Parshat Lech Lecha
Everyone knows the saying “the grass is always greener on the other side.” Growing up, this was actually true in my house because my neighbors had a lawn service every week and our grass only got watered when we got around to it. I don’t think my childhood suffered for lack of oxygen, though.
It could be that greener grass only matters for Home and Garden magazine or the nutritional well-being of cows, but wearing green-colored glasses presents its own set of challenges and we can see some of these from our long-lost relative Lot.
We don’t know too much about Lot, though he clearly had a troubled childhood. When his family wasn’t being oppressed by Nimrod the evil king, they were struggling with whether or not they were pagans or monotheists, idol-worshippers or idol-smashers. Plus, his father died (perhaps in a fiery furnace) when he was a young boy and he was entrusted to the care of his uncle (Avram) who moved the family out of urban Mesopotamia to backwater Charan and finally in desert convoy to Canaan.
During all of these formative years, the Torah tells us almost nothing of Lot other than that he accompanied Uncle Avram. Together they wander the land of Israel (Canaan) and were forced by famine to flee to Egypt, where they have many adventures. It is only when they return from Egypt to Canaan that Lot is described as an independent personality and it is not a salutatory one:
“And Avram went up (ed. made aliyah) from Egypt, he and his wife and all that he had and Lot with him to the Negev. And Avram was very heavy with stuff; silver and gold. And he went on his way from the Negev until Beit El, until the place where had originally pitched his tent, between Beit El and Ai; to the place of the altar he had made there earlier. And Avram called out (i.e., prayed) with the name of God. And also Lot – who went with Avram – had sheep and bulls and tents. And the land could not bear their co-habitation, for their property was vast and they could not live together. So there was an ongoing argument between the shepherds of Avram’s property and the shepherds of Lot’s property; and the Canaanites and Perizzites dwelt in the land at that time.”
Apparently, Lot had become accustomed to a wealthier lifestyle and needed his creature comforts. Plus, it seems that he was seeking independence from his uncle.
Avram recognizes that he and his nephew have different personalities and that they need their space. So he suggests to Lot that they each take responsibility for a different part of the land of Israel. There’s no room right there in Beit El (because of the Caaanites and Perizzites) but a little north or south, there are still vast stretches of pasture and land that will eventually be developed into condos (or something like that). So Avraham says: If you go a little north, I’ll go a little south. If you go a little south, I’ll go a little north. You choose. This is what happens:
“And Lot lifted up his eyes and saw the whole Jordan plain, for it was amply irrigated (before God destroyed Sodom and ‘Amora) -- like the garden of God, like the land of Egypt – leading up to Tzo’ar. And Lot chose the whole Jordan plain and Lot traveled east and they separated from one another.” Genesis 13: 10-11
This wasn’t one of the choices!!!
Avram suggested that he go north or south, not east. Avram suggested that they both stay in the biblical land of Israel, not that Lot go to the Jordan valley. Avram suggested that they put a little space between each other, not that they cut off all contact. Instead , Lot was wowed by the land that looked like the Garden of Eden and he couldn’t wait to abandon his backwater uncle for the lights of the big city.
I think there are two important lessons to learn from Lot’s eagerness to get away, both of them lessons in what not to do:
1) Blood is thicker than water (as my grandmother says)
Lot decided to live in Sodom (which was after all, filled with Sodomites) rather than stay with his clan. It’s not that he liked the Sodom people better, but he just didn’t like his people. There is a self-hating reference here – haven’t you ever heard Jewish people say “It’s so much easier to work with non-Jews”? We may be a stiff-necked people, but it’s important that we find it in our hearts to love each other. I think it makes all the difference.
Also, living in a studio apartment in Manhattan where nobody cares about you (for example) is corrosive to the soul. Maybe other places are less cool and our family embarrasses us (not mine of course, since they’re all reading this d’var torah), but let’s be honest, it’s better to be loved than to be cool.
2) Look for the green grass on this side
Lot was so busy being awed by the glamour and glitter of the other side of the Jordan that he didn’t even bother to look left or right at his own land. It’s true that Western culture is seductive and interesting, bright and shiny, but let us not forget to look to our own heritage.
To the right, we have a beautiful Torah, full of mysteries and God-intoxicated wisdom. To the left, we have a beautiful heritage of customs, music, art and literature. In a world where even non-Jewish movie stars and politicians have come to realize (albeit in an often distorted way) that our Jewish tradition is powerful and unique, too many Jews think Judaism is still Hebrew school and a Yiddish accent.
Just witness what happens to Sodom – it is given its true inner expression by God in next week’s parshah – it is sulfur, fire and brimstone, anathema to all life, the lowest spot on the planet. But a little bit further west is our beautiful Holy Land with its beautiful Jews walking the ancient pathways with Torahs in their hands.
We can learn a lot from Lot. As opposed to that ingrate Lot, we must say “Ashreinu, ma tov chelkeinu!” How happy are we with what God has given us! “uma na’im goraleinu!”, how beautiful is our destiny, “uma yafa yerushateinu!” and how lovely is our heritage.
Written by Rabbi Avi Heller, Director of Jewish Education, Boston University Hillel
Additional commentaries and text studies on Parshat Lech Lecha at MyJewishLearning.com.