Choose Your Neighbors Wisely

November 11th, 2005 by Yaakov Ellis

When Avram asked Lot where he wanted to live, Lot chose to live in Sodom, a place full of wicked people who were rebellious to God. Lot may have had good intentions in choosing to live in Sodom. He may have thought that he could do kiruv. He may have thought that he would not be affected by the environment in which he lived.

ויקחו את לוט ואת רכשו בן אחי אברם וילכו, והוא ישב בסדם
And they took Lot, the nephew of Avram, and his posessions and went, and he (Lot) was settled in Sodom

Bereishit 14:12

When the four kings kidnapped Lot and family and took his posessions, it was not despite the fact he lived in Sodom. Rather, Lot’s decision to live in Sodom was the very cause of his kidnapping (Rashi on 14:12). Lot decision to live in a wicked city had a direct affect on the the wellbeing of himself and of his family.

On the other hand, Avram chose to surround himself with those whom he could trust, his ba’alei brit.

ויבא הפליט ויגד לאברם העברי; והוא שכן באלני ממרא האמרי, אחי אשכל ואחי ענר, והם בעלי ברית-אברם
And the Palit came and told to Avram the Ivri (what had befallen Lot), and (Avram) was dwelling in Elonei Mamre the Emorite, the brother of Eshkol and the brother of Ever; and they were Avram’s allies/kinsmen

Bereishit 14:13

Although Avram’s decision to surround himself with friends (who according to some commentators are called the ba’alei brit because they are the ones who gave him suggestions on how best to fulfill God’s commandment of brit milah in the coming parasha) may not have been the cause of Avram’s righteousness – however it is certainly an indicator of Avram’s spiritual level. It shows that even someone on Avram’s level can benefit from living among kind, just people. It is as well a lesson for us, the descendents of Avram.

This has been codified into halacha by the Rambam:

דרך ברייתו של אדם להיות נמשך בדעותיו ובמעשיו אחר ריעיו וחבריו, ונוהג במנהג אנשי מדינתו. לפיכך צריך אדם להתחבר לצדיקים ולישב אצל החכמים תמיד, כדי שילמוד ממעשיהם; ויתרחק מן הרשעים ההולכים בחושך, כדי שלא ילמוד ממעשיהם
Man’s nature is to follow after the thoughts and actions of his neighbors and friends, and act in the way of his countrymen. Therefore one must attach himself to the righteous and constantly sit by the wise, in order to learn from their actions; And (one should) distance oneself from the wicked who walk in darkness, in order not to learn from their actions.

Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Dei’ot, 6:1

May we all merit to learn from both Avraham Avinu and Lot the way in which we should and should not act.

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