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I Lift Up My Arm

R Pesach Siegel

Parshat Lech Lecha

Oct 11, 2013

Parshas Lech Lecha


Avrohom Avenu upon emerging victorious from the war against the four kings, (Amrofel-Nimrod, Aryoch, K'dorle’omer, and Sidal) is greeted by the King of S'dom whom he saved. He made Avrohom a generous offer. "Return the captives to me and all the plunder is yours".


Avrohom's response is not slow in coming. "I lift up my arm to Hashem upon high, creator of the Heavens and Earth, if I will accept from a thread to a shoe string from all which is yours lest you should lay claim that you enriched Avrom".[1]




How do we understand Avrohom’s refusal?


He accepted presents from others.


He had no compunction for receiving gifts from Pharaoh,[2] nor from Avimelech the king of the Pelishtim.[3]


The sole reason was, as stated, not to allow the impression that his riches were from the King of S'dom. Why is this only a concern with the King of S’dom?


Why wasn’t a simple refusal sufficient? Why was it necessary for Avrohom Avenu to lift his arm in an oath?




Avrohom Avenu lifted up his arm in an oath. The word used to describe this is "Harimosi" - I lifted up. The commentary of the Baal Haturim notes that the word in this form appears only one other time in the Torah.


In Parshas VaYeshev, Yosef Hatzaddik was set upon by his master's wife. She was intent on producing children through him.[4] At a certain point Yosef decisively took action in order to completely sever all contact with her. He ran away. She summoned the men of the house and related her false version of the event.


"Behold you have brought a Hebrew into the house to mock us. He attempted to force himself upon me and I called out in a loud voice. When he heard me raise my voice - "Harimosi", as I called out, he left his garment in my possession, ran, and went outside."[5]


On the basis of the identical words being present in the two places the Baal HaTurim makes a comparison between the two. Just as Avrohom Avenu lifted up his hand for the sake of Heaven - l'shem shamayim, so too, the wife of Potifar's intent was selfless. It was for a good purpose. She sincerely wished to be the mother of children born from the righteous Yosef.


There is clearly a connection between the raising of Avrohom Avenu’s arm and the raising of the wife of Potifar’s voice. There exists a bond between the motive of Potifar’s wife in bearing Yosef’s children and the refusal of Avrohom Avenu to accept riches from the King of S’dom.


Although the raising of one's hand, as in Avrohom's case, is an expression of taking an oath, perhaps another significance lies beneath the surface.


The benevolence that the world is blessed to receive from the Creator is expressed as being extended to the world by His outstretched hand. As we say in Ashrei - "Poseiach es yodecha umasbia l'chol chai ratzon" - Open your hands and satiate all living creatures with your will. We say as well in Birchas Hamazon" - "Ki im l'yodcha hamle’a"  - We look for sustenance only from your hand.


There are two types of "hands"; those that give and those that take. The giver has the upper hand. He spreads of his benevolence to the hands extended below. Hashem is the ultimate giver. He gives constantly and takes nothing in return. He is the source of everything.


Avrohom Avenu dedicated his life to emulating the traits of the Creator, especially the middas hachessed - benevolence. Man was created "b'tzelem Elokim" - in the image of G-d, possessing the ability to raise himself up from amidst his animalistic nature thereby attaining a state of loftiness. He does this by giving. Hashem created our world with chessed, He maintains it with chessed. He is a constant source of chessed.


One who wishes to bring forth the "Godliness" within himself does so by being a paradigm of chessed, being a giver and not a taker. His hand is held up high to share of his benevolence with others down below.


The motive of the King of S'dom in offering Avrohom Avenu to share in the spoils of war was in order to set up a counter force, a block, to the attainment by Avrohom Avenu of the level of "tzelem Elokim". He wished to turn Avrohom Avenu into his recipient. In response to this, Avrohom lifted up his hand. By doing so he is expressing that he is a giver and not a taker. His hand is extended high in order to give. He emulates Hashem’s middah of giving.


Pharaoh and Avimelech did not have the same intent. They wished to present Avrohom Avenu with gifts, and not to be the considered the source of Avrohom’s wealth.


The wife of Potifar recognized the unique role of the descendants of Avrohom, Yitzchok, and Yaakov in creation. It was revealed to her via certain impure forces in creation that she would produce children through a union with Yosef. She mistakenly assumed that it would come about through herself, directly. In truth, her role was fulfilled through her daughter, who ultimately wed Yosef Hatzadik.




Ever since Adam ate from the forbidden fruit man has been tainted. He no longer is openly identified as one who has been formed in G-d's image. There is a part of him that identifies more with being a sophisticated animal than being one created "b'tzelem Elokim".  


The entire passage of the days of this world is geared towards the winnowing of the grain from the chaff, the human from the animalistic, the emergence of the image of G-d from under the layers that deeply bury it.


The external physical differences between a human and an animal appear to be minor ones. One outstanding feature of a human is the intellect and his ability to express it with the power of speech.


When Potifar’s wife raised her voice, it was not merely one of decibel level. She was attempting to demonstrate that she is worthy of joining those who rise above the lowly and mundane. Her power of speech is on a raised, uplifted level and she is fit to contribute to the formation of Klal Yisroel. Her intentions were l’shem shamayim.


But she was mistaken. Indeed, she possessed the spark of humanity that, when joined with the children of the Avos, would serve to complete them, but his spark had to be further refined, it had to pass through another generation and be passed down to her daughter who was the one destined to marry Yosef Hatzaddik.


Perhaps we can now understand the relationship between the raising up of Avrohom Avenu's hand and the voice of the wife of Potifar. They represent Avrohom Avenu steadfastly refusing to surrender his humanity by being on the receiving end of the King of S'dom and Potifar's wife's struggle to join that very humanity.


[1] Perek 14, posuk 22

[2] Rashi, Perek 12, posuk 13

[3] Perek 20, posuk 14

[4] Rashi, Perek 39, posuk 1

[5] Perek 39, posuk 12 - 15

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