Dvar Torah on Parashat Lekh Lekha (Gen, 12:1 - 17:27) given at Shabbat evening service at Temple Israel on November 11, 2016
[Dvar Torah on Parashat Lekh Lekha, (Gen. 12:1 - 17:7), given at Temple Israel on Friday, 11/11/18]
Our Torah portion this week famously begins with God’s call to Abram (later known as Abraham):
לֶךְ-לְךָ מֵאַרְצְךָ וּמִמּוֹלַדְתְּךָ וּמִבֵּית אָבִיךָ, אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר אַרְאֶךָּ
“Go forth from your native land and from your father's house to the land that I will show you.” (Gen. 12:1).
He didn’t go alone. Rather, as the Torah reports a few verses later: “Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother's son Lot, and all the wealth that they had amassed, and the persons that they had acquired in Haran; and they set out for the land of Canaan...” (Gen. 12:5)
But later in the parasha, some sort of a crisis develops between Abram and Lot. As the Torah recounts:
"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. —" (Gen. 13:5-7)
What exactly was this quarreling about? Midrashic tradition says that Lot’s shepherds were wicked people who would allow their sheep to graze in land belonging to Abram’s and Lot’s Canaanite and Perizzite neighbors. Then Abram’s shepherds and Lot’s shepherd’s would get into fights because Abram’s shepherds would scold Lot’s shepherds, calling them “robbers.” (See Rashi on Gen. 13:7)
One can imagine Lot’s shepherds’ annoyance at the dripping condescension of Abraham’s shepherds. And one can imagine Abraham’s shepherds’ revulsion at the low ethical standards of Lot’s shepherds.
And, of course, the Torah, which basically takes Abram’s side in the way it tells the story, can’t resist throwing in the side comment that Lot and his people would prefer to hang out among the sinners of Sodom rather than stay put in the promised land of Canaan.
As it says:
"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 Eternal." (Gen. 13: 12-13)
If we were to try to read this story in the light of this week’s national elections, our interpretations would probably vary based on our political leanings. Who are the condescending know-it-alls? Who are the robbers? Who are the wicked sinners? Who are the bad neighbors?
Do we see ourselves in Abram’s party trying to "Make Canaan Great Again?"
Do we see ourselves in Lot’s party trying to be "Stronger Together?"
Or is it the Lot Party who are trying to "Make Sodom Great Again" and the Abram party who are "Stronger Together" in Canaan?
What isn’t in dispute is that our nation has become divided just as Abram’s and Lot’s retinues had become divided. There is even geographical separation in both cases. Hillary Clinton’s supporters were concentrated on the coasts and in the cities. Donald Trump’s supporters were concentrated in the rural heartland. The voting population was almost evenly divided and, though Secretary Clinton narrowly won the popular vote, the electoral vote (which gives disproportionate weight to states with small populations) gave the win to Mr. Trump.
Probably the most important aspect of the Torah’s account for our purposes is that Abram and Lot resolve their differences peacefully, for, after all, as Abram tells Lot --- “Anashim Achim Anachnu” / “We are kinsmen” (Gen. 12:8).
The same is part and parcel of the ideals of the United States of America – E Pluribus Unum – Out of the Many, One.
No doubt this is a tremendous challenge. Emotions are intense. Feelings are raw. And the stakes are high.
And so, whether we are mourning our side’s loss or cheering our side’s win --- the next step is to proceed peacefully and productively – as Abram and Lot did back then, and as, so far at least, the incoming and outgoing Presidential administrations seem to be doing now.
We pray on this Shabbat that our elected leaders and representatives, and we ourselves, will rise to the occasion.
And we resolve to remain engaged citizens, advocating for a just, compassionate, prosperous, secure and united society--- even as we recognize that we don’t all define these terms – or balance these goals – in the same way.
© Rabbi David Steinberg
November 2016/ Cheshvan 5777