SALT - Tuesday, 7 Cheshvan 5777 - November 8, 2016

  • Rav David Silverberg

            We read in Parashat Lekh-Lekha of the tensions that arose between Avraham and his nephew, Lot, who had joined him when he relocated in Canaan.  Avraham decided that he and Lot needed to separate, and so he turned to Lot and offered him whichever region in Canaan he wished.  Lot chose to settle in the region of Sedom, in the Jordan River Valley, while Avraham remained in the mountainous central region of Canaan.

            Commenting on Avraham’s formulation of his offer (“If [you choose] the left, then I’ll go to the right” – 13:9), Rashi explains that Avraham here did not merely offer his nephew the choice of where to live, but also made him a guarantee: “Wherever you reside, I will not distance myself from you, and I will be there for you for protection and assistance.”  This comment is likely based on the next chapter, which tells of the battle Avraham waged against four large armies to rescue the city of Sedom, whose population had been taken captive.  Rashi understood that Avraham set out to rescue Lot in fulfillment of the pledge he had made at the time they separated to always be prepared to come to Lot’s assistance when necessary.

            Avraham’s pledge becomes remarkable when we consider the circumstances of their separation.  The feud that erupted between Avraham’s shepherds and Lot’s shepherds must have been particularly tense if Avraham decided the only solution was to move away from one another.  Moreover, Rashi (13:7) explains that the feud revolved around the practice of Lot’s shepherds to allow their herds to graze in private property.  It appears that Lot did not enforce appropriate ethical standards for his herdsmen, thus prompting Avraham to initiate the split.  And, Rashi (13:10) cites the Midrash’s comment attributing Lot’s decision to settle in Sedom to his being attracted to their morally decadent culture.  Despite the fact that Lot had, evidently, sunken to moral and ethical depths, to the point where Avraham found no alternative to separation, Avraham would not abandon him.  He was committed to offering any form of assistance that was needed, at any time.

            Another aspect of this story is noted by Rav Yosef Salant, in his Be’er Yosef, where he raises the question of why Avraham risked his life by waging a battle against four large empires.  He answers, quite simply, that Avraham went to such lengths in order to avoid a chilul Hashem – bringing disgrace upon His faith.  Once Avraham pledged to Lot, “I will not distance myself from you, and I will be there for you for protection and assistance,” he could not ignore Lot’s plight after falling captive with the rest of Sedom.  If Avraham had failed to make an effort to rescue his nephew, he would have been looked upon as a fraud, as having deceived Lot into separating from him by making a commitment he never planned on keeping.  Avraham’s decision thus shows us the extent to which we must go to avoid the perception of dishonesty, and to fulfill every commitment we make to others regardless of the sacrifice or difficulty entailed, so we do not even give the appearance of being deceitful.