Lech Licha – Excommunicating Oneself

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Along with taking many students with him to Eretz Canaan, Avraham also took his nephew Lot and pledged to take care of him after his father was thrown into the furnace by Nimrod and burned, with no miracle saving him.

In this week’s Torah portion of Lech Licha on the pasuk of, “And Avram took Sarai his wife and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had acquired, and the souls they had acquired in Haran, and they went to go to the land of Canaan, and they came to the land of Canaan” (Breishis 12:5), the Ralbag learns that one should watch over the wellbeing of his relatives, just as he takes care of himself, for in this way a person will get the help needed from his family. We find this by Avraham, that Lot went wherever he went and whatever Avraham chose for himself, he chose for Lot as well. (Click Here for Hebrew text.)
And yet, after the incident with Pharaoh capturing Sarah when they went down to Egypt during the famine and Pharoah sent them off with great wealth and servant, including his daughter Hagar, to be a maidservant for Sarah, the Torah reports, “And Avram came up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that was his, and Lot with him, to the south. And Avram was very heavy with cattle, with silver, and with gold… And also, Lot, who went with Avram, had flocks and cattle and tents. And the land did not bear them to dwell together, for their possessions were many, and they could not dwell together. And there was a quarrel between the herdsmen of Avram’s cattle and between the herdsmen of Lot’s cattle, and the Canaanites and the Perizzites were then dwelling in the land. And Avram said to Lot, ‘Please let there be no quarrel between me and between you and between my herdsmen and between your herdsmen, for we are kinsmen. Is not all the land before you? Please part from me; if [you go] left, I will go right, and if [you go] right, I will go left’” (Breishis 3:1-9).

The Ralbag learns from here that it is beneficial to distance oneself from arguments and strife as much as possible, for in this way the collective family and country will stay intact. For we see by Avraham, though he tried with all his strength and efforts to keep Lot with him to guide him on the good path as much as possible, however in order so that one would be able to help the other in a time of need, Avraham chose to part ways from Lot in order to distance himself from strife.
Avraham, with all his dedication, love, and kindness – why couldn’t he figure out a way to compromise or resolve any issues that was brewing amongst him, Lot and their herdsman? Couldn’t he then keep everyone together so that he could be a continued positive influence upon them?
The medrish Pesiksa DiRav Kahana (3:3) paints a picture of why Avraham had no choice but to disassociate from Lot. “Why were [the shepherds of Lot and Avraham] quarreling with each other? Because when a person is righteous even his household like him are righteous as well as anyone who clings to him. And when a person is wicked his household like him are wicked.” Avraham Avinu’s shepherds muzzled their flock so that they wouldn’t eat from other people’s property and steal their grass. Lot’s shepherds let their flock graze unmuzzled anyplace in the land. They claimed that the whole land belonged to them anyways because Avraham’s inheritors were promised by Hashem to inherit the Land of Canaan and since Avraham had no children the land would be given to Lot, his closest inheritor. And the reason why you are muzzling your flock is in order so that Lot will inherit weak flock. Avraham’s shepherds contended that right now the land was not theirs, it belonged to the Canaanite nations and they had no right to steal their grass. Hashem in fact proclaimed that Avraham’s shepherds were right, that right now it’s stealing from the Canaanites.

The medrish goes on to record in the name of Rebbe Azaria, “just as there were arguments between the shepherds there were also arguments between Avraham and Lot as it says, ‘may there please not be quarreling between you and I etc.’ Disassociate yourself from me is not written here, rather ‘separate’ (הפרד) just as a mule(פרדה) can’t have children so to my offspring shall not mingle with your offspring.”

The Zera Ephraim, a commentary on this medrish by Rav Ephraim Zalman Margolis, points out that although Chaza”l say that a Jew may marry a female Moabite or Ammonite, who are from Lot, and in fact King David and therefore the line of Moshiach comes from Rus the Moabite, that is only permitted after they convert. This is because it’s as if they were reborn again a new person; but if they don’t convert, a Jew may not marry them since Avraham separated himself from Lot and his offspring. Parenthetically, what’s interesting to note is that if not for this incident a Jew might have been allowed to marry a Moabite or Ammonite because they are cousins to us, according to the Zera Ephraim. The reason why Moabite and Ammonite men may not marry a Jew even after conversion is because of an incident that happened in the desert.

The Zera Ephraim also observes that when Rebbe Azaria describes the fighting amongst the shepherds, as well as Avraham and Lot, he calls it a תחרות, which the Zera Ephraim says refers to the beginning of a fight between two loved ones, and therefore Avraham was afraid as time went on infighting would erupt between them. That is why Avraham pleaded ‘please will we not quarrel;’ meaning, in order that there would not be any fight between you and I, let us please separate etc. Chazal say that the word תחרות originates from a word that means heating up, meaning from the heat of anger comes fighting. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
 It would seem from the Zera Ephraim that not even for an outlandish quarrel did Avraham abolish Lot from his presence, but rather for the beginning of a fight. Avraham must have had the proper inkling that this would just escalate into a full-blown fight, so he severed it at the roots. But why did Avraham not try to make amends? He had a positive influence on thousands of people, certainly his close relative who was like a son to him, he should have been able to get through to and settle whatever problems that had arisen. Didn’t the medrish itself say that when a person is a tzadik then his household and those that cling to him follow in his footsteps and are also righteous? Certainly Lot was part of Avraham’s household and clung to him like a son to a father?!

Perforce, we must say that Lot made an absolute decision to disassociate and disconnect from his uncle and his moral ways. In fact, the “Biur” on this medrish says that Lot was considered evil because he had a desire to be promiscuous, as what came to fruition in the end after Sodom was destroyed. Avraham senses Lot’s psychological disconnect, understood there was really no way to influence him in a positive manner, and knew he was better off severing ties with him completely in order to not escalate any fights and risk being tainted by the character trait of anger. If not for Lot deciding to sever ties with Avraham then Avraham would never have abandoned Lot, which led to Lot being captured and Avraham needing a miracle to save him and then Lot only being saved by the destruction of Sodom because of the merit of Avraham.

We see from here how destructive arguments can be and how important it is to avoid them at all costs, and even someone on the caliber of Avraham Avinu would not be able to get through and influence his own nephew, Lot, since he decided to disconnect from him (similar to a decision that Korach made to seperate himself from Moshe and the people, when he decided to pick a fight, see Chiddushei HaLev Bamidbar page 106, on parshas Korach 16:1, the second shmuz on “Vayikach Korach”.) That is why Avraham had to sever ties in order so that a major argument wouldn’t ensue and escalate.