Influencing, Indulging and Inculcating

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Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein

           Avraham Avinu returned to Canaan from Mitzrayim with Sarai and Lot. Both Avraham Avinu and Lot had been gifted much wealth and livestock, and both had shepherds for their flocks. Soon the two groups of shepherds began arguing, so much so that Avraham Avinu approached Lot and suggested they separate. Lot could choose whether to go right or left, and Avraham Avinu would go in the other direction. So Lot looked and saw the fertile plain of the Jordan, so well watered that it resembled the Garden and Egypt, going toward Zoar. This was the area he chose for himself as he parted from his uncle Avraham Avinu. Lot pitched his tents as far as the city of Sodom, a city infamous for its wickedness and sinfulness. Was Avraham Avinu’s separating himself from Lot praiseworthy or blameworthy?

           In order to understand the personalities of Avraham Avinu and Lot, and the actions of Avraham Avinu, one must examine the cause of the arguments between the shepherds, an argument that reflects the personalities of their masters. The land here was currently inhabited by the Canaanites and the Prizzites.. As such, Avraham Avinu was careful to muzzle his sheep so they could not pasture on land that did not belong to them. Lot’s shepherds, on the other hand, knew that God had promised this land to Avraham Avinu, and, Avraham Avinu having no son of his own at this time, Lot would inherit the land. Since the land would eventually belong to Lot through Avraham Avinu, the shepherds felt entitled to use it now. Avraham Avinu, on the other hand, understood that the land still belonged to the other people, and pasturing on the land in the present constituted theft. To see where Lot’s mind and heart were really at, Avraham Avinu presented Lot with the choice, a test, explains Rav Svei z”l in Ruach Eliyahu. Lot could have insisted on staying with his uncle and spiritual mentor, but he chose to separate from him for the path to perceived wealth, even at the cost of being surrounded by the evil of Sodom. Then Avraham Avinu understood that Lot was motivated more by the pursuit of wealth than by anything spiritual, and was afraid that possibly he himself, or, more likely, his converts, would be influenced by Lot’s preferences. After all, Lot seemed to be rejecting both Avraham Avinu and Avraham Avinu’s God. If Avraham Avinu or his God would get in the way of his materialistic pursuits, continues Rabbi Svei, z”l Lot had no need of either of them.

           Under these circumstances, Avraham Avinu understood that he could no longer be a positive influence on Lot, for Lot was no longer receptive to Avraham Avinu’s influence, writes Letiticha Elyon.

           Nevertheless, how can we justify Avraham Avinu’s distancing himself from Lot? After all, Avraham Avinu was constantly involved in kiruv/bringing others closer to Hashem. Yet he would give up on his own flesh and blood? In fact Rabbi Ezrachi in Birkat Mordechai  quotes chazal,  that although Hashem did not appear to Avraham Avinu the entire time that Lot was with him, He appeared to Avraham Avinu immediately after Lot left to chastise him specifically for abandoning Lot.

           However, there is a contrasting view offered by Rabbi Yosef Salant, z”l the Be’er Yosef. The Be’er Yosef writes that Avraham Avinu had in fact taken Lot with him at great self sacrifice. When Hashem commanded Avraham Avinu, “Lech lecha meartzecha… umebeis avicha/Go from your land… and from the house of your father,” Avraham Avinu should have divested himself of all family ties. When Lot chose to join Avraham Avinu on his journey, Avraham Avinu let him.  Avraham Avinu was willing to have no discourse with Hashem during all this time. But now Lot was showing his true colors, and Avraham Avinu was merely implementing the full import of the original command. However, Rabbi Sternberg questions whether it was necessary for Avraham Avinu to cut himself off from Lot completely while distancing Lot from Avraham Avinu’s shepherds and community. The standard protocol is to push away with one hand while still pulling the wayward one closer with the other hand, all within balance, adds Rabbi Ochion, in Ohr Doniel.

           It sounds as if Lot is a completely evil person. Not so, says Rabbi Svei z”l. When the angels came, Lot put himself in danger to bring them into his home. Further, when Sodom and Amorrah were being destroyed, Lot prayed that Zoar would be spared. Hashem listened to Lot because he also had the merit of not revealing to Pharaoh that Avraham Avinu and Sarai were husband and wife. Lot did feel connected to Avraham Avinu in his inner core. But he was also lowly externally, allowing the incest to take place between himself and his daughters. Nevertheless, it was from this incestuous yet mystical relationship that Moab was born from whom would descend David Hamelech and the Moshiach. And perhaps Lot knew, on some gut level, that he was destined to be the progenitor of Moshiach.

           Taking this into account, Lot could have had an additional motivation, continues Rabbi Svei z”l. Perhaps Lot wanted to expand on the kiruvwork of Avraham Avinu, his mentor. He thought he was on a high enough spiritual level that he would withstand the lure of Sodom, but the lure of wealth bribed him and blinded his eyes. Obviously, Lot was wrong. So, writes Rabbi Svei z”l, Hashem sent Lot a wake- up call. The war between the four kings and the five kings broke out, Lot lost all his wealth, and Lot himself was captured. He should have recognized the ephemeral nature of his wealth and rejoined Avraham Avinu after Avraham Avinu came to the rescue. Instead, Lot returned to Sodom, rationalizing that Hashem was testing his resolve to continue the kiruv work with the people of Sodom. In life, it is always easy to rationalize what we want by re framing it in more acceptable and altruistic forms as our intrinsic motivation. We deny that our real motivation for our choice is personal desire over God’s will. Do we buy a more affordable home in a non - Jewish neighborhood, for example, by rationalizing that the money we saved can be used for charitable purposes, or that the larger home can be used for so many chesed projects and meetings? We deny the probable negative influence this environment may have on ourselves and on our family because we want the larger, more beautiful house.

           But the pursuit of money is not necessarily inherently evil. Notes Reb Chaim of Volozhin z”l. If earning money is solely motivated by material reasons, one can rationalize any practices If the motivation is to enable the family to pursue Torah studies and other mitzvoth, one will be careful not to transgress God’s will in his financial endeavors.

           Getting back to Lot, the Tallilei Chaim delves into a mystical exploration of Lot, basing his discussion on the thoughts of the CHiDA z”l. He notes that in Aramaic, Lot means curses. As such, Lot represents the curse of Adam. The Zohar connects Lot to the yetzer horo of a person, that part that influenced Adam and Chava to sin. When they ate of the forbidden tree, they were stealing from Hashem, from that which God had not given them permission to eat. Avraham Avinu, by muzzling his livestock, was repairing this sin of theft. In both cases, they would be permitted to benefit at a future time, and both were impetuous.  Lot’s numerical value is 45, the same as Adam. He could not repair this sin, he could not conquer his yetzer horo, and he let his livestock graze wherever they were, irrespective of whom the land belonged to.

           Externally, Lot is a curse, but internally, he connects back to Adam, the other 45, as the vehicle through which the world will be redeemed. The name ADaitself is an acronym for Adam, David Moshiach, the trajectory of the world to its perfected state. Avraham Avinu’s hope was that if he could keep Lot in the positive, spiritual environment of his own home, he would see its beauty and cling to the spiritual life. Of his own will, then, Lot would abandon evil. When that didn’t work, Avraham Avinu allowed Lot to sink to the depths of the abyss of Sodom and see how empty that pursuit was. However, even the war where Lot lost everything didn’t change Lot. Hitting rock bottom was not a wake up call. But there was a shift towards doing some good in Sodom itself. What brings the greater shift? The final fire of Sodom’s destruction, mirroring the fires of Gehinom.

           The Tallelei Chaim gets even more mystical in his discussion. When Adam sinned, the impurity he introduces affected different areas of the world. These places included Mitzrayim outside Eretz Yisroel and Sodom inside Eretz Yisroel. The verses here juxtapose the two. How are they similar? Both were fertile without the need of rain from heaven, with water that came from under their feet. This was the curse of the serpent who would always have the dust under his “feet” for food and would therefore never have to call to God or establish a relationship with Him. Lot traveled away from  Kedem, from the east, from the Source and the beginning, from Hashem and the goodness of Eden. It is only after a purification process whose first step was the loss of his wealth and which was then followed by the destruction of his home and the loss of his wife and other family members that he was  ready to plant the seeds of redemption.

           But Lot is not completely purged and fathering this child will not complete the process. The repair of Adam’s sin must continue through David and ultimately through Moshiach.

           Avraham Avinu had hoped that Lot would learn the truth by contrasting the life of Sodom with the life of Avraham Avinu. But often one cannot recognize the light until one is in the deepest darkness, writes Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz z”l. Sometimes only when one has sunk to complete depravity can he suddenly recognize the light coming from a different direction. As the prophet Hosea says, “Shuvah Yisroel… Return, Israel, to Hashem your God, for you have stumbled in your iniquity.” It is the stumbling itself that carries the potential of elevation up to the Throne of Glory. It is only in that complete darkness that we can recognize the gleam of light Hashem provides for us.

           What is this light? It is the light of truth, writes Rabbi Frand in Listen to Your Messages. In the future, the light of truth will either vindicate each of us or condemn us. It will be absolutely clear whether we have lived a life of lies, of pseudo values, or a life of true value. The truth stares us in the face if we are willing to confront it and live our lives accordingly. Do we devote our lives to the worldview of “success”, neglecting our family and even our God in the process, or do we devote ourselves to that which is truly valuable. Sometimes we are blind until the very end.

           Rabbi Schorr in Halekach veHalebuv brings this idea back to Avraham Avinu and Lot. Avraham Avinu wants the yetzer horo, symbolically represented by Lot, to leave, go either right or left, but don’t remain intertwined with the truth, with the good. Adam’s sin has blurred the lines between good and evil, so leave and let me have clarity.

           We all need to live a life of clarity. This is what Avraham Avinu was struggling for in his interactions with his nephew Lot, and this is indeed the struggle each of us has every day of our lives.