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Lech Lecha 5775-2014

“Lot Grows Increasingly Estranged from his Uncle Abram”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

In this week’s parasha, parashat Lech Lecha, Abram (he has not yet been renamed Abraham) concludes the journey he has made from Ur Kasdim and Charan and arrives in Canaan, a journey that will impact on the destiny of the Jewish people and the world.

Scripture, in Genesis 12:4, tells us, וַיֵּלֶךְ אַבְרָם כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר אֵלָיו השׁם, וַיֵּלֶךְ אִתּוֹ לוֹט, וְאַבְרָם בֶּן חָמֵשׁ שָׁנִים וְשִׁבְעִים שָׁנָה בְּצֵאתוֹ מֵחָרָן, The first thing that Scripture notes after stating that Abram went as G-d had spoken to him, was that Lot went with Abram, and that Abram was 75 years old when he left Canaan.

According to Genesis 11:28, Lot’s father, Haran, had died. A well-known Midrash, relates that Haran had been “incinerated” in a fiery furnace by King Amraphel because of his lack of respect for the pagan gods. The fact that the Torah emphasizes that Lot went with Abram implies that there was an extremely close relationship between Abram and his orphaned nephew.

The Torah (Genesis 12:5) then proceeds to state, וַיִּקַּח אַבְרָם אֶת שָׂרַי אִשְׁתּוֹ וְאֶת לוֹט בֶּן אָחִיו וְאֶת כָּל רְכוּשָׁם אֲשֶׁר רָכָשׁוּ וְאֶת הַנֶּפֶשׁ אֲשֶׁר עָשׂוּ בְחָרָן, וַיֵּצְאוּ לָלֶכֶת אַרְצָה כְּנַעַן, וַיָּבֹאוּ אַרְצָה כְּנָעַן, Abram took his wife, Sarai, and his nephew, Lot, and all the wealth that they had amassed, and the people that they had acquired in Charan, and they embarked for the land of Canaan, and they came to the land of Canaan. Although Lot had been mentioned previously (in verse 4) as the first to accompany Abram, already by verse 5, Lot followed Abram’s wife, Sarai. Apparently, the distancing had already begun.

Abram starts to make his mark in Canaan by building altars throughout the land, and calling out the name of G-d, in the hope of persuading the local people to adopt his monotheistic beliefs. Abram continues his travels, journeying steadily toward the south, but Lot is no longer mentioned.

In Genesis 12:10 the Torah states that a famine has struck the land of Canaan and Abram is forced to go to Egypt. Although Sarai, Abram’s wife, is mentioned as being with Abram, Lot is not mentioned until Abram and Sarai are expelled from Egypt.

In Genesis 13:1, Scripture records,  וַיַּעַל אַבְרָם מִמִּצְרַיִם הוּא וְאִשְׁתּוֹ וְכָל אֲשֶׁר לוֹ, וְלוֹט עִמּוֹ הַנֶּגְבָּה, Abram went up from Egypt, he and his wife, and all that was his, and Lot with him, to the south. Scripture also notes that Abram had now become a very wealthy man, laden with cattle, silver and gold. In fact, Abram’s possessions are mentioned in the verse even before Lot, indicating a further distancing.

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik points to a further textual distinction underscoring the distancing between Abram and Lot. When the Biblical narrative in Genesis 12:5 introduces Lot, we are told that Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his nephew, and all their possessions, and the souls they had made. The verse actually uses the Hebrew conjunctive word, “Eht,” four times, implying there was a very close relationship and a powerful bond, not only between Abram and Sarai, but also between Abram and Lot, all the possessions and all the souls that accompanied them on the journey. However, in Genesis 13:1, when Abram departs from Egypt, the Hebrew term “im” is used, and they no longer appear as one large cohesive family, whose property was shared, in a common household. It seems, in fact, that Lot is hardly a member of Abram’s family. He may be biologically related to Abram, he may be friendly with Abram, but something happened along the way to create a distance. Rabbi Soloveitchik suggests that Lot’s success in Egypt led to a parting between Lot and Abram’s family.

Scripture, in Genesis 13:5, states: וְגַם לְלוֹט הַהֹלֵךְ אֶת אַבְרָם הָיָה צֹאן וּבָקָר וְאֹהָלִים, Because of Lot’s closeness with Abram, Lot merited to have hoards of flocks, herds and tents. The abundance of their collective possessions was so great that the land could not support them dwelling together.

What was it that changed the close symbiotic relationship that Abram and Lot once had into a relationship that was growing more and more distanced? So distant in fact, that Lot actually finds new compatriots in, of all places, Sodom.

Rabbi Soloveitchik suggests that Abram, Sarai and Lot’s sojourn in Egypt was over an extended period of time, and perhaps lasted several years. During that time, Abram succeeded economically, becoming even wealthier. Lot, as well, benefited from Abram’s economic prowess.

What was the cause of Lot’s estrangement? Apparently Lot was dazzled by the environment, seduced by Egyptian riches, its great technology and materialistic culture. While Abram, the farmer and the shepherd, saw Egypt as a primitive land of pagan culture, Lot saw Egypt as a gold mine of new technology, and advanced industry. Lot could not resist the environmental influences.

“This,” says Rabbi Soloveitchik, “is basically the acid test of a Jew: whether he can resist pressures, environmental pressures, if he could withstand the impact of great material culture which is morally and ethically very primitive. Abram could resist but Lot could not.”

Of course, an even greater estrangement occurs when Lot soon chooses to move toward Sodom, eventually deciding to live among its wicked citizens. In short order, Lot becomes a judge and an enforcer of the Sodomite lifestyle.

The rest is history, a tragic history that has unfortunately been repeated throughout Jewish history by other would-be “Lots.”

May you be blessed.