that the Torah seeks to present
these two kings in contrast with one another, and between them in the middle
Avram, who adopts a very clear position: he accepts the bread and wine from
Malki-Tzedek, along with his blessing, and gives him a tithe of everything ,
but rejects any connection with or obligation towards the King of Sodom.
Malki-Tzedek, King of Shalem, owes Avram nothing. The war did not take place in his land,
nor was anything taken from him neither captives nor property. Nevertheless, he acts with great
generosity, he brings out bread and wine, and blesses Avram and the Supreme God
for Avram's victory. In light of
this treatment, Avram sees fit to give Malki-Tzedek a tithe from all the
The King of Sodom is the complete contrast to Malki-Tzedek and his
attitude towards Avram. According
to the customs of the Ancient New East, whoever went out to war and was
victorious was then sovereign over whatever he plundered or brought back from
that war - in this case, both the captives and the property. There can be no doubt that this
principle was quite familiar to all those present: to Avram, to Malki-Tzedek,
and to the King of Sodom.
Nevertheless, the King of Sodom "negotiates" with Avram and proposes a
sort of "compromise deal": "Give me the people, and take the property for
yourself." He foregoes the
property, as it were, to Avram, asking only for the captives. Not only does the King of Sodom not show
any gratitude to Avram or congratulate him on his victory and the salvation of
the lives and the property; he even tries to negotiate over the captives while
both the captives and the property clearly belong to Avram by
Thus the Torah deliberately contrasts the two kings the King of Sodom
and Malki-Tzedek, with Avram in the middle. The Or Ha-Chayim comments on verse 18 as
reason for the Torah creating a break with the matter of the King of Shalem, in
between the King of Sodom going out and the reporting of Avraham's words, is to
speak the praise of the righteous and [to emphasize] the contrast between them
and the wicked. For the King of
Sodom went out empty-handed to greet Avraham, even though he should rightfully
have received him with a royal welcome, but that wicked one went out
empty-handed, while the righteous Shem owing him no favors greeted him with
bread and wine.
textual contrast highlights the enormous ingratitude on the part of the King of
Sodom, and its opposite absolute generosity, with no obligation on the part
of Malki-Tzedek. Malki-Tzedek goes
out to greet Avram with bread and wine and he blesses him, while the King of
Sodom goes out empty-handed, but full of demands and requests (which already
tells us something about the character of Sodom). Avram, required to respond to both of
them, chooses unequivocally to accept the blessing of Malki-Tzedek and even to
give him a tithe, while rejecting any connection to or commitment towards the
King of Sedom: "
that I will take nothing, from a thread to a shoelace, nor will
I take anything that is yours, that you shall not say, 'I made Avram rich'"
the Torah contrasts Sodom and Jerusalem: the righteousness of Malki-Tzedek, King
of Shalem, as opposed to the ingratitude of the king of
In this shiur we examined the encounter between Avram and
Malki-Tzedek. We first reviewed the
geographical background and concluded that Avram returned from the war in the
North to Hebron, via the Jerusalem region.
According to the view that we adopted, the King of Shalem is the King of
Jerusalem, and the encounter apparently takes place in one of the valleys around
Concerning the significance of the encounter, we noted Chazal's
opinion that its purpose was to coronate Avram in the wake of his victory, and
we demonstrated the sharp contrast in the Torah's presentation of the kings with
whom Avram meets: Malki-Tzedek, who owes Avram nothing, welcomes him with bread
and wine, congratulating and blessing him on his victory, while the King of
Sodom who owes Avram everything, both lives and property not only fails to
express any gratitude, but even demands that the people be handed over to
him. Avram chooses to align himself
with the King of Shalem by giving him a tithe of all that he has, while having
nothing to do with the King of Sodom.
Thus, there is a clarification of Avram's connection with the
righteousness of the King of Shalem, along with an absolute rejection of the
ingratitude of Sodom.
In order to understand this fundamental point, we shall devote the next
shiur to the significance of Jerusalem as the city of justice and
authorities identify the "King's Valley" as Wadi Kidron, on the basis of the
identification of "Avshalom's monument" as a monument from the end of the Second
Temple Period that is located there.
In truth, there is no way of relying on an artifact from the Second
Temple period to identify the site.
This reservation, of course, does not invalidate the possibility that the
encounter took place in the southern part of Wadi Kidron perhaps where it
meets up with the Ben-Hinnom Valley but there is no way of proving
Antiquities of the Jews, Book VII Chapter III, Shalit edition p.
Apocryphal Scroll on Bereishit, Avigad-Yadin edition, Jerusalem
5717, p. 30, page 22 lines 13-14.