Lord knows, there are so many things to watch out for nowadays. There is still the “silent killer” of high blood pressure; the invisible emission of CO2. But from this week’s Torah portion, we are warned of a far-reaching, pernicious danger: uninspired people.
Within Lech L’cha, along with the account of Abraham and Sarah listening to Hashem’s voice and journeying to Israel, is the sad story of Lot and his progeny. Lot was Abraham’s nephew, and he joins his uncle and aunt as they set out on what has become a 4,000-year inspiring odyssey, uplifting humanity.
Poor Lot! Soon after arriving, Abraham and Lot could not coexist. The Torah states that the land was not able to bear them both. How so? Lot’s shepherds argued with Abraham’s, claimed unfairness. It quickly reached a point where the kindly Abraham had to say. “If you go right, I’ll go left.” So irreconcilable were their differences.
So, Lot heads off to Sodom, and joins a community described as exceedingly sinful. Lot was happy there; he didn’t look back. Lot’s descendants became the miserable nations of Amon and Moav, perpetual antagonists to the descendants of Abraham and Sarah.
One can only conclude that the inspiration and excitement felt by Abraham and Sarah — welcoming guests, teaching, inspiring — left Lot feeling uninspired and empty. With so little going on in his life, he turned his attention to Abraham’s dynamic life and began arguing, disagreeing, and finding fault. Abraham and Sarah had no time to waste and refused to abandon their meaningful journey. The only good choice was to separate from him. And Lot was very happy to do so.
What a warning the Torah is giving us: live inspired, associate with the inspired, build your family and your future, or simply become the heckler, finding fault in others, seeking to tear them down, and sowing seeds of dissatisfaction in all of your associates. Sound overly dramatic? You can certainly name many Lots whose path you cross daily.
In Proverbs we are warned about poverty: “Lest I become impoverished, and steal from others.” In Jewish tradition, a starving person is permitted to steal in order to keep living (think Les Mis). Commentaries explain poverty here in a significant way: “Lest I feel empty, lack meaning, and turn my energies toward others, putting them down to divert attention from my own emptiness.”
The Torah is challenging us to live an inspired life. Keep building your family, your connections to community. Stay positive, focused on what you can add, not on what you can tear down, criticize, or how many others you can drag into a personal rabbit hole of dissatisfaction and emptiness.
This explains why speaking badly of others is so cardinal a Jewish prohibition, as grievously immoral as adultery, murder, or idolatry. Lashon HaRa (evil speech) deflates all who speak and all who listen. Think Harry Potter’s Dementors. How many of the people we hang out with fit the description of “dark creators that consume human happiness.” Beware!
We live in a world in which some assume that the progress of Israel’s economy is the cause of Palestinian suffering. Hence the advocacy that funds be diverted from protecting Israel and given to recognized terrorist organizations. This is the depth of the rabbit hole Lot represents. Our Torah warns us that it is a pathway to generational unhappiness and dissatisfaction, poverty of spirit.
Oftentimes, the voices of Lot today begin with a question: Is it good enough? This is the opening salvo. Is your marriage good enough? Are your children good enough? Are your shul, rabbi, and school good enough? Psychiatrists’ offices are filled with otherwise successful, accomplished people whose parent conveyed to them the feeling of just not being good enough.
Finding fault is the surest way to become distracted from what otherwise can be an inspiring lifetime of personal growth, positivity, and making a lasting contribution to your family, your community, and humanity.
Abraham and Sarah offer us good advice: BEWARE! When you encounter Lot turning right, turn left. Be appreciative, work to make things better still, and all the while stay focused on all the good there is to celebrate every moment.