To the victor belong the spoils, but sometimes he's just not interested.
Abraham was cut from that cloth. He had just won a fierce war against four
powerful Mesopotamian kings who had invaded the land of Canaan. After laying
waste to the countryside, the Mesopotamians had carried off the population
and wealth of Sodom and set off for home, but Abraham gave chase. He routed
the invaders and pursued them all the way to Damascus, and in the process,
he liberated the captives and recovered the stolen wealth..
The king of Sodom begged Abraham to keep the wealth, but Abraham absolutely
refused. "I will not even take a thread or a shoelace nor anything else that
is yours," he declared, "so that you should not be able to say, `I enriched
The Sages of the Talmud greatly admired Abraham's refusal to accept a reward
from the king of Sodom. In fact, they point out, because Abraham spurned the
strings and shoelaces of Sodom, his descendants were rewarded with the two
commandments of the tzitzith fringes and the tefillin straps.
The commentators, however, are puzzled by the connection. They also wonder
why Abraham chose to mention these trivial articles. Why wasn't it enough to
say that he would take nothing at all? That certainly would have been
perfectly clear. Furthermore, why indeed did he refuse to take them?
The answer, they explain, lies in Abraham's attitude toward his great
wealth. He never thought he had been blessed with wealth so that he would be
able to indulge all his whims and desires. Rather, he saw himself as a
caretaker. He believed that the Almighty had entrusted him with all that
wealth so that he could spread sweetness and light in the world and draw
people closer to Him. He saw his wealth as a sacred trust that extended even
to the smallest part of it, because even the most minute things can be used
to bring honor to his name.
Abraham, therefore, specifically mentioned threads and shoelaces to show
that everything must be seen as a gift from Hashem. And he refused to accept
these things from the king of Sodom, because he was concerned that the king
would claim the credit for having given these gifts to Abraham, thereby
bringing dishonor to the Name of Hashem.
With profound insight, Abraham had discerned the transcendent value of even
the smallest things. The Torah, therefore, rewarded his descendants with the
tzitzith fringes and the tefillin straps, seemingly insignificant items
which play a very exalted role in connecting people to the Creator and
bringing them untold Heavenly blessings.
A young man came to a great sage and asked to be accepted as a
disciple. The sage took the young man for a stroll through the garden as
they discussed various weighty philosophical and ethical issues.
The young man was very astute and intelligent, and he impressed the sage
with his sharp questions and insightful observations.
After an hour, they returned from the garden. The sage shook the young man's
hand and said, "Farewell and good luck to you."
The young man was stunned. "Do you mean that you will not accept me as your
"That is correct."
"But why? Haven't I passed the test? I thought I had made such a good
impression on you."
"Young man," said the sage, "when we were walking in the garden you were
pulling leaves off the bushes and tossing them on the ground. Why?"
"I don't know," the young man replied. "What does it matter?"
"That exactly is the problem with you. You think the leaves on the bushes
don't matter. But they do. Everything has a purpose, and I assure you that
those leaves were not put there for you to destroy so casually.."
In our own lives, we live in a society that pursues riches at breakneck
speed with barely a backward glance. Everything is expendable and disposable
as long as it gets us from one moment to the next. Nonetheless, it is
important that every once in a while we pause and take stock. It is
important that we see and appreciate the value in all the little things
Hashem has placed in the world as part of His divine plan. And in the end,
we may even find that focusing on those little things may actually be the
most enriching pursuit of all.