Parashat Lech Lecha (Go Forth!)
Beresheet (Genesis) 12:1–17:27
The account of Abraham and Lot is probably familiar to most readers, and it appears in our Scripture portion this week. Sometimes when we know a story so well, we can miss some of the finer points, and so with that in mind, I would like us to take a closer look into this account:
So Abram went up from Egypt to the Negev, he and his wife and all that belonged to him; and Lot with him.
Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver and in gold. And he went on his journeys from the Negev as far as Bethel, to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, to the place of the altar, which he had made there formerly; and there Abram called on the name of the LORD. Now Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents. And the land could not sustain them while dwelling together; for their possessions were so great that they were not able to remain together. And there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock. Now the Canaanite and the Perizzite were dwelling then in the land.
Then Abram said to Lot, “Please let there be no strife between you and me, nor between my herdsmen and your herdsmen, for we are brothers. Is not the whole land before you? Please separate from me: if to the left, then I will go to the right; or if to the right, then I will go to the left.” And Lot lifted up his eyes and saw all the valley of the Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere — this was before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah — like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt as you go to Zoar. So Lot chose for himself all the valley of the Jordan; and Lot journeyed eastward. Thus they separated from each other. Abram settled in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled in the cities of the valley, and moved his tents as far as Sodom. Now the men of Sodom were wicked exceedingly and sinners against the LORD.
The account opens with Abram, his wife, and his nephew, Lot, leaving Egypt for the Negev desert. It is interesting to note the words “went up,” which can have both a literal and figurative meaning in Hebrew. While it can mean very literally to ascend from a lower elevation to a higher one, I believe this particular reference is more figurative; it refers to the low spiritual place in which Abram was in Egypt, but was undergoing a spiritual journey upwards as he came to the land of Canaan. Just as a reminder, Abram deceived the Egyptians by not telling them that Sarah (or Sarai, at that moment) was his wife; rather, he presented her as his sister, which resulted in the Egyptians being struck by plagues.
The first thing Abram does upon arriving back to the Land is to stop at Bethel, where he first built the altar to the Lord, and which is the place that is described in Genesis 12:7:
And the LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the LORD who had appeared to him.
It is interesting that Abram went to the place where God gave Him the promise regarding the Land. This, in my opinion, is key to understanding the rest of the story, especially in connection to his offer to Lot to choose which part of the Land he would like. This gives us an indication that Abram learned the lesson from his time in Egypt and chose to trust God’s promises!
However, the same cannot necessarily be said for Lot:
Lot lifted up his eyes and saw all the valley of the Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere.
Lot was so enamored by what he saw and chose to ignore the reality of wickedness that was taking place in that area, which is described in our text, “Now the men of Sodom were wicked exceedingly and sinners against the LORD.”
In next week’s parasha, we will learn of the byproduct of his bad choice, so I would like to briefly point out the fact that Lot’s eyes were his stumbling block. We, too, (like Lot) make poor choices based on the deception of the eye rather on the leading of the LORD. We choose to ignore the facts, maybe even at times with a good desire to bring light into the darkness and be a godly influence, yet what we do is based on what we may get out of it and even based on our own comfort rather than that which God desires for us!
Here’s the bottom line: Abram chose to trust God; Lot chose to trust in what he saw to be a good thing. I personally believe God honored Abram’s faith, and affirmed His promise to Abram in spite of Abram’s compromises. (To read more on this specific issue, please see Abram Compromises).
On what are you basing your choices? Your eyes or the LORD’s promises?