‘Try It, You’ll Like It’ Parashat Lech Lecha 5781

An old commercial for Alka Seltzer began with a person telling the story of how someone tried to convince him to eat something that was guaranteed to cause indigestion. “Try it, you’ll like it!” he said. “Try it, you’ll like it”. Eventually, the story-teller gave in. “So I tried it. Thought I was going to die”. This, in a nutshell, describes Abraham’s nephew, Lot, and his brief flirtation with Abrahamic Judaism. Lot accompanies Abraham to the Land of Israel but only two chapters later, the two part ways. Lot leaves Abraham, moves to Sodom, and the rest, as they say, is history. In this lesson, we will try to understand what made Lot leave one of the most important and influential humans ever to walk the earth.

Lot is the son of Abraham’s brother, Haran. When Haran dies, Abraham adopts Lot. After G-d commands Abraham to move to the Land of Israel, the Torah tells us [Bereishit 12:4] “Abram[1] went forth as G-d had commanded him and Lot went together with him”. It appears that Lot tagged along willingly on his own volition[2]. Nevertheless, in the very next verse, the Torah seems to contradict itself [Bereishit 12:5]: “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”. Here it seems that Abraham took Lot and put him in the back seat, as it were, and that Lot had no say in the matter. Rabbi Meir Leibush ben Yehiel Michel Wisser, known as the “Malbim”, who lived in Eastern Europe in the nineteenth century, explains that Lot went with Abraham because he was hypnotized by Abraham’s persona. Lot could not bring himself to leave Abraham. He was truly helpless.

Almost immediately after Abraham arrives in the Land of Canaan, a famine strikes and he is forced to seek refuge in Egypt. The Torah does not explicitly say that Lot went down to Egypt together with Abraham but when it describes Abraham’s return from Egypt, it clarifies the picture [Bereishit 13:1]: “From Egypt, Abram went up into the Negev, with his wife and all that he possessed, together with Lot.” If Lot returned with Abraham, chances are he went down with him, as well.

Abraham and Lot return from Egypt having amassed great wealth and huge flocks. Immediately after they return to the Land of Israel, their shepherds begin to argue over grazing rights. To reduce friction, Abraham suggests to Lot that they put some distance between each other [Bereishit 13:9]: “Let us separate: if you go left, I will go right; and if you go right, I will go left”. Lot accepts Abraham’s offer, almost too quickly [Bereishit 13:10-11]: “Lot looked about him and saw how well watered was the whole plain of the Jordan, all of it – this was before G-d had destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah – all the way to Zoar, like the garden of G-d, like the land of Egypt. So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan, and Lot journeyed eastward. Thus they parted from each other”. Lot does not argue. He turns to Abraham and tells him “Sounds good to me. See you later!” Compare this farewell with the one in the Book of Ruth. Ruth is told by her beloved mother-in-law, Naomi, that she cannot follow her to the Land of Israel. Ruth responds [Ruth 1:16] “Do not urge me to leave you, to turn back and not follow you. For wherever you go, I will go; wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your G-d my G-d”. Apparently, Lot no longer wanted any part of Abraham, his people, or his G-d.

From the simple meaning of the verse, it is clear that Abraham never wanted to permanently part ways with Lot. Indeed, Rashi, the most famous of the medieval commentators who lived in France in the eleventh century, explains the words “if you go left, I will go right” to mean “Wherever you settle down I will not go far from you and I will stand by you as a shield and as a helper.”[3] Something seems to have soured when they were in Egypt, but what was it?

Abraham’s time in Egypt is a period he would probably rather forget. When famine strikes, Abraham leaves the Land of Israel on his own volition, even though he had come there at G-d’s command. Further, Abraham seemingly abandons his wife, Sarah. Fearing that the Egyptians will kill him if they discover that he is Sarah’s husband, he tells them that Sarah is his sister. The Egyptians, assuming that Sarah is unmarried, kidnap her and take her to the Pharaoh. Only through Divine intervention does she survive the ordeal. The Ramban, who lived in Spain and in Israel in the twelfth century, asserts that Abraham committed a “grave sin”. He should have had faith that G-d would protect him from the Egyptians. Similarly, he should have remained in Israel, trusting that G-d would provide him with sustenance.

One might suggest that Lot became disillusioned with Abraham during their Egyptian foray, perhaps for these reasons, but scripture does not bear this out. When the Torah describes Abraham’s return from Egypt, it uses the words “v’Lot imo” – “[he returned] together with Lot”. Rabbi Elijah Kramer, known as the Vilna Gaon, who lived in Lithuania in the eighteenth century, differentiates between the words “ito” and “imo”. Both words mean “together with him”, but whereas “ito” refers to two people who happen to be in close physical proximity, “imo” refers to two people who share the same goals. “Lot imo” means that when Lot returned from Egypt, he and Abraham were of one mind. So why did Lot leave him?

I suggest that Lot was not at all disenchanted with Abraham’s behaviour in Egypt. In fact, the opposite is true: Lot saw Abraham’s behaviour as archetypical, as something to be emulated. While Lot had always idolized Abraham, his problem was that he completely misunderstood Abraham. Lot thought that Abraham was making decisions in order to maximize his economic well-being. Had Abraham remained in Israel, the famine would have depleted his wealth and so he went to Egypt to seek a better economic climate. And when he tells the Egyptians that Sarah is his sister, he does so in order to benefit financially. Indeed, this is precisely what occurs [Bereishit 12:16]: “Because of her, it went well with Abram; he acquired sheep, oxen, asses, male and female slaves, she-asses, and camels.” Religion and wealth are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Televangelist Pat Robertson is worth 100 million dollars. Creflo Dollar, worth 27 million dollars, has assembled a ministry to the message that “it is the will of G-d for you to prosper in every way”. Nowhere does the Torah tell us “Thou shalt live in squalor”. When Lot sees how the plain of the Jordan was so lush, so fertile, so much “like Egypt”, he knew what Abraham was telling him: Go grab some of that wealth for yourself! Sodom would be Lot’s Egypt, in more ways than one. The morality might be subpar, but, hey, there’s money to be made. Lot had tried it and he liked it.

But Lot was mistaken. He saw in Abraham what he wanted to see. Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch, who lived in Frankfurt am Main in the eighteenth century, discusses the Ramban’s analysis of Abraham’s actions. Rabbi Hirsch suggests that Abraham did not sin. Rather, he was living in an impossible situation. He could not remain in the Land of Israel and wait for manna to fall from the skies and so, with a broken heart, he left for Egypt. In Egypt, an unmarried woman was far safer than a married one[4]. He tells the Egyptians that Sarah is her sister knowing full well what might happen. When G-d miraculously rescues Sarah from the palace, Abraham learns that G-d will step in, but only if man opens the door. He learned that a person must make his own miracles, that man and G-d are to a large extent partners.

Had Lot understood this, he would have moved his flocks a mile down the road and everyone would have lived happily ever after. Instead, Lot reflected back into Abraham his own lust for money and by doing so, he sentenced himself to oblivion.

Shabbat Shalom and stay healthy.

Ari Sacher, Moreshet, 5781

Please daven for a Refu’a Shelema for Yechiel ben Shprintza, David ben Chaya, and Iris bat Chana.

[1] Abraham moved to the Land of Canaan while his name was still Abram. In this lesson, unless quoting scripture, we will refer to him as Abraham.

[2] Indeed, this is how Rabbi Moshe Al-Sheikh explains the verse.

[3] One could argue that Lot never saw this particular comment of Rashi. Nevertheless, Abraham twice comes to Lot’s rescue so it is fair to assume that he never intended for Lot to leave.

[4] Rav Hirsch notes that in 18th century Europe, the situation was similar. With an unmarried woman, men would compete for her affection. With a married woman, there was only one, easily removed, competitor.

About the Author
Ari Sacher is a Rocket Scientist, and has worked in the design and development of missiles for over twenty-five years. He has briefed hundreds of US Congressmen on Israeli Missile Defense, including three briefings on Capitol Hill at the invitation of House Majority Leader. Ari is a highly requested speaker, enabling even the layman to understand the "rocket science". Ari has also been a scholar in residence in numerous synagogues in the USA, Canada, UK, South Africa, and Australia. He is a riveting speaker, using his experience in the defense industry to explain the Torah in a way that is simultaneously enlightening and entertaining. Ari came on aliya from the USA in 1982. He studied at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, and then spent seven years studying at the Technion. Since 2001 he has published a weekly parasha shiur that is read around the world. Ari lives in Moreshet in the Western Galil along with his wife and eight children.
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