Going Over the Line

November 8th, 2005 by Yaakov Ellis

ולא נשא אתם הארץ לשבת יחדו כי היה רכושם רב ולא יכלו לשבת יחדו. ויהי ריב בין רעי מקנה אברם ובין רעי מקנה לוט והכנעני והפרזי אז ישב בארץ
The land could not support them living together; their wealth was so great that they could not stay together. Friction developed between the herdsmen of Abram’s flocks and those of Lot. The Canaanites and Perizites were then living in the land.

Bereishit 13:6-7

Why does the Torah mention two times that Avram and Lot could not dwell together? According to the Netziv, it is to emphasize that their inability to be in the same place was not because there was not enough arable land for the two of them. Rather, it was because their was a clash between their temperments and their spiritual levels.

Yet despite this, Avram did not make any proactive steps to separate himself from Lot until friction developed between their respective sheperds. Why did he wait so long?

The Netziv explains this in verse 7. Avram could have gone on for quite some time, maintaining his relationship with Lot to the point where they would not have to separate outright. However, he was prompted to take action by the Chillul Hashem that was going on. Avram was known far and wide for his righteousness and closeness to God. So what impression does it make on everyone around when Avram’s sheperds are getting into fights (even if they didn’t start it)? Especially when all of the neighbors, the Canaanites and Perizites were capable living together without getting into fights? It was to prevent this desceration of God’s name that Avram made sure that he no longer had anything to do with Lot.

(The implications of this for the meaning of Yishuv haAretz are important – perhaps we can say that one cannot fulfill this mitzva if he can’t get along with his fellow Jew. Additionally, it is evident from here that Chillul Hashem may be most accurately measured in how your non-Jewish neighbors view you. Things to think about…)

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