Thursday, November 06, 2008

the conflict between Avraham and Lot (part 1)

This week I wanted to take a closer look at the rift between Avrah[ha]m and Lot and the lessons we can draw from it. At the beginning of chapter 13, which is the chapter which tells us of Avra[ha]m's dispute with Lot and Lot's departure, the Torah tells us, "VaYa'al Avram m'Mitzrayim hu v'ishto 'chol asher lo v'Lot imo haNegba", Avra[ha]m went up out of Mitzrayim with his wife and all his belongings and Lot with him to the Negev. We can debate just how much significance to place on chapter divisions another time, but I don't think we can overlook the fact the departure from Egypt is presented not in closure to the previous chapter which discussed the conflict with Pharoah, but as a part of the opening to a new chapter, a prelude to the episode with Lot. In fact, looking at the Chumash, it is noteworthy that no new parsha marks a division between the episodes of Mitzrayim and Lot -- one flows right onto the other, with no break. This interweaving of the two stories is the key to unlocking their deeper significance, but before we get there, we need to look more closely at the text.

1) If we look back just one pasuk to end of chapter 12 we read that, "...VaYishalchu oso v'es ishto v'es kol asher lo", Avra[ha]m was evicted from Mitzrayim by Pharoah and sent on his way with his wife and all his belongings. The statement in 13:1 that Avra[ha]m went up out of Egypt with his wife and belongings seems identical to this pasuk. Why the repitition?

Other more subtle difficulties and observations:

2) Notice that the closing pasuk of chapter 12 mentions Avra[ha]m, his wife, and his possessions, but omits any mention of Lot, who only appears in the first pasuk of chapter 13.

3) Notice as well that the ending of chapter 12 does not mention a destination while the first pasuk of chapter 13 does.

4) The first pasuk of chapter 13 tells us of travels to the Negev, but interestingly, instead of saying, "VaYa'al Avram haNegba hu v'ishto...v'Lot imo", which would make clear that it was Avra[ha]m directing the journey and everyone else tagging along, the pasuk places the destination at the end of the clause next to Lot, "...v'Lot imo haNegba", as if the place of Negev is associated specifically with Lot's travels and not with Avraham's journey.

Why was there a dispute between Lot and Avra[ha]m? At first glance, the cause of strife seems obvious. Here we have two large herds of sheep grazing in the same area. Given that the amount of pasture land is limited, it would be natural for disputes to arise as to who found which pasture first and whose sheep get to graze where. If this was the cause of the breakup, it is also clear why conflict broke out only at this point and not earlier in Avra[ha]m's travels with Lot. It was only after Pharoah bestowed wealth and flocks of sheep and herds of cattle on Avra[ha]m that grazing land for such large flocks became an issue. A simple explanation, and a satisfying explanation, but for five little words...

"...v'haKena'ani v'haPrizi az ba'aretz" -- There was a dispute... and the Kana'ani and Prizi nations were then in the land.

What relevance could the tribes which dwelled in the land have to this private family conflict over grazing land between Lot and his cousin Avra[ha]m? Why should the text of the pasuk join these two issues? Beyond the textual question (which perhaps motivated Rashi to offer a different interpretation to the dispute than the simple one suggested above), a practical question begs asking: if two entire nation-tribes could peacefully find room to pasture in the same area, need there have been a conflict between the shepards of Lot and the shepards of Avra[ha]m over grazing area? Was there really such a shortage of land as to make a fight inevitable? (Kli Yakar)

It seems safe to conclude that a land dispute may have served as the superficial trigger, but without other issues brewing beneath the surface, the breakoff between Avra[ha]m and Lot might not have occurred. To discover what those other issues were we need to return to Avra[ha]m's departure from Egypt and the questions we raised earler. Stay tuned... bl"n will finish this up later.


  1. Anonymous6:43 PM

    I just heard a great Thought on this Parsha. It seems that as long as Lot is around Avram does not get spoken to by Hashem. Avram continues on his merry way, but the second a fight starts he tells Lot I think we can should separate. The lesson strife is worse then god not speaking to you.

  2. Anonymous3:07 AM

    I found out Rav Shach says it in his Sefer Rosh Emunah he adds the Nekudah that he kept Lot with him because of "GODOL HACNASASS ORCHIM MIKABOLAS PNEI HASCHINA"