Parashas Lech-Lecha

In this week’s parashah, the Torah relates how Hashem told Avraham [then called Avram] to leave his birthplace and go to the land that He would show him. The Torah goes on to say (Bereishis 12:4): “And Avram went as Hashem had spoken to him, and Lot went along with him.” The Midrash remarks (Bereishis Rabbah 39:13): “‘Avram went as Hashem had spoken to him, and Lot went along with him’ – Lot was an adjunct to him.” The Maggid asks: What are the Sages trying to point out, beyond what is evident from the verse itself? He answers by saying that the Sages are apparently seizing on the fact that the term the verse uses for “with him” is אתו rather than עמו, and taking this as a deliberate hint that Lot was merely tagging along with Avraham.
The Maggid brings out the point with an analogy. Suppose a small merchant wants to travel to a distant city to sell his wares, but the amount of merchandise he has does not justify the expense of making the trip on his own. He then will join a bigger merchant who is already travelling to the same city. But he is not just an adjunct to this other merchant; rather, he has his own agenda. On the other hand, if a person is making a trip and he takes his attendant along, we would describe the attendant as an adjunct – he is not making the trip for his own reasons, but rather is going only to serve his employer. In the case of the small merchant travelling with the bigger merchant, the appropriate Hebrew term for “with him” is עמו, which indicates one independent entity accompanying another. By contrast, in the case of the attendant, the appropriate term is אתו, which indicates an intrinsic connection.
In the case of Avraham and Lot, Avraham’s departure from Charan for Eretz Yisrael had a specific reason: Hashem had told him to make this trip. When Lot went along, it was not because he himself sought to go to Eretz Yisrael, and was taking an opportunity to make the trip without bearing all the expenses on his own. Rather, Lot made the trip only because he was subordinate to Avraham and naturally went wherever Avraham did. The Midrash reads the Torah’s choice of language as deliberately designed to make this point.
Later, a quarrel erupted between Avraham’s shepherds and Lot’s, and Avraham suggested to Lot that the two of them part company. Avraham said to Lot (Bereishis 13:9): “Behold, the entire land is before you. Please separate from me. If you go left, I will move over to the right, and if you go right, I will move over to the left.” Why did Avraham preface his request with the words “behold, the entire land is before you.” Why did he not simply ask Lot to separate from him? And why did Avraham need to urge Lot to separate from him, as if the matter was up to Lot? Why did Avraham not simply set off in his own direction, and leave Lot behind?
We can explain Avraham’s actions with an analogy. Suppose two wagons are moving in opposite directions on the same road, one wagon with a full load and the other empty. If the road is too narrow for the wagons to pass each other, and one of them must move to the side, the empty wagon will be the one to move. Since the empty wagon is light, its driver can easily move it to the side, whereas the full wagon, being heavy, is hard to move. 
It was similar with Avraham and Lot. Hashem told Avraham to go “to the land that I shall show you.” Clearly Hashem provided Avraham with landmarks to guide his way, just as He later guided the Jewish People in the wilderness by providing a cloud to lead them. Indeed, Hashem must have given Avraham very precise directions, for we know that every step that Avraham took was designed to lay key foundations for his descendants. He camped in Shechem to pray for Yaakov’s sons, who would later wage war there. And he built an altar at Ai, and prayed there on behalf of the Jews of Yehoshua’s time, who would suffer hardship at that particular place. Avraham therefore could not have set off in some other direction in order to separate from Lot. He had to get Lot to move. Thus, he said to Lot: “Behold, the entire land is before you.” Lot had the entire land open to him; he could go wherever he wanted. Avraham, however, had to keep to the path that Hashem had set for him. Avraham called this point to Lot’s attention in order to convince him to set off in another direction.
Avraham said further: “If you go left, I will move over to the right, and if you go right, I will move over to the left.” The Midrash interprets (Bereishis Rabbah 41:6):
If you go to the left, I will go to the south; if I go to the south, you will go to the left. … It is like two men with two stockpiles of grain, one of wheat and the other of barley. Said one of these men to the other: “If the wheat is mine, the barley is yours. And if the barley is yours, the wheat is mine. In any event, the wheat is mine.” Said R. Chanina bar Yitzchak: “It is not written ‘and I will go to the left’ (ואשמאלה), but rather ‘and I will move [you] over to the left’ (ואשמאילה, in the causative form). Avraham was saying: ‘In any event, I will move you over to the left.’”
Thus, Avraham was not giving Lot the option of which direction to choose for himself. Rather, he was telling him: “If you go left, I will move myself over to the right, and if you go right, I will move you over to the left. In any event, I am going to the right. If you go left voluntarily, all is well. And if not, I will force you to do so.” Irrespective of Lot’s wishes, Avraham had to keep his own course, in order to fulfill the mission Hashem gave him.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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