This D’var Torah is in Z’chus L’Ilui Nishmas my sister Kayla Rus Bas Bunim Tuvia A”H & my grandfather Dovid Tzvi Ben Yosef Yochanan A”H & in Z’chus L’Refuah Shileimah for:
-My father Bunim Tuvia Ben Channa Freidel
-My grandmother Channah Freidel Bas Sarah
-My great aunt Rivkah Bas Etta
-Miriam Liba Bas Devora
-Aviva Malka Bas Leah
-And all of the Cholei Yisrael
-It should also be a Z’chus for an Aliyah of the holy Neshamah of Dovid Avraham Ben Chiya Kehas—R’ Dovid Winiarz ZT”L as well as the Neshamos of those whose lives were taken in terror attacks (Hashem Yikom Damam), and a Z’chus for success for Tzaha”l as well as the rest of Am Yisrael, in Eretz Yisrael and in the Galus.
לֶךְ לְךָ ~ Lech Lecha
“Don’t Let Go”
Although Avraham Avinu (then, Avram) had graciously cared for his orphan nephew Lot and taken him under his wing, Avraham and Lot ultimately part ways when their wealth and livestock got between them [Bereishis 13:5-13]. Now, although from the text of the narrative, it sounds like they were engaged in some form of monetary dispute over the grazing land, which apparently did not have enough room for both of their livestock [13:6], Chazzal say that the subject of contention was not as much a matter of financial competition between Avraham and Lot per se, or even between their shepherds. There was a more of a legal, and really, a moral issue underlying the dispute.
Rashi [to 13:7, citing the Bereishis Rabbah 41:5], famously points out that the shepherds of Avraham and Lot were disputing whether or not the land of the Canaanites (which Hashem promised to Avraham’s heirs) belonged to Avraham or not; Lot’s shepherds argued that it did belong to him and allowed their sheep to graze in the land, while Avraham’s argued that it was not (hence, “And the Cana’ani and the Perizi were then [still] dwelling in the land…” [13:7]) and thus, it was not appropriate or even legal to let their sheep graze in the land. Accordingly, Avraham insists that he and Lot separate and allows Lot to decide where he wants to go (indeed, it appears that Avraham himself maintained that grazing in the Canaanite land at that time was inappropriate).
As is known, Lot chooses to live in the luscious and fertile, yet spiritually debased Sodom, and apparently never completely returns from that spiritual decline. The Midrash, as Rashi points out [to 13:11; Bereishis Rabbah 41:7], goes as far as to say that Lot abandoned Avraham’s spiritual influence entirely, essentially saying “I neither want Avram nor his G-d.”
The question is why the Midrash needs to be so harsh and go so far as to see the worst in Lot and his intentions. Correct, Avraham and Lot had to physically separate and expand their horizons a little bit, but that alone should not mean that Lot became a greedy atheist. Yes, Lot chose to go to Sodom, home of the wicked, but the Torah itself demonstrates that Lot did not let the Sodomite influence completely obstruct his sense of morality. While in Sodom, Lot continues to follow the example of Avraham by hosting, feeding, and sheltering stranded guests [Bereishis 19]. So, why is Lot, all around, portrayed in a negative light? And in the same vein, why does the Midrash need to automatically assume that Lot’s shepherds and Avraham’s shepherds were having a debate on whether or not Lot’s shepherds were stealing? In truth, that the land could not spatially handle both Avraham and Lot’s combined livestock would have been enough of a reason for them separate so that each of them could have more room. Why is Lot judged as having the seemingly most ignoble intentions?
Another troubling issue, regardless of one’s evaluation of Lot, is Avraham’s role in this story. Even if Lot had materialistic leanings, and even if Avraham and Lot had too much livestock for the land to handle them both, and even if Lot, at the end of the day, chose Sodom, why did Avraham ultimately send Lot away, or, why did Avraham just let Lot go? If Avraham’s spiritual mission was legitimate, and if Lot’s spiritual essence was important to Avraham at all, why would Avraham even give Lot the option to walk away? Avraham is praised by Chazzal as being a master of what we refer to today as Kiruv (lit., brining close), bringing people under the Kanfei HaShechinah, the wings or canopy of the Divine Presence—bringing them closer to religion, spiritual growth, and service of G-d. Rashi [to 12:5; Bereishis Rabbah 39:14, 84:4, Sanhedrin 99B] tells us that Avraham influenced and “converted” many individuals in Charan who would accompany him on his mission—the same mission that he apparently allowed Lot to walk away from. Just because Lot is perhaps imperfect, Avraham should give up on his own nephew? Why? Moreover, allowing Lot to go to Sodom of all places is like allowing him to walk off a cliff. The master of Kiruv should be running after Lot to prevent him, by all means, from walking out on G-d. But Avraham not only lets Lot go, but he volunteers the separation and gives Lot the opportunity to go wherever he wants. Why would Avraham do that?
However one wants to interpret Lot’s decision to live in Sodom, whether for financial convenience or even out of the most evil lust for immorality, evidently, the implication from the Torah, as Chazzal understand, is that Lot had some problem coping with the challenges of materialism amidst the unfolding Abrahamic mission of spirituality and Avodas Hashem. That is not only why he ultimately chooses Sodom, but even while he is there and Sodom is about to be destroyed, he lingers [19:16], apparently, because he needed to amass his wealth [See Rashi]. Accordingly, as far as the Midrash concerned, it wasn’t merely that the land could not spatially handle all of the combined livestock of Avraham and Lot, but that Lot and Avraham were essentially disputing whether or not Lot was stealing from others. But, again, why suggest that this particular dispute was the problem? The land apparently could not handle both Avraham and Lot’s livestock. Is that not the reason why they split up? That’s the reason that the text mentions explicitly.
However, it could be though that Chazzal understood that that reason alone would not have caused their parting. Even if the livestock was great, perhaps either Avraham or Lot, or even both of them, could have sent some of their shepherds and flocks further away to graze. Avraham had servants who could’ve supervised and managed the periodic commute back and forth. The point is that there are ample ways to deal with such logistical issues. But Avraham and Lot’s issue, as Chazzal understood it, was not merely logistical. It was far greater. For if Lot’s relationship with Avraham was important enough, if the mission of getting closer to spirituality and service of G-d was important enough, they could have found a clean way to deal with the logistical issue to manage the sheep. It didn’t have to be the issue and should not have been the issue. That it became an issue was the issue that Avraham had.
But, at the end of the day, is this all really Lot’s fault? Lot never said, “That’s it, Avram. My livestock need more pasture, so I’m leaving,” but it was Avraham who seemingly made “livestock” the issue here! So, why do Chazzal frame Lot as the culprit here when it was Avraham who put Lot on the spot and insisted that they needed to split up? And again, even if Lot ultimately chose Sodom showing some materialistic leaning, why would Avraham, in the first place, insist something so potentially destructive for Lot’s spiritual future? Why would Avraham offer Lot such a dangerous opportunity?
It could be that really, Avraham did not intrinsically see the logistical issue pertaining to the livestock as the main problem. Indeed, while the Torah does seemingly present it as the main subject of dispute—which perhaps, it was, it seems to be presented that way particularly in connection to Lot. “V’Gam L’Lot HaHoleich Es Avram Hayah Tzon U’Vakar V’Ohalim”-“And also to Lot who went with Avram, there was sheep, and cattle and tents” [13:5]. In other words, perhaps, not because both Avraham and Lot had a ton of livestock together, but specifically because of Lot’s excess of livestock, there were issues—because to Lot, the logistical issue was of the essence. That’s why, for financial and logistical convenience, Lot would ultimately choose the spacious and agriculturally viable land of Sodom. There is nothing intrinsically despicable about that. Indeed, there was a logistical issue, but again, it should not have been the main issue. They should have sought out some alternative.
Now, we don’t know what the conversation between Avraham and Lot looked or sounded like in person, and we do not know what other conversations they might have had on the issue. It could be that Avraham and Lot tried to work out the livestock problem and they failed. It could be that Avraham and Lot tried to continue living together, and it just didn’t work. It could be that Avraham realized immediately that it wasn’t going to work. It could be, Avraham tried to convince Lot to find some alternative. Either way, in the end, Avraham led a conversation in which he would allow Lot to decide what to do; remain in Cana’an or move westward to Sodom. The only catch was Avraham would stay with him. Why did Avraham make suggest this arrangement? Why did he set up Lot like this? It’s difficult to understand why Avraham would just let Lot sink into the abyss when maybe, he should’ve held onto him longer. Lot seems to have needed that more than anything else.
It could be that despite everything, maybe Avraham, until the very point that he and Lot split up, was doing his utmost to afford Lot the benefit of the doubt. It could be that he felt that perhaps Lot would come to his senses. It could be that really, Avraham merely sought to gage Lot’s response to the offer to see, in truth, what really was important to him. Indeed, it sounds much like Shlomo HaMelech’s test, generations later, to determine the true mother of the coveted infant [Melachim Aleph 3:16-28], that just as Shlomo never intended to slice the baby in half but merely wanted to see if either of the quarreling women would protest and demonstrate their true concern about the baby’s wellbeing, Avraham too was looking to see if Lot was truly content with leaving him if it would mean solving the logistical, materialistic issue or if he would protest, demonstrating an even greater appreciation for his spirituality—his relationship with both Avraham and G-d. Lot could’ve either selected to stay in Cana’an—the apparent destiny of the Abrahamic mission—or he could have even argued with Avraham that he needed to stay with him no matter what, and that they should’ve sought some alternative way to deal with the livestock. It could be that in either of these circumstances, Avraham would have actually been overjoyed to stay connected with Lot. However, Lot chose to accept the offer and milked it for what it was worth by moving to Sodom, a decision that confirmed Avraham’s suspicion that, as far as Lot was concerned, the materialistic matter manifest in the livestock problem was more of a priority. Even if he was not a completely hedonistic atheist, he did not make G-d his main priority.
So, why didn’t Avraham chase after Lot? Why, after everything, did Avraham just let him go? Why does he allow Lot to make that terrible mistake?
To draw an analogy, the Gemara in Brachos [36B] grapples with the question concerning what kind of shell or skin on a fruit or vegetable is Halachically considered a “Shomer L’Pri,” literally, a guard for the produce (so that if a given shell is a Shomer L’Pri, one would treat the shell with the same rules that apply to the produce itself). The Gemara offers various possible criteria, but concludes that the defining factor of a Shomer L’Pri is that it provides a protection to the point that if it would be taken off, the produce would die.
And here is where the greater goal of Kiruv sometimes meets an unfortunate reality. It could be that at that moment—when Lot had unequivocally labeled his priorities, Avraham realized that although he could’ve held onto Lot’s hand for a little while longer and acted as a crutch or a safety net for his nephew, he would remain only that—a “Shomer L’Pri”—so that once Avraham was no longer around, Lot’s spiritual existence, like the produce, would die. The only option would be for Lot to fend for himself, because at the end of the day, only Lot’s own actions and decisions would determine his true fate. And indeed, Lot’s actions and decisions revealed that his ambitions were clear. Even if Lot had an ounce of appreciation for spirituality and devotion to G-d, his personal, counter leaning toward materialism was strong, and when given the choice, he would allow that leaning to take precedence.
In Avraham’s presence and under Avraham’s influence, Lot would be “okay,” but if Avraham was merely serving as a “Shomer L’Pri” and would inevitably be removed, then as long as Lot’s decision was made, nothing Avraham would do could eternally keep Lot on a spiritual leash, and Lot’s spirituality would just die inevitably on its own. That means that if Lot was going to ultimately succeed in spirituality, it could not merely be because Avraham was his shell. Lot would have to decide to do that on his own. The reality of being close to G-d is a personal choice; it can only come from within.
Indeed, all of the above is demonstrated by the fact that even after parting ways, when Lot is captured along with Sodom amidst the war and is ultimately saved by Avraham, Lot would not return to Avraham. He does not turn back on his decision to live in Sodom. And when Sodom was about to be destroyed and Lot had to leave from his choicest of lands, again, he would refuse to return to Avraham. When it comes down to, Avraham did give Lot the option, but if he did not, at some point, Lot would have made the choice on his own. Indeed, Avraham did not let Lot go, but Lot let himself go.
In the end, we are not bound by anyone else’s influences, nor can we bind anyone else to our influences. It could be that we, or people we know, are currently surrounded by the right influences; however, each person’s standing on the path of spirituality will ultimately be his own choice. It is no one else’s decision, rather each of us individually, must inevitably make that choice whether or not we will hold on or let go.
May we all be Zocheh to not only be surrounded by the right influences and to serve as positive influences ourselves, but we should make the right decisions in our lives, to devote ourselves to the mission of Avraham, to live lives of spirituality and Avodas Hashem, to never let go of Hashem, and as a result, Hashem should never let go of us, but rather escort us toward our destiny in the times of the Geulah and the coming of Moshiach, Bimheirah Biyomeinu! Have a Great Shabbos!
-Josh, Yehoshua Shmuel Eisenberg 🙂