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Torah Commentary
Lech L'cha (October 12, 2013)

Benjamin J. Zeidman, Assistant Rabbi

IN OUR SIDRAH this week we encounter what must have been a difficult separation between relatives. Abraham and his nephew Lot, tending their flocks in the land where the Canaanites and the Perizzites also were dwelling, find that there is just not enough space for the two of them. Lovingly though they may treat one another on the surface, their herdsmen are quarreling and fighting. Abram, seeking peace, suggests each to go his separate way and selflessly allows Lot the right to choose where he wishes to go.

It is in Lot’s choice that we may realize the true issue. Lot chooses the plain of Jordan and pitches his tent near Sodom, the wicked city. Abram remains in the Land of Canaan. Why does Lot choose Jordan? He sees wealth and comfort there, and he does not care about morality of the people that will be his neighbors. There is a midrash, a Rabbinic commentary, that points out that Lot traveled eastward, mikedem. They say that this may stand for mi-kadmono shel olam, “away from the Ancient One.” (Gen R. 41:7) What follows in the Torah? Abram is blessed by God, Promised Land, wealth and offspring. It is after the separation of Abram and Lot that God bestows blessing.

This should be a little troubling to us on the surface. Don’t we learn from Rabban Gamliel, Al tifrosh min hatzibbur, “Do not separate yourself from the community”? (Avot 2:4) So how could it be that a separation is looked upon favorably? Why would separation lead to blessing?

An especially important lesson from our sidrah for us to hear: The community is a place of wholeness and peace, not a place for struggle and strife. We should be concerned with morality rather than opinion; upright, righteous character rather than fighting with others because we are convinced it’s our way or the highway. Separation may in fact lead to blessing when we remove ourselves from the presence of those who behave unethically and are convinced of their self-importance.

When we behave in a holy manner, we dwell in the Land of Canaan with Abram. However, we all know people who have chosen to dwell with Lot: who care nothing for anyone else or anything else, who concern themselves merely with what is easy and for the perceived path toward riches, who are convinced they are right and those who would disagree aren’t worth hearing.

I like to hope that we know better. We know the importance of holy community. We strive for the highest of ethical standards when we make decisions. This provides us with one goal, a perfect world, but not one way of getting there.

When I think about the strengths of a true community, I think not of its size but of its ability to regard a multiplicity of ideas and ideals with respect and integrity. I think of our desire to be together and to dwell together with Abram in holy dialogue with one another, rather than to embrace quarreling and strife. I think of a place where loved ones and friends can unite, a place where a diversity of ideas and ideals make the sum of the community greater than its parts.

Let us ever seek to become like Abram, closer to the Ancient One, and less like Lot. Ken yhi ratzon, May it be so.

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