Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center
Parashat Lekh Lekha
Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty
of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel.
A project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies,
Paul and Helene Shulman Basic Jewish Studies Center,
and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on the Internet
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Dr. Isaac Gottlieb, Department of Bible,
Parashat Lekh Lekha 5762/Oct. 27, 2001
From Soup to Nuts, From a Thread to a Sandal Strap
Prof. Yaakov Spiegel
Naftal-Yaffee Dept. of Talmud
In the war of the four kings against the five, Scripture does
not say what befell the five kings; rather, in the text that follows, it focuses
on the fate of the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah, especially on the king of Sodom.
The reason is self-evident, for Lot, Abraham's nephew, lived in Sodom and
therefore he, too, suffered as a result of this war, as explained in Scripture:
"[The invaders] seized all the wealth of Sodom and Gomorrah and all their
provisions, and went their way. They also took Lot, the son of Abram's brother,
and his possessions, and departed; for he had settled in Sodom" (Gen. 14:11-12).
This turn of events forced Abraham to go to war.
After his victory, the king of Sodom turned to him with the
following request: "Give me the persons, and take the possessions for yourself"
(v. 21), to which Abraham replied, "I lift up my hand to the Lord, G-d Most
High, Creator of heaven and earth: I will not take so much as a thread or a
sandal strap, and I will not take anything that is yours; you shall not say, 'It
is I who made Abram rich'"(Gen. 14:22-23). As Rashi
the words "I lift up my hand" mean
that Abraham swore to the king of Sodom. The Hebrew text continues with "if
) ... if (ve-im eqah
)" - also a turn of phrase used
in formulating an oath.
Thus the plain sense
is that Abraham said: I swear that I shall not take even so much as a thread or
sandal strap, and I shall not take anything of yours.
Abraham's words appear to contain a redundancy. If he swore
not to take so much as a thread or sandal strap, it seems superfluous to add the
further assurance, "I will not take anything that is yours." Rashi solves this
difficulty by saying that not taking so much as a "thread or sandal strap"
refers to what he might take of the booty, whereas not taking "anything that is
yours" refers to not accepting any remuneration from the king's coffers.
There appears to be yet another redundancy in what he said,
which is not discussed by Rashi, and on which our paper focuses. The expression
mi-hut ve-ad srokh na'al, "a thread or a sandal strap," itself
appears redundant insofar as there is apparently no difference between a
hut, rendered here as 'thread', and a srokh na'al, or
sandal strap. It is as if Abraham had said: 'I will not take from you so much
as a thread or a thread'. Some commentators have noted this. We shall cite a
few of their remarks to illustrate the different exegetical approaches to the
question of how Abraham hinted in his words that he would not take even the
1. Specifying items
According to one approach, in order to show that he intended
not to take the slightest thing, Abraham gave as detailed a list as possible of
the various options, thus covering everything. R. Bahye wrote commented on this
passage as follows:
According to Saadiah Gaon, in the phrase, "so much as a thread
or a sandal strap," Scripture covered all plant, animal, and mineral things,
which are all the possessions owned by the speaker. "A thread" refers to
plants, including grains and fruits. "A sandal strap" refers to animals,
including livestock and fowl. "I will not take" refers to mineral or inanimate
objects, including silver, gold, precious stones and rubies. Therefore he
added, "I will not take anything that is yours."
According to this interpretation the items Abraham mentioned
- a thread, a sandal strap, and anything that is yours - symbolize
different sorts of property. Thus Abraham conveyed to the king of Sodom that he
would not take anything from him by specifying that he would not take anything
from the plant, animal, or mineral realms.
2) Two items that are far apart from each
According to another approach, Abraham specified two things
that were far apart from one another, thus essentially saying that he would not
take anything, similar to the expression found elsewhere in Scripture: "From
head to foot no spot is sound" (Is. 1:6). This seems to be what the Hizkuni
commentary (by R. Hizkiah b. R. Manoah, 13th
A thread - a head ornament, as we learn from the Sages
in Tractate Shabbat (65a), "The threads on maidens' heads were strands of
silk with which they bound their hair". A sandal strap - a foot ornament.
Another interpretation: a thread - that from which the entire garment is
woven, i.e., anything large or small.
Hizkuni's commentary concludes with the words, "anything large
or small." It seems that this relates to both his interpretations, not only to
the second one. To say that he would accept nothing whatsoever, Abraham gave
an example of two things at opposite extremes. According to the first
interpretation, it is not the intrinsic importance of a thread or sandal strap
that is decisive; rather, it is their different locations. Being situated at
two extremes, they thus denote the expanse from one end to the other. Thus,
from a "thread" to a "sandal strap" is similar to the expression we encountered
above - "from head to foot" (Is. 1:6; the Hebrew actually reads the
opposite, "from foot to head"). So we have an example of something from one
extreme to the other, according to its
But one could also say that their
different location led to a distinction in their relative importance. A
"thread," being an ornament of the head, is more important that a "sandal
strap," which ornaments the foot. Thus, they are also extremes in terms of
The idea of giving an illustration that covers the entire
spectrum in terms of importance appears to be what underlies Hizkuni's second
interpretation. Apparently he meant that thread is something of consequence,
since one's entire garment is made of it,
whereas a sandal strap is only used in footwear, which is of less note than a
[But one may also understand Hizkuni
as follows: 'thread,' of which the entire garment is made, represents something
large, while 'sand-strap' represents something small. Hence his conclusion,
"anything large or small"-Ed.]
Clearly there is no fixed criterion for something ranging from
one extreme to the other, rather various criteria can be
Here is another criterion, as found in
Prof. Tur- Sinai's commentary:
The apposition of "a thread or a sandal strap," presented here
in the negative, is not intended to contrast something cheap with something
dear, rather something thin
with something thick
. In contrast, in
the Aramaic of the Elephantine Papyri we find the opposite order ... "all that
she took in with her, she shall put out, from the widest to the
This commentary, incidentally, raises another question: does
Scripture go from greater to lesser, or the other way around? Thus far we have
cited two verses representing two approaches: the first, "From foot to head, no
spot is sound" (Is. 1:6), i.e., from lesser to greater; and the second, "If the
eruption ... covers all the skin of the affected person from head to foot" (Lev.
13:12), from greater to lesser.
3) Two contiguous things
A third approach is hinted at in the remarks of the Sages.
Megillah 11a reads:
(That Ahasuerus who reigned) "from India to Nubia" (Esther
1:1). Rav and Samuel [disagreed]. One said India is at one end of the earth,
and Nubia at the other end. The other said India and Nubia lay next to each
other. Just as he ruled over India and Nubia, so too, he ruled from one end of
the earth to the other. Likewise, one says, "For he [Solomon] controlled the
whole region west of the Euphrates ... from Tiphsah to Gaza" (I Kings 5:4). Rav
and Samuel [disagreed]. One said Tiphsah is at one end of the earth and Gaza at
the other; the other said Tiphsah and Gaza are next to each other. Just as he
ruled over Tiphsah and Gaza, so too, he ruled over the entire earth.
We can understand the opinion that holds India and Nubia are
at opposites ends of the earth, but how are we to make sense of the other
opinion? If they are next to each other, how can one say that he ruled over the
entire earth? This is explained in the following
"For he controlled the whole region west of the Euphrates ...
from Tiphsah to Gaza," but Tiphsah and Gaza are next to one another. So, it is
as if he started out from Tiphsah and encircled the whole earth until he came to
Gaza; thus Solomon ruled over the entire world.
A similar interpretation is found in the words of R. Tobiah b.
R. Eliezer, who lived at roughly the same time as
"Who ruled from India to Nubia." Rav and Samuel disagreed on
this point, ... But how could both arguments be correct? Only if you interpret
it as follows: they are standing together, except that it is like a person who
sets out from India and heads eastward until he reaches Nubia, then turns south
until he returns again to India, bordering on Nubia, thus teaching that
everything is under his dominion.
In Manot Ha-Levi
R. Solomon Alkabez's commentary on the book of Esther, the author cites the
Sages' interpretation from tractate Megillah on the verse, "who ruled from India
to Nubia," and then added the following:
Rabbi Moses ibn Tibbon, of blessed memory, wrote in Sefer
what there is to disagree about and how can one lie when there are
They could simply investigate
and then they would know! Likewise, in the disagreement concerning Tiphsah and
Gaza. The truth is that they did not disagree, rather they both concurred that
one lay next to the other; but they did disagree as to how that signified that
it included the entire world. One held (the second view presented in the
Talmud) that just as he ruled over India and Nubia, so too, he ruled over the
entire world. The other said India is at the end [of the world] because it is
well-known that the world is spherical,
there is no end to the sphere other than the place from which one
Thus, according to R. Moses, the disagreement between Rav and
Samuel was not in actual fact a disagreement, for one can verify whether these
places lay next to each other. Indeed, according to him, they both admitted
that the places are adjacent. Their disagreement was about the way we derive
from this illustration that Solomon or Ahasuerus ruled over the entire
According to one opinion, India and Nubia are only
representative places; Scripture meant to say that just as he ruled over both
these places, so too, he ruled over the entire
The second view is the innovative
one. India and Nubia are next to each other; both these places are specified,
not as representative, but to indicate that he ruled from one end of the earth
to the other, for one can travel from one to the other not via the shortest
route, but via the longest, encircling the entire earth.
Now we see that Scripture has another way of denoting
something that is all-inclusive: by denoting two things that are
adjacent, with all the space between them being covered by traversing
from one to the other, around in a circle.
We can now apply this idea to explain our verse. A "thread"
and a "sandal strap" are indeed items of similar value and without importance as
to their placement or size. Scripture deliberately indicates all-inclusiveness
by selecting two things that are more or less equivalent in value, or adjacent
in location, etc. One can traverse from one to the other figuratively by
drawing a circle that "covers" all the area between them.
A similar approach can be applied to interpret the following
verse: "You stand this day, all of you, before the Lord your G-d - your
tribal heads, your elders and your officials, all the men of Israel ... from
woodchopper to waterdrawer" (Deut. 29:9-10). One might wonder, since there is
no difference in status between woodchopper and waterdrawer, how does specifying
these two occupations illustrate that "all the men of Israel" are included
thereby, since the examples pertain to things that are alike? This passage, as
well, shows that sometimes Scripture indicates all-inclusiveness by giving
examples of two things of equal value or adjacent
Likewise Radak, Ibn Ezra
and others. Nahmanides, after citing Rashi, writes: "To me it seems that he
said, 'I lift up [harimoti
] my hand to the Lord,' to make it
, banning him from taking anything that was his; for things that
are called terumat yad
(a contribution, or "lifted by
the hand"). He said so since he had promised a tithe, that all [Abraham] he
might take of that which was his [the king of Sodom] would be a contribution to
the Lord, and he would not profit from it." Both these approaches appear in
(43:9): "I lift up my hand - R. Judah said he made
them a contribution... and R. Nehemiah said he made them an oath." Nahmanides
himself actually cites this midrash
. Targum Onkelos
lifting the hands here is an indication of prayer. This seems problematic.
R. Jonah Ibn Janah,
, Bacher edition, under the root im
, cites the
verse at hand as an example of an oath.
Chavel edition, Jerusalem
Chavel edition, Jerusalem
1989. Also cf. R. Mecklenburg's commentary, Ha-Ktav
, Chavel ed., Jerusalem 1993.
The Tur commentary on the
Torah says: ">From a thread, which is a small ornament (apparently meaning
that it is a small ornament in relation to other head ornaments, but that it
could be of equal value to a sandal strap, although this relationship is not
germane to the issue) of the ornaments for the head, like the threads on
maidens' heads, to a sandal strap, which is one of the ornaments on the foot; as
in, 'from head to foot' (Lev. 13:12). The Tur even cites a verse directly
matching the example at hand, i.e., the order being from head to foot.
There is indeed a version
that says "any garment" (not "the entire garment"). Thus it is in Ibn Ezra's
commentary, which begins in the same way as Hizkuni, although perhaps one
should not quibble over this detail: "A thread - from which any garment
is sewn. A sandal strap-the leather used to tie on a shoe." Ibn Ezra's
explanation is very terse and could be interpreted the same way as we have read
Hizkuni. However, it could also be read similarly to R. Saadiah's
interpretation, cited by R. Bahye in the quote presented above.
Perhaps he meant to say
that any garment could be made of thread, insofar as thread is a sort of raw
material, not yet processed; whereas a sandal strap is a processed item, only
appropriate for shoes and not for making garments.
Cf. R. B. Epstein,
, on the verse, "from woodchopper to waterdrawer" (Deut.
29:10), which we shall discuss later. Epstein wrote that sometimes Scripture
went from greater to lesser, and sometimes from first to last; and that this
verse, as well as the verse, "a thread or a sandal strap," falls into the
category of first to last, although I do not quite see how he arrives at this.
N. H. Tur Sinai,
Peshuto shel Mikra
, Jerusalem 1967, p. 37. Also see Tur Sinai,
, Vol. Ha-Lashon
, Jerusalem 1954, p.
[the actual Aramaic
phrase, found in an ancient marriage document, Cowley 15, is min hom
which is translated by the editors, Porten and Greenfield, as "from
straw to string" meaning two similar items and not as Tur Sinai explains.
Incidentally, note how close the Aramaic is to our biblical
This question deserves
discussion in its own right. Suffice it to present here Rashi's remark on
30b: "An infant is older than a suckling, as it is written:
'Infant and suckling' (I Sam. 15:3); it is the way of Scripture to do so, that
is, to indicate inclusion of everything, going from the greater to the lesser,
as in "oxen and sheep." [The New JPS rendition omits the words "from" and "to"
that appear in the Hebrew.]
 Aggadat Shir
, Schechter edition, Cambridge 1894, p. 6; the same as Shir
, Buber ed., Lwow 1895, p. 2a.
 Midrash Lekah Tov
, Buber edition (in Sifrei d-Aggadata al Esther
1887), 1.1, p. 45.
First printed in Venice,
1585. Photocopy of the Lwow edition, 1911, p. 25b. After citing R. Moses ibn
Tabun, he also cited Lekah Tov
. (Apparently he did not have the
Schechter edition of Aggadat Shir ha-Shirim
, and therefore did not refer
R. Moses ibn Tibbon,
from the noted family of translators of Jewish texts that was active in Spain
and France in the 11th
centuries. Most of his
original writings have survived in manuscript, including the present one.
An expression based on
27b: "[The claim] 'Why should I lie when there are witnesses' we
do not say [in this specific case]." In other words, when we have testimony
from witnesses, there is no point in lying, meaning in this case that India and
Nubia, or Tiphsah and Gaza, are well-known places, and we can easily verify
whether they are next to each other or far apart.
Note that neither
Aggadat Shir ha-Shirim
nor Lekah Tov
mentioned this point; rather,
they presented a similar explanation, easily understood, without using this
point. Clearly this point is absent from their remarks, insofar as the fact
that the earth is spherical only became known later. However we shall not enter
a discussion of this question here, since certain scholars, as we know, maintain
that the Sages were aware of this fact and have found indications of this in the
writings of the Sages and in the Zohar.
In response to the
question why these two places were specifically cited as examples, a possible
explanation might be that they were very well known. This point is made by
Maharsha in Hiddushei Aggadot be-Sanhedrin
This was noted by Rabbi
S. R. Hirsch in his commentary on Genesis: "In our language, to denote
something all-inclusive we do not specify something small and something large
... and say from this small thing to that large thing ... rather we see the
things as arranged in a circle, take two contiguous points, and say from this
one to the other one, going full circle... Likewise, here: 'a thread or a
sandal strap,' and similarly, in the opinion of the Sages, 'from India to Nubia,
he ruled over all' (Megillah
11a), indicating that his sovereignty
extended around the entire earth, beginning in India and coming all the way
around to Nubia." Rabbi S. R. Hirsch stated this as a fixed rule, whereas I
have said here that sometimes
Scripture uses this approach, since we have
the example of "from foot to head," as shown above, or the example, "from the
cedar in Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of the wall" (I Kings 5:13). From
this we see that Scripture also uses the method of specifying from greater to
lesser, although one might be able to find another explanation for these