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YOU TAKE THE HIGH ROAD...

Updated: Oct 25, 2023


Avram's nephew, Lot, chose the allure of Sodom, a gamble on fleeting prosperity; Abram chose a covenant with the Divine, a bet on everlasting significance. Two paths diverged—see where they led. * On the third reading of Parshas Lech Lecha with integrated commentary of Rashi.

by Rabbi Boruch Merkur

In the land where earth met sky, the rustle of sheep and lowing of cattle filled the air. Tents rose like a makeshift kingdom, full of life and promise. Abram, the man of faith, was not alone in his journey or prosperity. At his side walked Lot, his nephew, a man who also commanded an ever-growing abundance of flocks and herds, and tents that dotted the landscape.


Yet the plenty that surrounded Lot carried an unspoken question: Why did he, too, possess such wealth? The answer was simple but profound: It was the very act of walking alongside Abram that brought this richness into his life. Lot's wealth wasn't just a function of time or chance; it was a direct outcome of his alliance with Abram, a man who walked in step with the Divine.


In a world fraught with uncertainty, Lot's decision to align himself with his uncle had proven to be a wellspring of blessing. The herds moved lazily in the fading light, unaware of the profound relationship that made their very existence possible. Lot himself might have wondered at times, but deep down, he knew: his prosperity was less about his own deeds and more about his choice to journey with Abram—a choice that was continuously reaping its rewards.


As the sun dipped below the horizon, painting the sky in hues of orange and pink, the two men might have looked over their respective domains and understood, even if unspoken, that their wealth was more than material. It was a physical manifestation of spiritual alignment, a testament to the power of choices and associations.


And so, amidst the bleating and lowing, in the quiet spaces between the tents, the essence of the matter settled: To walk with a righteous man is to walk a path paved with blessings, and Lot had chosen his path well.


*


As the morning light stretched over the land, Abram and Lot surveyed their respective domains, flocks grazing and tents sprawling. The horizon was a living testament to their prosperity, but something was amiss. The land, it seemed, was no longer expansive enough to contain them both. Fields grew crowded, the earth strained under the weight of their wealth.


It wasn't just a logistical issue, but a matter that touched the essence of the land itself. The ground seemed almost reluctant, as if saying, "I cannot provide pasture for the herds of both men." The pastures, once lush and bountiful, grew patchy under the pressure of grazing too many animals. Even the land, it seemed, was keenly aware of the limits of its own bounty.


Abram looked across at Lot, a tinge of concern crossing his eyes. He thought about the depth of their wealth, the sheer number of their animals, and knew it was time for a hard decision. The complexity of the situation was not lost on him—this wasn't just a challenge of practicality; it hinted at a deeper reality.


Both men, whether they realized it or not, were confronting a limitation inherent in the physical world: abundance could become a source of tension, a test of coexistence. As Lot gazed back, their eyes met for a brief moment, acknowledging a truth they would rather not face. The land had brought them prosperity, but now it demanded a choice.


Their combined wealth had reached a tipping point where the very blessing that drew them together was pulling them apart. No longer could they share the same space, the same blessings, without diminishing the land's ability to sustain them.


So there it was—a fork in the road forged by their own success. It wasn't just a matter of can or can't; it was the land itself saying, "Enough. Choose your path." And so they understood, almost instinctively, that it was time to reassess and realign. Time for choices that were both heartbreaking and inevitable, in a world where even the most expansive landscapes had their limits.


*


As the tension between the lands occupied by Abram and Lot intensified, another kind of strife began to surface, far more unsettling than mere scarcity of resources. The men tending to Abram's herds started locking horns with Lot's shepherds, and the friction was no simple spat over grazing fields.


Lot's shepherds had a devil-may-care attitude, letting their flocks roam into fields that were not theirs. To them, the concept of ownership seemed almost fluid, negotiable. Abram's shepherds were having none of it. They held their counterparts accountable, insisting that grazing in another's pasture was outright theft.


Look, the shepherds of Lot would argue, "the land was promised to Abram, and he has no heir. Lot is as good as an heir, right? So, where's the theft?"


The discord was troubling, cutting through the bonds of family and blurring the lines of morality. It wasn't just about rights to a piece of earth; it was a clash of worldviews, a dispute that carried ethical undertones.


And all this was happening against an intriguing backdrop. The Canaanites and the Perizzites were the original inhabitants of this coveted land. They still dwelled there, casting a watchful eye on this unfolding family drama. Abram, for all his promises from the Divine, had not yet fully acquired the land; the reality of this shared geography brought an extra layer of complexity.


So here were Abram and Lot, blessed with so much yet mired in conflicts both practical and moral. Each day brought new challenges, and each challenge uncovered more about the character of the men involved. The disputes among their shepherds were more than mere arguments; they were a reflection of contrasting visions, both for themselves and the promised land they occupied.


Could two different codes of conduct, two distinct interpretations of what's right, coexist in a land so infused with promise but not yet fully their own? The answer was becoming clear: they could not. The land was forcing them to look inward, to reevaluate, and to ultimately decide what kind of people they wanted to be in this world they were shaping.


It was a precarious moment, teetering on the edge of revelation and discord. The land itself was almost like a silent judge, urging them to confront the truth. They needed to make a decision, not only for the sake of peace but for the integrity of their souls.


*


Abram, always a man of foresight, felt the tension tearing at the seams of his family like a thread pulled too tight. He approached Lot, his face etched with both authority and concern. "Let's not have any quarrels between you and me, or between your herders and mine," he implored. "We're kin—people will see our discord and think less of us both."


There was weight in his words, more than just a call for familial peace. Abram was hinting at something deeper, almost unspeakable. They not only shared blood but also bore a striking resemblance to each other, down to the curve of their smiles and the intensity of their gazes. If an outsider looked at them, the likeness would be hard to miss.


This resemblance was not merely physical; it was almost as if their very souls had been shaped from the same celestial mold. To fight with each other would be like fighting a distorted mirror image. What would people think, seeing two men so alike yet so divided? Would they not question the very fabric of their values, the authenticity of their vision for this sacred land?


Abram's appeal to Lot was as much a plea to remember their shared destiny as it was a simple request for peace. They were the present and the future of a promised land, the front men of an unfolding epic. How could they set the stage for a land filled with divine promise if they, who were almost like twin souls, could not live in harmony?


But more than that, Abram was laying bare a vulnerable truth—that they were not just family in the way all men are brothers, but uniquely connected. The world would see their rift as more than just a family feud; it would be viewed as a crack in the very foundation they were trying to lay for generations to come.


So with a heavy heart, the air tingling with unspoken understanding, Abram waited for Lot's response. Would they choose the legacy of unity, or would the likeness they shared be overshadowed by discord, leaving each to wonder what promise could possibly flourish in a land where even brothers can't see eye to eye?


*


Abram stretched his arm toward the horizon, as if the very earth were parchment and he the scribe. "Isn't the whole land before us? Go ahead and separate yourself from me," he offered, eyes locking onto Lot's.


The unspoken compact between them hung heavy in the air: where Lot would go, Abram would not be far behind—always a shield, always an aide. "If you go left, I'll head right. And if you go right, I'll journey to the left."


In saying this, Abram wasn't merely giving Lot first choice of the land; he was emphasizing their continued bond. "No matter where you settle, you'll never be far from my thoughts or my support," his eyes seemed to convey.


There was a second layer to his words. The terms "left" and "right" weren't random directions; they held a certain gravitas. "Left" and "right" were reflections of choices, of paths. Left might mean one thing and right another, but in Abram's world, either direction was one where he would bolster Lot, support him when needed.


Abram saw it before Lot did—the outline of Lot's decision forming like the first light breaking at dawn. Would Lot choose the fertile fields that whispered promises of prosperity? Or perhaps the rougher terrains that demanded resilience and faith?


What Lot didn't realize was that Abram's offer was both a freedom and a responsibility. Lot's choice would shape not just his own destiny, but set the tone for their collective future.


And so, amid the untouched landscape and under the eye of an eternal sky, the two stood on the cusp of decision. In that quiet moment, the land seemed to hold its breath, as if it, too, recognized the gravity of the choices before them.


*


Lot's gaze followed the curvature of the Jordan, a stretch of land that unfurled like a lush, emerald ribbon before him. Watercourses snaked through the landscape, turning the earth rich and fecund, reminiscent of the fabled gardens of Eden. It was arable land, a farmer's dream, perfect for seeds to be sown and nurtured into full bloom.


All this can be mine, he thought, a sense of destiny filling his chest.


But what Lot didn't realize, what he couldn't see from his vantage point, was the moral landscape that lay hidden beneath the physical beauty. Sodom and Gomorrah sat like jewels in this fertile crescent, but they were jewels with deep flaws, marred by corruption and vice. It was even-terrain, yes, but evenness in geography could betray a stark unevenness in the disposition of its people.


Abram watched as Lot's eyes widened, taking in the verdant expanse. He could almost see the wheels turning in Lot's mind, calculations of prosperity overtaking caution. The younger man's decision was clear; he would choose the rich soil, the well-irrigated fields, and the promise of a flourishing future. In doing so, he was also unknowingly choosing to dwell among people steeped in vice, drawn to the allure of material prosperity over spiritual integrity.


All right, Uncle, Lot finally said, a smile forming on his lips, "I choose the Jordan Valley."


Abram nodded, a mix of relief and concern etching his features. "Very well," he replied, inwardly affirming his earlier commitment. Even if Lot chose to live near Sodom, Abram would be there to aid him, to protect him—even if it meant rescuing him from the very choices he had made.


The sun began to dip below the horizon, casting long shadows on the land. The two men were on diverging paths now, their choices setting in motion a chain of events that neither could fully foresee. Yet, for all the splendor of the land Lot had chosen, Abram couldn't shake the feeling that they were walking toward vastly different futures, bound by blood but separated by the essence of their souls.


*


As Lot finalized his decision, he took one last glance at the sprawling Jordan Valley. "This will be my new home," he muttered, his words almost a whisper, carried away by the wind.


He began his journey eastward, distancing himself from Abram with each step he took. The land he chose was a plain, as straightforward in its geography as it was deceptive in its moral tapestry. To the untrained eye, it appeared to be a paradise on Earth; in reality, it was anything but.


The significance of his departure wasn't lost on Abram. Lot's choice was not just a separation in space; it was also a shift in orientation, a divergence of paths that was both literal and metaphorical. Lot was now moving away from the east, where Abram had settled, toward the west. In a broader sense, he was also distancing himself from the spiritual heritage that Abram represented. He was navigating away from Abram’s God and his teachings, the very foundations that had shaped their shared journey up to this point.


Abram stood there, a solitary figure against the setting sun, pondering the roads that now lay separately before them. "We're kin," he thought, "but that doesn't mean we're the same. He’s taking his steps, and I’ll take mine. Yet, should he stumble, should he fall, I’ll be there. That's what family does. That's what I'll do."


And so, the two men parted ways, each one a microcosm of the choices that shaped them, the landscapes that beckoned them, and the futures that awaited them. Both figures grew smaller in each other's eyes until they were but specks on the horizon, each absorbed by the vast expanse that was now their separate homes. Yet, despite the physical distance, an invisible thread still connected them—a thread spun from shared history, blood ties, and the unspoken hope that perhaps one day their paths might converge once more.


*


As the dust settled from the departing footsteps of Lot, Abram found himself standing alone in the land of Canaan. The silence was more profound than ever, the weight of the moment palpable. Here was Abram, dwelling in a land promised to him by the Divine, yet visibly marked by the absence of his nephew. The air was thick with the sense of what had been and what could be.


In stark contrast, Lot found himself gravitating toward the cities of the plain. City life had its own allure, its own promises of something tantalizingly different. The Jordan Valley had captured his imagination, and now the city of Sodom, shimmering in the distance, beckoned him closer like a moth to a flame. There was no stopping Lot; he pitched tents for his shepherds and livestock, inching ever closer to a city whose reputation was as ominous as its riches were dazzling.


Lot's tents were pitched, not just as shelter, but as markers on the road to a destination filled with untold stories. They stood on the outskirts of Sodom, a boundary in the sand that he was willing to cross, yet serving as a silent testament to his divergence from Abram’s values.


Abram, on the other hand, found a different sort of contentment. He looked out over Canaan—his Canaan—and felt a deeper sense of responsibility to the soil under his feet, to the generations who would walk this land long after he was gone. His decision to stay was more than just geographical; it was a declaration of purpose, a commitment to a legacy that transcended the immediate.


So there they were, uncle and nephew, bound by blood but separated by choices. Abram remained rooted in a place touched by divine promise, while Lot found himself lured by the twinkling lights and shadowy corners of a city that could offer him the world, yet potentially cost him his soul.


Though miles apart, each man was crafting a future from the choices they had made, and those choices would echo in the lives of generations yet unborn. Lot was a small but significant ripple moving farther away from the origin, the center being Abram, and the two points seemed almost destined to drift farther and farther apart. Yet even as they separated, a lingering question hung in the air, whispered by the wind through the trees of Canaan and over the plains towards Sodom: Could their paths ever cross again? Would they?


*


As Lot neared Sodom, its glimmering walls and spires visible in the distance, whispers of the city's true nature began to reach his ears. The people were cruel, unkind to a degree that tipped the scales of human decency. Their wrongdoings weren't merely occasional lapses but systematic evils, built into the very fabric of their society. They were wicked, and not just by human standards but profoundly so in the eyes of the Divine.


Yet, even with the grim stories swirling around him, Lot chose not to turn back. It was as if the gravity of the city pulled him in, counteracting the moral repulsion that should have warded him off. Maybe it was the allure of new beginnings or perhaps the bewitching promise of wealth. Whatever the reason, he was set on making his home there, amongst a people whose names would later become synonymous with sin itself.


And so he stepped across an invisible line, one that separated him not just from his past, but also from the ethical anchors that had once kept him grounded. As he moved closer to Sodom, the divide between him and his righteous uncle Abram seemed to deepen like a chasm, a rift not just in distance but in the very essence of who they were and what they stood for.


The residents of Canaan could almost hear the proverbial ink drying on this chapter of their history, each stroke writing divergent paths for Abram and Lot. One anchored in a divine promise, and the other drifting perilously towards moral ambiguity.


For Abram, who remained in Canaan, the dissonance felt like a wound, yet he kept his gaze firmly on the horizon of his convictions. As for Lot, whether oblivious or simply indifferent, he continued to pitch his tent, extending his life and livelihood closer to the enigmatic city, as if braiding his fate with that of Sodom, blissfully—or perhaps willfully—ignorant of the consequences.


*


Abram felt a curious lightness, a clarity that was new yet familiar, envelop him the moment Lot's entourage vanished over the horizon towards Sodom. It was as if a fog had lifted, one he hadn't even known was there. He stood alone amidst the pastoral beauty of Canaan, eyes still tracing the dusty path his nephew had taken, when a voice—rich in timbre yet whisper-soft—filled the air.


The time has come, Abram. Look around you, from where you stand—north, south, east, and west.


In this instant, it became evident why divine communication had seemed distant while Lot was by his side. The presence of someone whose moral compass skewed so heavily had acted like a veil, separating Abram from the clearer conversations he was meant to have with the Divine. Now that veil was lifted.


Eager, Abram cast his eyes in all directions. His gaze swept over the sprawling plains, the distant hills, and the horizons stretching infinitely in each direction. The Divine words danced with the winds around him, telling him, in no uncertain terms, that all of this would be part of a legacy stretching far beyond his lifetime.


He had been chosen for this. Chosen because he didn't let societal norms blind him to ethical imperatives. Chosen because he wouldn't settle in a place where vice was lauded and virtue chastised.


Unlike Lot, who saw the plains of Sodom and saw opportunity, who heard of its people and thought it of no concern, Abram looked upon Canaan and saw a foundation—a moral and spiritual base upon which something lasting could be built. It was clear that their two paths were diverging widely, guided by different stars, toward different destinies.


And as Abram stood there, bathed in the golden light of a setting sun, he felt more than ever the weight and wonder of the promise bestowed upon him. This was a new chapter, and the ink was still wet. But the words, divine and charged with purpose, were indelible. And Abram knew that whatever came next, he wouldn't walk that path alone.


*


Abram's eyes widened as the voice continued its intimate conversation with him. "All the land you see, I will give to you and your descendants, forever."


The air seemed to crystallize around these words, turning them into a promise as tangible as the soil beneath his feet and the sky above his head. Forever. It was a concept that strained human understanding, stretching out beyond horizons, beyond generations, beyond even the march of stars across the heavens.


The implications were grandiose, but Abram felt no overwhelm—only a resolute certainty in the words. After all, this was the voice that had guided him out of Ur, the voice that had navigated him through famine and conflict. It had never faltered, never misled. And he knew it never would.


There were no scholars or rabbis beside him to quantify the promise, to dissect its layers or prophesy its impact. Yet, Abram felt in his bones that this covenant wasn't just about land; it was about something far richer. It was a promise to infuse the very soil of Canaan with the values he held dear—compassion, justice, faith—and to make it a home for like-minded souls who'd walk the earth long after he returned to it.


Unlike Lot, who was drawn to the lush and extravagant land but ignored the character of its inhabitants, Abram understood the deeper worth of a place lay in its spirit, its ideals. A land could be reshaped, its swamps drained and its forests cleared, but what values would grow in its open spaces? This was the land promised to him and his yet-unborn lineage—a land that would hold not just their bodies, but their dreams, their morals, and their collective soul.


As the sun dipped lower, casting elongated shadows over the landscape, Abram felt the future converging with the present, the Divine promise turning into a blueprint for generations to come. The silence that followed wasn't empty but full, brimming with the unspoken, the yet-to-be, and the will-be. And in that stillness, Abram knew he wasn't just standing on a piece of earth. He was standing at the threshold of eternity.


*


Abram looked at his feet, where they met the ground, and then let his eyes roam across the stretch of earth that unfolded in every direction. The voice came again, clearer than ever: "I will make your descendants as numerous as the dust of the earth. So numerous that if a man could count the grains of dust on the earth, then your descendants might be counted."


As soon as the words resounded in his ears, the grains of soil beneath him seemed almost to shimmer. These weren't just tiny specks of earth; each grain was a testament to possibility, a stand-in for a soul that would one day walk this land, inhabit these villages, journey through these very plains and valleys that Abram now saw.


Count the dust? It was laughably impossible, as ridiculous as trying to scoop the ocean dry with a seashell. Yet, there was a moment—just a tiny moment—where it seemed as though he could actually see it. Each grain stood out, unique and irreplaceable, just like the lives they represented. Countless, beyond measure, stretching beyond what eyes could see or minds comprehend.


And Abram got it. Just as nobody could take stock of each individual grain of earth underfoot, no one would ever quantify his descendants. They would be a people beyond numbers, beyond easy definition or any kind of earthly limitation. They wouldn't be a footnote in history; they'd be the ones writing it, each individual adding something invaluable to the grand narrative.


It was mind-bending yet intensely personal, this promise. And in a way, it didn't just span the future; it circled back to him, standing there at the pivot of time, shaping it with his faith, his decisions, and—someday—his legacy.


This couldn't be captured in ledgers or tallies, no matter how exhaustive. What was promised was something more intricate, something that wouldn't be confined to mere numerical value. His lineage would be as countless as the dust, yes, but each one as vital as a single grain, together forming the very bedrock of a new world.


And so, with eyes open wide, Abram took it all in—one horizon to the next, from the skies above to the earth below, knowing that he stood amidst an uncountable promise, as vast and as personal as the dust beneath his feet.


*


Still grounded by the sheer weight of the promise, the uncountable descendants like grains of earth, Abram heard the next instruction: "Arise, walk through the land, its length and its breadth, for I will give it to you."


He took his first step, and then another, as if testing the compact soil that would one day be trodden by countless feet. The land wasn't just land anymore; it was a canvas of destinies, a playground of divine plans. He didn't just see the terrain; he saw the future schools where wisdom would be taught, the homes that would be filled with laughter and debate, the fields that would be tilled by hands yet unborn.


Abram was directed to explore it all—its length and its breadth, from the shortest distances to the long stretches that seemed to kiss the horizon. There were no shortcuts in this journey, no bypassing any part of the rich complexity that was this Promised Land. He couldn't merely glance at it; he had to know it intimately, to really feel its topography underfoot, and in doing so, embrace the multidimensional promise it held.


Walking the land was like walking through the chapters of a book yet to be written, every step a word, every mile a sentence. And each one mattered. He had to be present in this anticipation, not just for himself, but for all those who would come after him. For in walking it now, he was, in a way, walking it for them—claiming it with every step, a heritage in both time and space.


Abram understood that the journey through this land was not just a physical trek; it was an act of faith that mapped out the destiny for those innumerable souls. The promise of descendants and the gift of the land were not separate pledges but two sides of the same golden coin, each one enriching and ennobling the other.


By traversing its length and breadth, he was laying the groundwork—literally—for generations to come. They would walk in his paths and create their own, living out the manifold potentialities that he could only glimpse. And all of it, every last footfall, was a claim, an assertion, and an affirmation: this is ours, not just in deed, but in spirit and in promise.


So Abram walked, not as one man but as an embodiment of multitudes. With each step, he wasn't just covering distance; he was spanning generations. And the land, in its expansive beauty, felt somehow both vast and intimate, like a majestic theater awaiting the arrival of its countless stars.


*


Abram's journey took him to Elonei Mamre, near Hebron. But this wasn't just any stop; this place had its own energy, named for a person of wisdom. Abram sensed it in the atmosphere—the solidity of the oaks, the steadiness of the earth. It was as if Mamre himself, long gone but still remembered, whispered subtle lessons through the rustle of the leaves and the texture of the ground.


But Abram also knew that this place was not just a waypoint but a destination, a space where he could set roots, however temporarily. And so, between the towering oaks of Mamre, Abram chose to make his home. Yet, even as he pitched his tent, he knew that his ultimate home was not anchored to any specific dot on the map; it was rooted in something much grander, a divine promise that turned every stop into a meaningful chapter.


It was more than fitting, then, that Abram would build an altar here to Hashem. He assembled the stones carefully, as if each one represented a different facet of his journey—his struggles, his triumphs, his unwavering faith. The altar was not just an architectural structure; it was a narrative in stone, a testament to the ongoing dialogue between the human and the divine.


And so, in this grove named for a man of wisdom, Abram brought his own brand of wisdom to life. With each stone set, each offering made, he translated abstract spiritual concepts into physical form. If the land was a canvas of divine will, then this altar was his signature at the bottom—an acknowledgment that while the landscape around him was grand, the covenant between him and Hashem was the most monumental thing of all.


Building an altar here, amidst the oaks of Mamre, was Abram's way of adding another layer to this intricate relationship between man, land, and God. It was a declaration: wherever he would go, whatever challenges he'd face, the connection to Hashem would remain the one constant, the cornerstone upon which everything else stood.


So, in the silence that followed the final stone's placement, punctuated only by the ambient sounds of nature, Abram felt a deep sense of contentment and readiness for whatever lay ahead. The oaks seemed to nod in approval, their leaves applauding softly in the wind. Hebron itself, named for alliance, seemed to recognize the truest partnership of all: a man in covenant with the Divine. And thus, Abram's journey—our journey—continued, with faith as the compass and God as the destination.



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