Like many Americans, perhaps particularly those who live on the coasts, I watched the election results come in last week with a mixture of surprise and disbelief. Over the last few years, I have read several articles and books describing the growing cultural and economic divide in the country, but that could not prepare me for the reality this election brought home. We are a nation deeply divided along geographic and economic lines. Now, however, together we are moving towards a new beginning and in a new direction. The story of Abraham and his nephew Lot provides two different models for navigating unfamiliar surroundings.
Abraham did not start out on his journey alone. Instead, he was joined on his wanderings by his nephew Lot. Lot traveled with him from Haran to the Land of Israel and then down Egypt before finally returning with him. However, Lot’s return to the Land of Israel would also mark the end of Lot’s life as a wanderer. The Torah tell us that arguments broke out between Abraham’s herdsmen and those of Lot over how and where the cattle should be grazed. Hoping to avoid an open conflict Abraham offered to separate from Lot. “‘Is not all the land before you?’” Abraham said. “‘Please part from me; if [you go] left, I will go right, and if [you go] right, I will go left.’ ” Lot acquiesced to Abraham’s request and chose for himself the plain of Jordan. A place of fertile grazing land, where many cities and towns were located.
On one level this dispute seems like a petty one. After all that Abraham and Lot had endured together, jointly overcoming famine and enemies, how could their alliance fray because of an argument between their herdsman? Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik suggests that there is more to this dispute than just the matter of grazing rights. He writes that after their tumultuous time Egypt, “Lot now had different ideas and different dreams …Lot understood Abraham’s greatness, but he simply did not want to follow in Abraham’s footsteps. He understood that Abraham’s life was a dedicated one, that it entails hardships and sacrifices. He loved Abraham, but in Sodom he saw another way of life: a comfortable living without sacrifice, without preaching, without building, and without revolutionizing society.”
Lot and Abraham decided to go their separate ways not just because there was not enough land but because they wanted different things. Lot gives up on the nomadic way life for the stability of the city and for the comforts of the familiar. Abraham on the other hand is the archetypal wanderer. He continues to travels from place to place, meeting a variety of different people. Not everyone he meets along the way was type of person one would necessarily like to meet. Pharaoh and Abimelekh are deeply flawed characters. Yet Abraham continues his journey, traversing religious, political and cultural boundaries, all while maintaining his own values and beliefs. It is these very traits, a willingness to wander and be alone amongst others who were not like him, that enabled Abraham to encounter God.
In the wake of the election, many political pundits have spoken about the dangers of living in a bubble, in which everyone around us holds similar beliefs and opinions. But regardless of who one voted for, it is nearly impossible not to live in some sort of bubble. It offers us a sense of community, friendship and meaning. However, a bubble also makes it is far too easy for us to imagine that everyone shares our beliefs and struggles. We need to actively seek out those who see the world through a different lens and not merely try to write off or discredit their concerns. We may not be able to live the life of a wander, but we at least need to adopt the mindset of one.
Originally given as a drasha on Parshat Lech Lecha