Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center
Parashat Lekh Lekha
Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty
of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel.
A project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies,
Paul and Helene Shulman Basic Jewish Studies Center,
and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on the Internet
under the sponsorship of Bar-Ilan University's
International Center for Jewish Identity.
Prepared for Internet
Publication by the Center for IT & IS Staff at Bar-Ilan University.
Inquiries and comments to:
Dr. Isaac Gottlieb, Department of Bible,
Parashat Lekh Lekha 5761/ 11 November 2000
Abraham and Lot
Department of Bible
In biblical narrative a secondary figure is often presented alongside the
main figure in order to shed light on the latter. For example, in the Book of
Ruth Orpah appears as a secondary character to Ruth, and the anonymous redeemer
appears as a foil to Boaz. Similarly, in the Book of Jonah both the sailors and
the people of Nineveh are presented as figures contrasting with the hero, Jonah.
In the stories of Abraham in Parashat Lekh Lekha and Parashat
Va-Yera Lot is introduced as a negative secondary character who offsets the
In the beginning of the parasha Abraham is commanded: "Go
forth from your native land and from your father's house..." (Gen.
12:1). Go forth, alone; get up and go. In contrast to the previous journey in
which the entire extended family, led by Terah, set out towards the land of
Canaan (Gen. 11:31), here Abraham is commanded to continue alone,
accompanied only by his nuclear family. Why, then, does he take Lot, the son of
his deceased brother, along with him, in seeming contravention of the divine
This question is answered in the ancient Jewish commentary, Midrash
and 5), in the
Book of Jubilees
(13.18), and in Josephus' Antiquities
(1.7.1). Actually, the Torah already hinted at the reason: Sarai,
Abraham's wife, was barren, and Abraham had no offspring (11:30). So how
were the promises that he would beget a great nation (12:2) to be fulfilled?
Therefore Abraham took Lot with him, so that he might continue his line through
the children of his nephew who no longer had a patriarchal family of his own,
his father having died.
As for the
possibility that Sarah might yet bear children, Abraham had not yet reached such
a high level of trust in the Lord to imagine that He could turn a barren woman
into a joyous mother.
Along with the command to "go forth," Abraham was given a
great promise in which the root b-r-kh (Heb. for bless), occurs five
times (12:2-3). Since Abraham's fulfillment of the Lord's command
fell short, for by taking Lot along he showed some scepticism, the blessing
itself was curtailed: the Lord's blessing of the land of Israel finds
expression primarily in the rain coming in due season; therefore the course of
events was that "there was a famine in the land" (12:10), and this
severe famine caused Abraham to leave the land to which he had been commanded to
go, the land of Canaan.
His punishment, however, served to correct his fault; since Sarai's
barrenness had been the cause of his insufficient faith, she was also the
vehicle of correction. After Abraham's wife was unexpectedly taken into
the Pharaoh's house (Abraham indeed feared that one of the Egyptians might
desire her, but not necessarily the king), the Pharaoh showed beneficence to
Abraham; as a close associate of the ruler Abraham enjoyed special privileges
and advantages in shepherding and commerce, and grew very wealthy (12:16; 13:2).
Lot, who accompanied him, also waxed rich (13:5), and his riches, as well, were
destined to contribute to correcting the defect. Namely, they would lead Lot to
separate from Abraham. The relatively poor grazing land flanking the crest of
the hill country of Judea and Samaria sufficed at first to support the flocks of
both Abraham and Lot, but later proved insufficient for the two to continue
Chapter 13 describes how they parted. Abraham's suggestion to Lot
that they go different directions - to the right or to the left (Gen.
13:9), meaning north or south
still only a separation of locality. Both would continue to wander with their
flocks along the ridge of the highlands from the vicinity of Shechem (Nablus) to
that of Beer Sheba - the land where our patriarchs wandered; except that
one of them would graze his flocks to the north, and the other to the south. In
principle the two of them would remain joint inheritors of the land and of their
Lot, however, had a different idea: after all, he had amassed his wealth
in Egypt, a land blessed with water; therefore he cast his eyes towards the
well-watered plain of the Jordan, which was "like the garden of the Lord,
like the land of Egypt" (13:10). Therefore "Lot journeyed
eastward" (13:11), while Abraham remained along the crest of the
highlands. Thus they gradually separated. However this separation was not only
one of locality but also, and primarily, one of principle. For economic gain
Lot left the promised region, extending his encampments "near Sodom"
(13:12). He was not yet living in Sodom, for he was still a nomadic shepherd.
Lot did not mind in the least that in separating himself from his uncle Abraham
he was moving closer to Sodom, whose inhabitants "were very wicked sinners
against the Lord" (13:13).
"After Lot had parted from him [Abraham]," the Lord responded
to this move by promising that henceforth the entire land would be destined for
Abraham alone - the crest of the highlands "to the north and
south," as well as the land "to the east" where Lot had
settled, and "to the west" (14:17). The land was promised "to
you and your offspring": to his direct progeny, and not to the offspring
of his adopted nephew, who had left. Therefore Abraham is enjoined, "Up,
walk about the land," both to its length and its breadth. He is told to
"walk" by himself,
who having moved to the fertile plain of the Jordan, an area intensively
cultivated, would inevitably become permanently settled there. He would no
longer wander over the land, seeing it,
thus symbolically acquiring the right to it for his offspring after
In the next chapter (14), which tells of the war of conquest fought by four
imperialist kings, most of them from Mesopotamia, against the peoples living
across the Jordan and in the Negev (including the area of Sodom), we learn that
Lot in the meantime had abandoned nomadic life and had settled in Sodom, of all
places. Among the people taken captive by these four kings was Lot, a resident
of Sodom. In a blitz campaign Abraham, along with his allies, succeeded in
freeing the captives. Despite the break between them, Abraham rushed to the
rescue of his kinsman Lot. However his meeting with his nephew once again
caused Abraham to wonder and put into words his question: where is the heir to
inherit the promised blessing and land? "Since You have granted me no
offspring, my steward will be my heir" (15:3). Now the Lord's
response is clearly understood: "Your very own issue shall be your
heir" (15:4). Only now, after the vain attempt with Lot, and
notwithstanding the advanced age of Abraham and Sarai, Abraham finally put his
trust in the Lord's promise: "And because he put his trust in the
Lord, He reckoned it to his merit" (15:6). Abraham's trusting in
the Lord, despite the natural improbability of the promise coming true, was
reckoned to Abraham's merit. Abraham had attained a higher level of faith
and trust in the Lord.
Just as Lot entered Abraham's life in the beginning of the biblical
narrative about Abraham, when the question of progeny to continue
Abraham's line arose, so Lot appears again when this question is resolved
with the birth of Isaac. The band of angels that brings the annunciation of
Isaac's birth to Sarah is the same group that continues on its way to
Sodom to overturn the city and rescue Lot from there. It is as if Scripture
wished to juxtapose Abraham to Lot, as if to say: Look at Abraham, on the one
hand, who at first, out of a certain weakness in trusting the Lord, took Lot
with him; but then, his faith having been strengthened by other circumstances
and trials, was blessed with an heir not only of his own issue, but also born of
Sarah, who in the beginning of the story was introduced as barren. On the other
hand, look at Lot, who left Abraham and became associated with the people of
Sodom, not out of wickedness, but from seeking comfort and economic gain, and
consider what became of him. At this point Lot is not simply a resident of
Sodom, rather he "sits in the gate of Sodom" (19:1), i.e., is one of
the notables of the city.
Nevertheless, Lot is not a Sodomite. In contrast to the people of Sodom,
he welcomes guests, following the good traits of Abraham. Nor does he partake
in the gang rape that the men of Sodom are preparing for the visitors; in fact,
he is prepared to protect them. How? At the price of handing over his
daughters - a generous proposal that the people of Sodom turn down. Was
this base cowardly behavior or heroic sacrifice on the part of Lot? Scripture
and we as its readers do not have a definite answer. For Scripture is saying
that whoever abandons Abraham and takes himself off to Sodom, even if he wishes
to preserve the good traits he learned in Abraham's home, is inevitably
drawn into the depraved life of Sodom and finds himself in impossible
situations, facing impossible choices.
So we enter the surreal when Lot's offer is put down as a bad joke by
his sons-in-law, "who had married his daughters" (19:14). So, too,
when Lot's wife, presumably from Sodom, finds it hard to part from her
possessions and her city, and looking back towards Sodom is doomed to share in
the fate of her city (19:26). Likewise Lot himself, who tarries in leaving his
belongings and his city, until finally the angels take him out by force (19:16).
This motif of the absurd and the depraved recurs in the last scene of the Lot
story: the two daughters whom Lot had wanted to hand over to be molested by the
men of Sodom, and who had been saved purely by miracle, ultimately commit a
sexual offense themselves in sleeping with their father.
Once again we can ask, is this a base act of deception and sexual
perversion, or a heroic deed to continue the family line, similar to
Tamar's ploy to become pregnant (Gen. 38)?! The Sages are divided in
their assessment of Lot's daughters' deed, and conclude only that
whoever associates himself with Sodom is drawn into sexual perversion whether he
wishes it or not.
In contrast with the blessed offspring of Abraham, Lot's sons bear
the blot of illegitimacy. This is reflected in their names, Moab and Ammon
being a play on me-av, "from my father," and ben-ami,
"son of my people." The name Lot in Aramaic means
"cursed" and indeed this is how it is interpreted in Genesis
Rabbah 44.11, in contrast to Abraham, the man blessed with all.
Thus Onkelos and Rashi interpret it; cf.
Ps. 89:13. Also see my article, "Va-yisa Lot mi-kedem
, Jerusalem 1970, pp. 94-98.
Thus apparently in Josh. 18:4,8; Zech.
1:10: each on his own. Likewise in Gen. 5:24; 6:9; 17:1: all those with
respect to whom the verb hithalekh
(here, "walk about") was
used, were righteous themselves alone.
As the Lord said to Abraham: "to
the land that I will show you" (12:1).