Friday, November 7, 2008

Abraham and Lot

Parshah Lech-Lecha
Chapter 13
1. And Abram came up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that was his, and Lot with him, to the south. 3. And he went on his journeys, from the south and until Beth el, until the place where his tent had been previously, between Beth el and between Ai.
7. And there was a quarrel between the herdsmen of Abram's cattle and between the herdsmen of Lot's cattle, and the Canaanites and the Perizzites were then dwelling in the land. 8. And Abram 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. 9. 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." 10. And Lot raised his eyes, and he saw the entire plain of the Jordan, that it was entirely watered; before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, as you come to Zoar.

Throughout Jewish history in the Holy Land, geography has played a crucial role. And so it is with the separation between Abraham our forefather, the very first Jew, and his nephew Lot. To appreciate the significance of this event, knowledge of the geography of the area where this event took place is necessary.

Here we have Abraham and Lot standing together as Abraham says to Lot "Please let there be no quarrel between me and between you…". Where exactly was this conversation taking place? The Torah tells us; "between Beth el and between Ai". The Torah is not an AAA triptik. If the Torah deems it important for us to know the specific location of an event, it is in order to teach us a lesson.

Abraham travelled together with his family from Egypt, from the south, up into the central mountain range of the then land of Cannan. Both Abraham and Lot have herds of cattle. Abraham is especially careful to keep his herds off the property of others. Abraham needs to make some type of arrangement with Lot to keep their herds separate from each other.

And here we come to the central question. Was it the intention of Abraham to completely separate from Lot? Let's not forget, eventually it will be a descendant of Lot, Ruth the Moabite, who will convert to Judaism and from her lineage King David and ultimately Moshiach will be born from.

In fact, by understanding the geography of the area, we can see how it was actually not Abraham's intention to have Lot completely separate from him.

Abraham uses an interesting phrase while addressing Lot; " if [you go] left, I will go right, and if [you go] right, I will go left".

To where is left? To where exactly is right? Abraham and Lot are standing on a mountain hilltop near Beth el. And what does the Torah tell us? "And Lot raised his eyes, and he saw the entire plain of the Jordan".

In ancient times, maps were drawn with the direction east being the primary direction, the direction from whence the sun rose. In Hebrew, the word "kedem", sometimes used for the word east, can be translated as moving forward. (Hence the connection between the phrase "to orient oneself" and the "Orient", located in the east.)

Abraham and Lot are standing on the mountain range facing eastward, in the direction of the Jordan Valley. Abraham is not looking to completely disassociate himself from Lot. Abraham himself states; "We are kinsmen".

What Abraham is suggesting is for Lot to stay in the mountains with him, either going north or south. But the key is that Abraham wants Lot to stay in the mountains. Why? Because the Jordan Valley below is "like the land of Egypt".

Abraham and Lot had come from Mesopotamia, a land flowing with the waters of the Euphrates. In Egypt, watered flowed freely through the Nile. It was only here in this land, up in the mountains of the land of Cannan, where a person had to depend and pray for rain.

The nation which would come forth from Abraham would be very different from the peoples Abraham had lived with before. Because here in the Holy Land, In the land of Israel, a Jew knows that one is completely dependant upon G-d. Our daily prayers for rain are a crucial element of our prayers to G-d, an expression of our faith. That is what makes the Jewish nation different.

Lot chose differently; "And Lot raised his eyes, and he saw the entire plain of the Jordan, that it was entirely watered; before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah,…". Lot was attracted to the Jordan Valley before him, a place which reminded him of home, a place "entirely watered". And in fact, instead of heading north or south as Uncle Abraham had suggested, Lot heads east, to the area of Sodom and Gomorrah. And we know what happens there ultimately.

Abraham on the other hand is blessed by G-d and heads south, to the area of Hebron, in the mountains.

Today you can head north on route 60 from Jerusalem to modern day Beth el and enjoy the beautiful views from the lookout situated within their community. Or take road 457 just after the turnoff for Psagot to road 458 north and enjoy the spectacular lookout facing the Jordan Valley located in Kochav Hashachar.