Lech Lecha: It's All Relative
By Rabbi Yonah Burr
ויאמר אברם אל לוט אל נא תהי מריבה ביני ובינך ובין רעי ובין רעיך כי אנשים אחים אנחנו הלא כל הארץ לפניך הפרד נא מעלי אם השמאל ואימנה ואם הימין ואשמאילה
Avram said to Lot, “Please let there be no strife between me and you and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen for we are kinsmen. Is not all the land before you? Please separate from me. If you go left then I will go right and if you go right then I will go left.”
Which Decision Was Right?
When Hashem first told Avram to travel to an unknown land, he took Lot with him. When the companionship stopped working, Avram suggested they separate. Lot settled in the land of Sodom.
In hindsight, which decision was correct? Was Avram right the first time, taking Lot, or at the end, separating from him?
A Diametric "Debate"
The Medrash Rabbah says that our Sages are, in fact, divided on the issue. Rav Yehuda maintains that Hashem was displeased at Avram when he and Lot parted ways. How could Avram, the champion of bringing every stranger close to Hashem, turn away his own nephew?
On the other hand, Rav Nechemia says that Hashem was displeased that Avram took Lot along with him in the first place. Another Medrash goes even farther. It states that the famine Avram encountered when he first arrived in Eretz Canaan was because he befriended Lot!
Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler reconciled this antipodal debate with a brilliant and fundamental idea.
He suggests that whenever our Sages appear to "argue", especially about Aggadata or Torah personalities, it is not actually a debate at all. Chazal are merely describing the issue from different perspectives.
To illustrate this concept, imagine you had to describe a sheet of writing paper to someone who had never seen one. You might explain that it has a wide, flat surface on which one can write an entire page. At the same time, it has an edge sharp enough to actually cut someone. It there any debate? Of course not. Both facts are equally true. They describe two different angles.
Avram's Great Dilemma
Avram’s goal in life was to bring people close to Hashem. As many as possible. Lot was no exception. On the other hand, his friendship with Lot was costing Avram his own spiritual growth. In fact, Chazal tell us, Avram was not able to receive any prophecy as long as Lot was with him. Avram thus found himself with a dilemma. Which took precedence: His own personal growth or the outreach he so tirelessly pursued?
With this in mind, we can understand the opposite perspectives of Chazal. On one hand, Avram was indeed criticized for befriending Lot. At the same time, it was not appropriate for him to turn Lot away. Avram was criticized for staying close to Lot while it was costing him. But he was also critiqued for not having raised himself to an even higher level, one at which he could have influenced Lot without it affecting himself!
Life is a balance. We must do as much as we can. But, we are only expected to do as much as we can. We must know our limitations, but also realize that these limitations are not set in stone.
Eventually, a letter was added to Avram’s name, symbolizing his added potential and expanded role in the world. Our potential grows as we grow, and we must constantly evaluate, and reevaluate, what our goals should be.
May we merit to maximize our talents and serve Hashem to the fullest!
Have a wonderful Shabbos!