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Lech Lecha 5770

By: Rav Yonatan Horovitz

Lot's Choice Rav Yonatan Horovitz We embark this week on a series of parshiot which deal with the Avot. We marvel at their steadfast belief in God in the wake of trials and tribulations. We analyze the events which make up their lives and learn from the various life lessons that these pillars of our faith have to teach us. In this week's parsha, however, another character appears, Avraham's nephew Lot, and it is into his personality that we shall delve in the coming lines. In a fascinating survey, Rav Mordechai Elon (Techelet Mordechai Lech Lecha) discusses the role of Avraham as an educator. After all, Avraham saw it as his personal mission to spread and teach the concept of monotheism. One of the points on which Rav Elon draws in order to prove Avraham's dedication to the task, is the fact that in next week's parsha, Avraham goes to war in order to rescue Lot. This he does, putting himself and his men in danger, despite the fact that Lot had opted out of the Abrahamic family and chosen to live elsewhere. Rav Elon claims that this demonstrates the extent to which Avraham will go to influence even those who have elected to ignore his teachings. However, an examination of the episode in which Lot moves away from Avraham shows that it was in fact Avraham who suggests to Lot that they part ways. Avraham's concern stemmed from an argument that evolved between the shepherds of the two parties. It is true that many of the mefarshim explain that the fault lay with Lot's shepherds. Yet, if we follow Rav Elon's analogy, Avraham's suggestion seems to be the equivalent of a teacher throwing a student out of class because he cannot deal with his mischievous behavior! Let us take a closer look at these events. Avraham turns to Lot and says: "Let there be no strife between you and me, between my herdsman and yours, for we are kinsmen. Is not the whole land before you? Let us separate - if you go left, I will go right and if you go right, I will go left" (Bereishit 13:8-9). What is Avraham offering Lot? If we look at Lot's decision to settle in the Jordan valley, it would seem that Avraham is suggesting that one of them moves to Jordan while the other remains in Eretz Yisrael. This must be incorrect for had Lot chosen to remain in Eretz Yisrael, would Avraham have left the Promised Land and moved to the other side of the Jordan river? Obviously not. Rather, the correct way to understand these pesukim is that "yemin" and "smol" in this case do not mean right and left but, as Seforno and other commentaries point out, north and south. Avraham is telling Lot that one of them should move to the Galil, the north of the land, while the other inhabits the Negev, the south. Lot opts for neither the south nor the north but decides to take up residence in Sdom, a place described by the Torah as being inhabited by people who were "wicked sinners against Hashem" (Bereishit 13:13). Rashi, quoting a midrash on the phrase "Vayisa Lot mikedem, Lot traveled eastward" explains that "mikedem" can also refer to the fact that Lot moved away from "kadmono shel olam", He who preceded the world, God Himself. Lot concludes that he cannot continue to exist neither with Avraham nor with "his" God. Based on this understanding of the episode we now see that it was in fact Lot's choice to move away from Avraham. He elects to move away from Avraham both physically and theologically. Indeed, from the fact that he uses ideological concerns to decide to move to the city of Sdom, we can see that had he taken one of two options offered by Avraham he would still have been connected to Avraham and "his" God. In other words, Lot felt that had he moved to the north or south of Eretz Yisrael, he would have remained under the influence of Avraham and been affected by his religious teachings. Thus, Avraham cannot be blamed for driving Lot away; he gave him several options but Lot chose to ignore them all and move to a different area, distant from Avraham. But before we judge Lot too harshly, let us recall that twice he is saved from certain doom. The first is found in this week's parsha when Avraham rescues him from captivity at the hands of the four kings. The second is in next week's parsha when the angels are sent by Hashem to take Lot and his family out of Sdom before the entire city is destroyed. Why does Lot merit two miraculous salvations as these? The simple answer is that he was saved not in his own merit but due to that of his uncle Avraham. The Torah tells us this explicitly: "Thus it was, when God destroyed the cities of the Plain (Sdom etc.) and annihilated the cities where Lot dwelt, God was mindful of Avraham and removed Lot from the midst of the upheaval" (Berieshit 19:29). But if we look at the way in which the Torah presents the story of Lot's meeting with the angels, one may reach a different conclusion. Lot brings them into his house, tends to their needs and serves them a meal in the same manner as his uncle Avraham does with his guests. In fact, the juxtaposition of the two stories leaves us with no choice but to assume that Lot is following the procedures taught to him by Avraham and therefore treats his guests with a similar concern and attention to detail. A passage in the Pirkei DeRabbi Eliezer (a form of midrash) praises Lot for keeping to these ideals which are so very different from the values held dear in the society in which he lives. Although, he has been living in Sdom for many years and been exposed to some of the most anti-social behavior humanity has known, he still remembers how to treat his guests; he is still a member of Avraham's family. But not everything does Lot recall from his time spent with Avraham. When the people of Sdom swarm to his house and demand to be given the two guests for their own use, Lot protects his house guests at all costs. In their stead he offers the angry crowd his two daughters thereby hoping that no harm will be done to his beloved visitors. Here we see the affect of the years away from the teachings of Avraham. As the Midrasha Tanchuma puts it, normally a man would give his life in order to protect his daughters from being defiled. In contrast, we find that Lot showed greater concern for his guests than his own family. Such a warped sense of values he did not learn from Avraham. It is clear that over the years he has spent in Sdom, although he remembers the notion of hospitality, he has lost all sense of priorities in life; he has stooped to the level of the residents of Sdom. The above quoted Midrash Tanchuma continues by saying that Hashem punished Lot for this attitude towards his daughters. As we know, the story ends with these two girls giving birth to children who were conceived from their father Lot. This is a form of midda kenegged midda. Lot has become a source of ridicule for future generations as his only descendants stem from an incestuous relationship with the two very daughters that he was so happy to give away. These two children were the fathers of the nations Amon and Moav about whom the Torah states that we are not to accept converts from their ranks. Amongst the reasons given for this prohibition is the fact that they did not offer Am Yisrael bread and water on their journey from Egypt. We are now in a position to understand this statement in a different light. As we have shown above, Lot opted to depart from Avraham and his religious beliefs. Lot chose a different path in life; he did not want to be part of the great nation to be fathered by Avraham. His one redeeming quality was his commitment to hospitality; he was still happy to open his home to complete strangers and to tend to their needs. For this reason, the route for Lot to return to the Jewish nation was left open. However, once his descendants, the nations of Amon and Moav demonstrated that they had forgone this attribute too, they are destined to remain outside the ranks of the Jewish people forever. As the Torah states, they did not offer bread and water to Am Yisrael, they did not retain that concern for strangers, that basic social trait of hospitality. Therefore, the door was closed to them and they can never become part of the Jewish nation whose beginnings were founded on the principles of loving kindness and chessed. Shabbat shalom, Rav Yonatan


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