This shiur was written as the war launched by Hamas on Sheminei Azeret/Simchat Torah is about to enter its fifth week. The shiur is dedicated to our brave soldiers and to the hostages who should come home quickly and safely.
This week’s Parsha continues the story of Avraham Avinu and Sara Imainu, beginning with the tidings that Sara would bear a child to Avraham despite their advanced age, and ending with the Akeida, a period of thirty six years. Of course, plenty more happens in those 36 years, though most of the events described in our Parsha are focussed on the year prior to the birth of Yitzchak. In fact, the only three events that are described in the Parsha that occur after that year are: the actual birth of Yitzchak, the banishment of Yishmael and Hagar, and, of course the Akeida itself. On the other hand, the events of the first year include the destruction of Sdom and Amorrah and Avraham’s efforts to save the cities from that destruction, the story of Lot and his escape from the coming catastrophe, the seduction of Lot by his surviving daughters and the birth of Moav and Amon, the abduction of Sarah by Avimelech, her ultimate release and the covenant that Avimelech and Avraham and Avimelech subsequently make. All in all, a pretty eventful year.
Most of these events have been treated to much scrutiny by both classical and contemporary meforshim. However, one area seems to have received a bit less attention, and that is the relationship between Lot and Avraham. Many (though not all) meforshim take a dim view of Lot. Rashi is in this camp (see for example 13:11, where Rashi states the Lot was rejecting GD, 13:13 where Rashi criticizes Lot for willingly living with evil people, and 13:14, where Rashi explicitly brands Lot as a Rasha). But does the Torah teach us anything about the relationship between Avraham and Lot and how it evolved?
Nechama Leibowitz (Iyunim B’Sefer Breishit 88-92) begins to explore this relationship. Nechama notes that while we can’t know for certain how willing a participant Lot was in Avram and Sarai’s journey to Eretz Canaan, we know that he was a full fledged member of their household. Critically, however, the Torah hints to us that this relationship was somehow altered by the experience of Avraham’s household when they went to Mitzrayim to escape the famine which gripped Eretz Canaan shortly after their arrival. Nechama demonstrates this by comparing two passukim in perek 12 and 13 of Sefer Breishit. The first passuk (12:5) when describing the household entering Egypt states: Vayikach Avram et Sarai Ishto v’et Lot ben acheve v’et kol rechusham. (And Avram took his wife, Sarai, his nephew Lot and all their belongings). Note the subtle changes in the second passuk (13:1), describing the return to Eretz Canaan: VaYaal Avram miMitzrayim, hu v’ishto v’kol asher lo, v’Lot imo, haNegba (And Avram came up from Mitzrayim, he and his wife and all that belonged to him, and Lot with him, (to come to) the Negev).
Passuk 12:5 describes a family unit, husband, wife and nephew, traveling together, and only afterwards does it speak of their wealth. Passuk 13:1, however, tells a different story. Gone is the description of Lot as a nephew, and now the description of the wealth is placed between Avram and Sarai and Lot. There can be no doubt that the changed structure of the passuk, as well as the fact that Lot is no longer identified as Avram’s nephew is coming to indicate that something has changed in the relationship. But what has caused that change? On the surface it would seem to be the increased wealth that both Avaram and Lot acquired during the sojourn to Mitzrayim. But why would that wealth be a source of friction?
Rav Elchanan Samet devotes parts of two separate essays (Iyunim B’Parshat HaShavua, second series, Parshat Lech Lecha and Iyunim B’Parshat HaShavua third series, Parshat VaYerah) to this question, and he develops the concept that Nechama suggests more broadly and takes it in some unexpected directions. As is his style, in both places Rav Samet uses the structure of the Parsha as his starting point, but for our purposes we won’t delve into the literary analysis that he employs and will focus on the broader message.
From Rav Samet’s perspective the relationship between Avraham and Lot is defined by three clearly articulated stages:
- The first stage is when Lot accompanies Avram and Sarai on their journey from Charan to Eretz Canaan. Unlike Nechama who was unwilling to accept this as clear proof of Lot’s attachment to his aunt and uncle and his uncompromising acceptance of their values, Rav Samet sees in Lot a fully invested member of the clan, fully committed to the vision of Avram and Sarai. Moreover, Lot is at the moment Avram’s heir and he carries this designation with pride. Rav Samet refers to this period as a”promising beginning”.
- Rav Samet refers to the second stage as the “shameful separation”. This stage occurs when Lot chooses to leave Avram’s household and relocate to the valley where Sdom and Amorrah are situated. While the Torah almost laconically describes this parting of ways as being a function of insufficient grazing area for the combined flocks of Avram and Lot, there is much more to the situation than meets the eye, as we will soon see.
- The third stage is the “pitiful conclusion” of the Avraham and Lot episode, where Lot barely escapes with his life, loses all his wealth, possessions and status, and sees his entire family killed, with the exception of his two youngest daughters. And of course their survival is marred by the incestuous relationship that they pursue with their father and which leads to the birth of Ammon and Moav.
The key stage is of course the second one. What led to the presumptive heir of Avram leaving the family and not only striking out on his own, but choosing to (apologies for the pun) throw in his lot with the most evil society in the region? It is here that Nechama’s observation regarding the difference in how the passukim describe Avram and Sarai’s household when they first leave for Mitzrayim and when they return to Eretz Canaan becomes pivotal. Something occurred in Egypt that changed the relationship, and it had lasting consequences. What was it that happened?
Rav Samet answers this question by looking at Lot’s motives in choosing the plain where Sdom and Amorrah were situated. The passuk (13:10) describes how Lot perceived the area. It was fertile and well irrigated, like the garden of GD, like Egypt. After having descended to Mitzrayim with Avraham and Sarai, and having experienced the pinnacle of civilization, in Lot’s eyes the most beautiful and desirable place to live is Mitzrayim. And this was not only because of advanced Egyptian society. Unlike Eretz Canaan, Egypt was not at the mercy of the whims of the weather. As a major cattle magnate, Lot no longer wanted to have to worry about the availability of grazing areas. So Egypt is where he wanted to be, and had it been possible where he would have stayed. But circumstances prevented such an easy solution. In light of the fallout of Sarai being abducted by Paro, Avram and his household had become persona non grata in Egypt, so staying was not an option for Lot. So he chose the next best thing. The plain where Sdom and Amorrah were situated. No matter who the neighbors were.
The ramifications of this choice can not be overstated. Lot purposely chose this direction over the values that Avram and Sarai stood for, and the possibility of being Avram’s heir. The split between Avram and Lot was so profound, that even after Avram saved Lot from capture during the war between the four kings and the five kings (perek 14), we don’t see any direct contact between Lot and Avraham.
From here the journey to the third stage was swift. In Rav Samet’s view Lot was not inherently evil, but his choices had consequences and ultimately led to his downfall.
But if this is true, why was he saved? Was it merely due to his protektzia through Avraham? Rav Samet believes that the situation was more nuanced. Lot attempts to navigate a double life in Sdom. On the one hand he integrates and to a degree even assimilates into Sdomian society. His wife is from Sdom, as are his sons in law. His grandchildren are Sdomian. Yet, as Lot’s efforts to extend hospitality to the angels and to protect them from the inhabitants of Sdom attest, he is still connected to the values that he learned in Avraham’s household. So his ultimate survival rests not only on his relationship with Avraham, but on the depth of his remaining connection to the values that he absorbed.
And Lot passes the test, but barely. Only he and his two youngest daughters survive, his wife and the rest of his family are killed. He loses all his possessions and finds himself isolated. And ultimately, Lot falls from potential successor to Avraham Avinu to a wretched footnote in Biblical history.