Friday, November 07, 2008

the conflict between Avraham and Lot (part 2)

Continuing from yesterday's post, we saw that the story of the conflict between Avra[ha]m and Lot is introduced by or is presented as a direct continuation of the seemingly unrelated episode of Avra[ha]m's banishment from Egypt. In closing that episode the Torah describes Avra[ha]m's expulsion (12:20), and then devotes another pasuk (with minor changes) to describe Avra[ha]m's leaving (13:1), a seeming redundancy. We saw that the conflict between Avra[ha]m and Lot was NOT an inevitable result of their newly found wealth, as the two nation-tribes of Kena'ani and Prizi lived in harmony and shared the same pasture land. So what exactly was boiling beneath the surface that brought Avra[ha]m into conflict with Lot?

Once again, we find the Tiferes Shlomo uses one of the fundememtal ideas of chassidus as a tool to explicate the parsha. As we learned last week, the secular world views reality as a physical space "out there" that we create an approximate map of using words and ideas. The Besh"t flipped this model on its head. Reality is words and ideas, in particular, G-d's words, or G-d's will, without which nothing would exist. The physical world "out there" is just one possible approximate representation of G-d's will as we perceive it in our human body using physical senses. The words or will of G-d, however, transcend what we apprehend with out physical bodies alone. Think of a blind man feeling his way around an elephant and describing it compared with the way a sighted person would describe it -- it's the same elephant, but the two completely ways of apprehending it. Which description is right? The answer is that both are right -- they are just two different ways of looking at the world.

Everything we encounter offers us this choice of how to look at it. Do we look at it as a physical thing that exists for physical use, or do we look at it as existing because of G-d's will and to be used for G-d's will? Looking at the world with the correct vision leads to "ha'ala'as hanitzotzos", elevating the sparks, meaning, recognizing that every element in reality is a spark of G-dliness, not just a set of molecules and atoms. R' Dessler (Michtav m'Eliyahu III:230) quotes the Ba'al haMaor's comment in Perek Kirah that someone who eats cholent on Shabbos is defined as a ma'amin, no small praise! But, asks R' Dessler, did not R' Yisrael Salanter teach that a person can take Shabbos and reduce it to no more than a plate of tzimmis, no more than a pot of food? Is Shabbos the day to recharge your batteries so that you have energy for the other 6 days of work, or do you work 6 days so that you have the food and means to enjoy Shabbos? R' Dessler explains that everything depends on perspective. The pot of cholent can either be a purely physical indulgence, reducing Shabbos to a good meal, or that good meal can itself become part of the spiritual delight of Shabbos - ha'ala'as hanitzotzos in action.

Avra[ha]m and Lot travel down to the immoral depths of Egypt, and each emerges with a different perspective. Egypt expels them (12:20), but that is not the end of the story. "Va'yal Avram m'Mitzrayim..." (13:1) -- Avra[ha]m went up and took up [spirituality] from Egypt, he took the nitzotzos with him, he found G-d even where he appeared absent. Yet Lot did not react the same way. Lot continued on "HaNegba". The words negev means dried out. Lot lost whatever vitality he had for ruchniyus when faced with challenge. These two pesukim are not redundant. One describes the physical expulsion from the Egypt (12:20), one describes the spritual ascent from Egypt by Avra[ha]m, and Lot's dissimilar reaction.

We now can understand why this description serves both as closure for the story of Avra[ha]m's stay in Egypt as well as the backdrop to the conflict between Avra[ha]m and Lot. It was not the physical baggage of Egypt, the flocks and herds, which precipitated their dispute, but rather it was the differing spiritual perspectives that were brought into sharp focus as a result of their journey to Egypt. Avra[ha]m was forced to offer Lot a choice. Rather than remains with his cousin, Lot continued his descent into Sdom, while Avra[ha]m continued in the elevation of the sparks of G-d that he found all around him.

R' Dessler writes (Michtav m'Eliyahu II:212) that while we might intellectually understand this avodah of ha'ala'as nitzotzos, we would be gravely mistaken to think it is practically achievable for any one of us. Temptation exists and tries to pull us away from G-d, and trying to turn desire to a holy endeavor only creates a charade of religion around self-indulgance. But I think there is still value to thinking about unreachable ideal (why else would seforim reveal these concepts to us?). We each face our Mitzrayims. Our emotions may react like Lot, but perhaps a few moments reflection may bring at least intellectual relief, knowing that Divine purpose is behind everything that occurs and exists.


  1. Anonymous1:11 PM

    I love the new Machshava and chassidus heavy blogposts with practical application(stress) very moving thanks for the work.

  2. Anonymous1:29 PM

    Another intresting point- Everyone asks why Avram took the gifts from Pharoh?the answer is "Maasay Avos Siman Labanim" he wanted the jews to leave "Brichush Gadol" so he had to also (Divrie Yoel). Reb Shwab answering the same question By noticing an aspect in human nature he says when somone gives a gift he wants it to be lasting and meaningfull so Avram accepted the gift pretty much as a guarantee for his own life.Meaning once he recives gifts from Paroh will want to keep the reciever alive.