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There was a quarrel between Abram's shepherds and Lot's shepherds. The Canaanites… were living in the land… Abram said: "Do not let a quarrel take place between us, or between our shepherds… please go away from me: if you go to the left, I will go the right, and if you go to the right, I will go to the left" (13:7-10).
Rashi brings the tradition of the nature of the quarrel. Lot's shepherds allowed their animals sheep to graze on Canaanite-owned pasture, on the grounds those lands were to become family property: they had been promised to Abraham's descendants (12:7) in the future. By contrast, Abraham and his shepherds recognized that the Canaanites had the legal ownership to the land at the time, whatever was to come.
What was it in the nature of the quarrel that prevented Abraham from taking more proactive action? Why did he not personally intervene and use his influence to prevent theft? Why did he tell Lot to go wherever he wished - with his shepherds no doubt continuing to graze their sheep and goats on pastures belonging to other people?
In response, I remember in my youth asking a Rabbi with strong views against secular Zionism whether it was permitted to smuggle cassette tapes through the Israeli checkpoint, evading customs duties. His answer: 'No! Such things make a person crooked'. End of conversation.
He did not comment on the Halachic side. He did not comment on the political side. His focus was purely on how such activities affected the moral bearing of the individual.
The same applies here. There were strong legal arguments supporting Lot and his shepherds. The text relates: 'The Canaanites were then in the Land' (12:6). Rashi explains the significance of the word 'then'. The Canaanites were in the process of conquering the Land from Abraham (and Lot's) extended family - the descendants of Shem. As the Land came into their possession by force, they had less right to the pastures than Abraham and Lot - who, unlike them, were heirs of the previous owners. [Arguably considerably less - as the race cursed by Noah: 'Cursed be Canaan - a servant of servant he shall be to his brothers' (10:25).] As the Talmud puts it: 'He that steals from a thief is exempt from the penalty of double payment' (Bava Kama 67b)
But the basis of Abraham's outlook was: 'You shall do what is right and good in the eyes of G-d' (Deut. 6:18). Law is quantifiable. It is a tool which may be appropriately applied and enforced. But common decency - 'doing what is right and good' is something which is a bi-product of fundamental human qualities - humanly sensitive, ethically sensitive - in short, a fundamentally 'good person'. A decent person does not exploit something in the hands of another without permission. Period.
Lot's shepherds (and by implication, Lot, for failing to restrain them) demonstrated the lack basic human decency which was a pre-requisite framework for the teachings of Abraham. As such, he needed to 'see himself in the mirror', as it were, towards mixing with a society with similar characteristics - Sodom - as the text continues: 'Lot chose the Jordan Valley… up to Sodom' (13:11-12).
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Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: email@example.com for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
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