Shabbat-Table Talks: Lech Lecha

 

By: Rabbi Ralph Tawil <tawil@bezeqint.net>

 

Value: Resolving quarrels. Living together in society invariable leads to differences of opinions and disputes. Dispute that leads to a greater understanding of the different perspectives on issues is positive. However, dispute that leads to quarreling can be destructive—especially when the dispute is with a family member. Putting things in perspective and putting one’s priorities in order can often lead to the resolution of the dispute. This can be more easily done when one is able to put aside the feeling of jealousy, and competition and add a large dosage of patience. These are the qualities that Abraham showed in his dispute with his nephew Lot.

 

Background: Since Lot’s father died in Ur Kasdim, Abraham, Lot’s uncle, made sure to take him wherever he went. Lot was with him when he left Haran to go to Canaan. He took Lot to Egypt and back to the land of Canaan. Lot was considered part of Abraham’s family. When they returned from Egypt, Abraham had a considerable number of sheep. Lot also had sheep, and the aridity of the land led to a dispute between their respective shepherds.

 

Text: Genesis 13:1-17

From Egypt, Abram went up into the Negeb, with his wife and all that he possessed, together with Lot. Now Abram was very rich in cattle, silver, and gold. And he proceeded by stages from the Negeb as fast as Bethel, to the place where his tent had been formerly, between Bethel and Ai, the site of the altar that he had built there at first; and there Abram invoked the Lord by name.

 

Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents, so that the land could not support them staying together; for their possessions were so great that they could not remain together. And there was quarreling between the herdsmen of Abram’s cattle and those of Lot’s cattle—The Canaanites and Perizzites were then dwelling in the land—

 

Abram said to Lot, “Let there be no strife between you and me, between my herdsmen and yours, for we are brothers. Is not the whole land before you? Let us separate: if you go north, I will go south; and if you go south, I will go north. Lot looked about him and saw how well watered was the whole plain of the Jordan, all of it—this was before the Lord had destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah—all the way to Zoar, like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt. So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan, and Lot journeyed eastward. Thus, they parted each from his brother; Abram remained in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled in the cities of the Plain, pitching his tents near Sodom. Now the inhabitants of Sodom were very wicked sinners against the Lord.

 

And the Lord said to Abram, after Lot had parted from him, “raise your eyes and look out from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west, for I give all the land that you see to you and your offspring forever. I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if you can count the dust of the earth then your offspring too can be counted. Up, walk about the land, through its length and its breadth, for I give it to you.”

 

Discussion: What caused the dispute? (The land was not fertile enough to provide for all their sheep. In other words, Abraham and Lot’s prosperity endangered their relationship. In our terms it was a dispute about money.) How did the dispute appear? (It was their shepherds that started the dispute. Not people who had a sense of the importance of the underlying relationship, but people who had their own interests, or those of their masters in mind. This can often happen in family disputes.) How was the dispute resolved? (Abraham was able to put things in proper perspective and recognize that a dispute over money is less important than the relationship between brothers. He allowed his nephew the right to choose the best way to separate and whatever Lot would choose would be acceptable to Abraham. Abraham valued his relationship with his nephew more than his prosperity. He expressed his value system by doing whatever necessary to keep the relationship strong, even separating.)

 

What are the factors that might prevent a person from behaving like Abraham? The person might view the dispute as a kind of competition. We cannot bear the thought of having our adversary win. The feelings are much stronger when the adversary is a family member. Taking the high road of recognizing that family is more important than money requires not looking at the dispute as a matter of either he wins or I do. Rather we should look for a way to have both sides “win.”

 

Another factor that might prevent us from behaving like Abraham is that we might have a limited view of prosperity. Once we recognize, like Abraham, that God can send prosperity in many ways, we can more easily give up on one path towards the prosperity if it involves dispute. God has many ways to bestow his blessing. We should not choose the way that leads to dispute, even if it seems to be the more apparent way. There are some things that are more important than prosperity.

 

Abraham and Lot part as brothers (they separated, each one from his brother). Abraham did not hold a grudge against Lot and even risked himself to save Lot when his choice led to his being taken captive by the four kings. (See chapter 14).

 

Following this Hashem appeared to Abram and promised him the land. When we have the perspective of plenty—i.e. that Hashem is not limited in what he can provide—it is easy to concede wealth to gain peace.

 

Applications: Our children might get involved in quarrels with one another. After explaining and discussing Abraham’s value, see how you can apply it to some of your own disputes. If you have had situations where you displayed Abraham’s values discuss them (preferably without mentioning the names of the disputing party.) Then describe a situation that sometime leads to a dispute amongst your children (for example, they both want to read the same book, or use the same toy. This should be done with some humor so as not to have a quarrel flare up again.) Then ask how the dispute would turn out if Abraham were one of the people involved. Ask one of the children to imagine what Abraham would say and to play his role. This can be a powerful way of that child absorbing the value resolving disputes by putting things in perspective.

 

Here is a little story illustrates some of these ideas:

Many year ago, there was a great famine in Germany, and the poor people suffered from hunger. A rich man who loved children sent for twenty of them and said: “In this basket there is a loaf of bread for each of you. Take it and come back again every day until the famine is over. I will give you a loaf each day.”

 

The children were very hungry. They seized the basket and struggled to get at the largest loaf. They even forgot to thank the man who had been kind to them. After a few minutes of quarreling and snatching for bread, everyone ran away with his loaf except one little girl named Gretchen. She stood there alone at a little distance from the gentleman. Then, smiling, she took up the last loaf, the smallest of all, and thanked him with all her heart.

 

Next day the children came again, and they behaved as badly as ever. Gretchen, who would not push with the rest, received only a tiny loaf scarcely half the size of the others. But when she came home and her mother began to cut the loaf, out dropped six shining coins of silver.

“Oh, Gretchen!” exclaimed the mother, “this must be a mistake. The money does not belong to us. Run as quickly as you can and take it back to the gentleman.”

 

So Gretchen carried it back, but when she gave the gentleman her mother’s message, he said: “No, no, it was not a mistake. I had the silver baked into the smallest loaf in order to reward you.

 

Remember that the person who is contented to have a small loaf rather than quarrel for a larger one will find blessings that are better than money baked in bread. (_The Moral Compass_, William J. Bennet, p. 175)

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