Parshat Lech Lecha: Family always stays family

This is the natural time to gloat. Lot thought he was being smart

 (photo credit: PIXABAY)
(photo credit: PIXABAY)
This week’s Torah portion, Lech Lecha, focuses on the story of the nation’s forefather, Abraham Avinu. When he was 75 years old, Abraham was commanded to leave his country and his homeland for an unknown destination. He and his wife, Sarah, along with his orphaned nephew, Lot, embarked on the journey. They didn’t have children, but along with the commandment, he also got a Divine promise: “And I will make you into a great nation” (Genesis 12:2). When they arrived in Canaan – none other than the Land of Israel – Abraham was promised something else that we refer to this very day. “To your seed I will give this land” (Ibid, 7).
The parasha goes on to share with us some of the stops in Abraham’s life journey. We will focus on the surprising relationship between Abraham and Lot. Lot, who was adopted as a son by Abraham, did well in business and became a rich man in Canaan. At some point a dispute broke out between Lot’s shepherds and Abraham’s shepherds, who argued over the limited pastures. When Abraham heard of this, he approached Lot and suggested they separate, with each one of them choosing grazing land in Canaan.
Had Lot consulted with us about how to react, we would have recommended that he say, “God forbid, dear uncle! I owe you so much for everything you’ve done for me. I don’t want to separate from you for even one single moment.” But Lot did not consult with us, and he reacted differently. He agreed to Abraham’s suggestion. And still, even after the decision to split from Abraham was made, it would have made sense that Lot would let Abraham choose the better parcel of land, out of respect, leaving the other one for himself.
But that’s not what Lot did. He chose the best area in Canaan, the entire plain of Jordan, compared in the Torah to the Garden of Eden because it was so fertile. And if that wasn’t enough, we must remember that Sodom was located in the Jordan plain. The Torah describes the Sodomites as “very evil and sinful against the Lord” (13:13). Lot chose to go to Sodom, a place that represented the antithesis to Abraham, and that symbolized alienation, miserliness and wickedness.
THE MIDRASH expresses this well when it places the following words in Lot’s mouth: “And Lot said: I want neither Abraham nor his God” (Breishit Raba 41:7).
It’s hard to describe such an incredible display of disloyalty. The Torah doesn’t tell us how Abraham felt about this, but it undoubtedly caused him great pain and disappointment. This is not how Lot should have behaved. Abraham’s adopted son would have been expected to respond differently!
And the story continues. Black clouds gather in the skies over Canaan. A regional war breaks out. The four great kings of the North begin a journey of conquests and attack country after country, tribe after tribe, city after city. When the five kings of the region try to proudly rebel against the kings of the North, they are hit with a decisive military blow. One of the results of this is that Sodom is conquered, and Lot, along with the rest of the residents of Sodom, is taken into captivity.
This is the natural time to gloat. Lot thought he was being smart. He abandoned Abraham, he abandoned Abraham’s ways, and he joined the corrupt people of Sodom. Now he is getting his just punishment and is being taken captive with his Sodomite friends and neighbors.
But Abraham did not gloat. The parasha tells us that a war refugee came to Abraham and told him about what happened: “And Abram heard that his kinsman had been taken captive” (14:14).
This is how Abraham reacted:
As far as Abraham was concerned, he and Lot remained brethren. True, Lot betrayed Abraham and his values, but Abraham remained loyal to his nephew. Abraham immediately set out to battle and chased the conquering kings. In a clever maneuver – despite having far less strength – he managed to surprise the kings and liberate Lot and the other Sodomites who, not surprisingly, returned to their evil ways.
The Torah tells us stories with messages for all generations, especially the stories of our forefathers, whose personas have shaped and continue to shape the Jewish nation. Abraham teaches us here about how to treat a family member: No matter how far he or she strays, no matter how he or she behaves, you do not keep score of who is right and who isn’t. Family remains unified, no matter what. Family loyalty is more important than being judgmental. A brother remains a brother forever.
The writer is rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites.