On parchment it looks like a perfect match. The older couple, Avram and Sarai have everything except a child. Their nephew Lot is parentless. Lot’s father passed away years ago, and his mother isn’t in the picture. A perfect match-the childless couple and the orphaned child.
The story starts out well. Avram leaves his father in Haran and takes not only his wife and entourage with him, he also brings his nephew Lot to Canaan. But as their success grows so does the tension. Following a fight between Avram and Lot’s shepherds, Avram tells his nephew “let’s not fight...let’s separate, if you go north I will go south, and if you venture south, I will head south.” What a terrible decision!
The Torah says that there was not enough land for both Avram and Lot’s sheep. Various midrashim add depth: Lot wanted to get away from his annoyingly pious uncle, and Avram was more than happy to separate. What a terrible decision! Whether it was the lack of land or the piety or both, the family is torn apart, Avram and Sarai are again childless, and Lot all alone unprotected in this foreign land.
Imagine if Avram had said: There isn’t enough land, but we are family we need to work it out. We are going to figure out a way live together in this blessed land. Heaven forbid that we split up, that you go one way, and I go another.
Imagine if Lot remained together with Avram. Imagine if his descendants, the nations of Amon and Moav, were members of our people rather than separate nations, nations that all too often went to war with Avram’s descendants. Sometimes it is undoubtedly necessary to split up, but barriers, borders, separations come with terrible ramifications.
Rabbi Asher Lopatin is the founding rabbi of Kehillat Etz Chayim, a Modern Orthodox synagogue in Detroit, and the founding director of the Detroit National Center for Civil Discourse.
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