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I know that this is quibbling over a translation, but I don't have access to the translators themselves, so I'm wonering if anyone knows of a justification.

In Bereishit 14:18, the text reads

וּמַלְכִּי־צֶ֙דֶק֙ מֶ֣לֶךְ שָׁלֵ֔ם הוֹצִ֖יא לֶ֣חֶם וָיָ֑יִן וְה֥וּא כֹהֵ֖ן לְאֵ֥ל עֶלְיֽוֹן

Most translations read "And Malki-tzedek..." (with a few starting with "Then").

However, the Artscroll text echoes the 1582 Douay Rheims edition which reads,

But Melchisedech the king of Salem

(bolding mine)

Is there any explication which would defend understanding the linking vav here to mean "but" as opposed to anything else?

  • 1
    Probably to contrast with Melech Sedom – Heshy Nov 7 at 20:47
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Rav Hirsch translates (actually his grandson translated into English from the original German)

And Melchizedek King of Salem had brought out bread and wine but he was also a priest of the most high God.

Rav Hirsch explains that this is to set him apart from the King of S'dom who came out with demands on Avram. The translation that you give above shows that unlike the King of S'dom Melchizedek acted properly and with graciousness as befitted a priest of Hashem. Rashi points out that he had done this even though his own sons had been killed in the fighting.

bread and wine: This is done for those weary from battle, and he [Malchizedek] demonstrated that he bore no grudge against him [Abram] for slaying his sons (Tan. Lech Lecha 15). And according to the Midrash Aggadah (Gen. Rabbah 43:6), he hinted to him about the meal offerings and the libations, which his [Abraham’s] children would offer up there.

It appears that the translation that you cite puts the but in the beginning of verse 18 in order to emphasize the difference between the two. Indeed, the behaviour of the King of S'dom shows what led to the destruction of the city and its surroundings.

Rav Hirsch explains:

These two verses show a striking contrast. The King of Sodom, who must have felt very humiliated, and still more deeply indebted towards Abraham, not only had allowed him to undertake the pursuit alone with his little band without joining him, but after the victory had been won, comes out to meet him entirely as a King, thinks it is already a sufficient honor for Abraham to be met on equal terms as King to King "in the valley שוה". And still he comes to beg. To ask for favours [sic], to "demand", is what a King of Sodom uderstands, but to refresh the wornoutfamished victors with a piece of bread, with a drink of wine, does not enter the head, forms no part of the code of manners of His Majesty of Sodom! On the other hand Melchizedek, King of Salem, who really had nothing to do at all with the affair, had bread and wine brought out, but then he was also a priest to the Highest God. So that even among the polytheistic nations to conception of an All-highest God, אלוקא דאלהא, a God of gods had not become entirely lost.

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Based on this Haamek Davar who based himself on the Shi'iltos, the story with Malki Tzedek interrupts the story of the king of Sdom.

Passuk 17 was Melech Sdom coming out to Avraham. Passukim 18 through 20 was Malki Tzedek with his donations and blessings. Passuk 21 and on returns to the narrative of the king of Sdom, his offer and Avraham's rejection of it.

As per the Shi'iltos and Haamek Davar, Malki Tzedek's actions was where Avraham learned how he should react to the king of Sdom.

That vav translated as a 'but' is representative of the change of direction of Avraham's train of thought. If not for Malki Tzedek, there would have been a different response from Avraham.

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