The rich and famous seem to have no problems except one. They all have relatives who feel they deserve a piece of their fortunes.
Abram did not seek to avoid his orphaned nephew Lot. The elder felt responsible for Lot, whose father died in an altercation with the emperor Nimrod. Abram refused to recognize Nimrod as a god and he was thrown into the cauldron. G-d made a miracle and Abram survived. His brother Haran, who hedged his bets depending on what happened to Abram, also struck a note of defiance. He was cast into the same burning pit and perished.
And thus began the odyssey of Abram and Lot. Lot didn’t believe much in Abram’s theory of a divine force, but the orphan simply wouldn’t let go of the old man. Eventually, Abram became a very wealthy man and shared his fortune with Lot. That brought out the impatience of the younger man who was told that he would inherit his childless uncle.
Abram knew it was time to call it quits. He offered Lot any part of the Land of Canaan. Their flocks and shepherds would be far from each other. Lot chose the fertile region of Sdom along the sea despite that the city was regarded as evil. Abram went south to Hebron.
And the Lord said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, “Please raise your eyes and see, from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward. For all the land that you see I will give to you and to your seed to eternity. [Genesis. 13:14-15]
In a way, the separation was expected. Abram had always been the odd one of his family. At age five, Abram looked up to the heavens and realized that somebody far greater than humans created and maintained the world. During the time of Nimrod, the emperor of the world, that kind of thinking could get you in trouble.
It eventually turned Abram into a rebel. Once, he understood that G-d and not man made the earth and everything else, then what use were the idols sold by his father. So, when daddy was away, Abram smashed them all. When Terah returned to see his shop in ruins, Abram calmly explained that the idols had a fight over who was boss. Nobody won.
As a married man, Abram was the only one who had no children. His grandfather had his father at age 29, and Abram was now well over 75 and his wife Sarai was deemed barren. People looked at Abram, most of them thinking “What’s the matter with you, boy?”
Now, far away from Lot and Nimrod, Abram and Sarai were trying to make the world a better place. They gave food to the poor and educated the searchers to believe in G-d and His commandments. Meanwhile, in the valley to the east Lot was making more dollars than he could count and was treated with the respect reserved for the nephew of the great Abram.
Then Nimrod returned. He headed a coalition of four kings that occupied the region of five kingdoms. There was Amrophel, aka Nimrod, who represented Babylonia, the destroyer of the first Jewish Temple. His partner was Aryoch, the king of Elsor, later Persia. They were joined by Kedorlomer, king of Eilam, later the Greek Empire. And the slipperiest of them Tidal, known simple as king of the “Goyim,” a code word from Rome.
After 13 years, the five kings revolted against the four. Abram did not intervene. All of the kings were evil and this was not his fight.
Nimrod had different ideas. He destroyed Sdom and abducted Lot. He was hoping that Abram would react and fall into the emperor’s trap.
Abram could have played it cool. Lot was a big boy who chose to live in evil Sdom and cozy up to the leadership. Abram could have spent days or weeks in consultations whether he should intervene. Maybe diplomacy would provide the solution. After all, a military operation could endanger the lives of Lot and his family.
Instead, Abram dropped everything and went into high gear. For days, he and his men covered hundreds of kilometers from Canaan well into Syria. Instead of fighting, Nimrod turned and ran.
And Abram heard that his kinsman had been taken captive, and he armed his trained men, those born in his house, three hundred and eighteen, and he pursued [them] until Dan. And he divided himself against them at night, he and his servants, and smote them, and pursued them until Hobah, which is to the left of Damascus. And he restored all the possessions, and also Lot his brother and his possessions he restored, and also the women and the people. [Genesis. 14:14-16]
Abram’s heroism seemed to matter little to Lot. He merely picked himself up and returned to Sdom, where he resumed his life of ease. Abram felt uneasy: Maybe he had made a mistake. He was still childless after all these years. Maybe the others were right. Maybe there was something wrong with him.
Then G-d spoke. In a divine vision, Abram was told not to fear. “I am your shield. Your reward is exceedingly great.”
And He took him outside, and He said, “Please look heavenward and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” And He said to him, “So will be your seed.” [Genesis. 15:5]
Still, Abram was skeptical. He was already in his mid-80s. Perhaps he was too old to conceive. Sarai didn’t seem to stand a chance to bear a child.
The Talmud explains G-d’s words: “Forget what you see in the stars that you will not have a son. Abram won’t have a son. But Abraham will have a son. Sarai won’t give birth. But Sarah will. I will call you different names and your luck will change.”
Moses Ben Nachman, known as the Ramban, delves into this and the rest of Abram’s biography. The 14th Century sage says the Torah did not waste ink to regale us with stories. They are meant to provide eternal lessons for the Jewish people.
“This is a great matter,” the Ramban, quoting the Midrash, writes. “All that happened to the patriarchs marks a sign for their children…And all of this comes to teach us [lessons] regarding the future.”