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Shabbat Parashat Vayeira 5773

Parashat Hashavua: A Citizens Rights and Obligations

Harav Yosef Carmel

Several times in the past we have discussed the treaty made between Avraham and Avimelech and its significance for the ages. This week we will look at another element of the treaty.

The Torah tells us that Avraham lived in the Land of the Plishtim for many years (Bereishit 21:34). Avimelech and his general Pichol were the ones who initiated the deal, which stemmed in no small part from their recognition of Avraham’s unique spiritual role. Their statement, “Hashem is with you in all that you do” (ibid. 22) is an admission that Hashem oversees and intervenes in the lives of His creations.

Before Avraham agreed to enter in an agreement with Avimelech, he demanded that Avimelech respond to the fact that his servants stole Avraham’s wells (ibid. 25). One cannot enter into an agreement with a government that does not respect the ownership rights of its constituency.

There is much to learn from Avimelech’s answer: “I did not know who did this matter, and you did not tell me, and I did not even hear of it before today.” Several commentators struggle with Avimelech’s apparently rambling answer, looking for significance to its various sections. Afterward, the Torah adds an important point. Avraham took various types of animals and gave them to Avimelech as part of their treaty. This needs explanation: if Avimelech initiated the rapprochement and it is a two-way treaty, then why is it specifically Avraham who offered payment to Avimelech?  The following explanation teaches a lot about what was going on.

There are several tasks for a governmental body. The government must provide security both from outside powers and from the abuse of some in society by their counterparts. In order to provide law and order, several steps need to be taken, and it is these that Avimelech addressed. There need to be forces that gather information and warn the authorities of dangers and crimes. Regarding this, Avimelech said: “I did not know who did this matter,” i.e., my information gatherers did not report any crime, so I could not act. Another service that a government should provide is to be responsive to the complaints of its citizens. To this he claimed: “… and you did not tell me.” Another element is that upon becoming aware of a problem quick action should be taken. To this Avimelech replied: “and I did not even hear of it before today.”

The above is from the perspective of the government. What must the citizen do to keep his side of the deal? The most basic obligation is to pay taxes. Paying taxes represents recognition of the dominion of the relevant powers (see Rambam, Gezeilot 5) and doing one’s parts in providing the government with the wherewithal to see to its citizens’ welfare. After Avraham confirmed Avimelech’s recognition of Hashem and his willingness to run a just society, Avraham agreed to be a loyal citizen of the kingdom. His presentation of animals was not only a first payment but a ceremonious recognition of his need to pay taxes.

May the State of Israel succeed in ensuring security from enemies from outside and allow its taxpayers to enjoy pleasant lives without being abused or robbed by unlawful types.        

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