October 28, 2023 | 13 Cheshvan 5784
Torah: Genesis 12:1-17:27 Triennial: Genesis 14:1-15:21
Haftarah: Isaiah 40:27-41:16
Bringing Lot Home
The promise given to Abraham is a promise of bounty. He is promised multitudes, offspring as innumerable as the dust of the earth. His nephew, Lot, also has a decent amount of stuff. We read, “And Lot, too, who came along with Abram, had flocks and herds and tents.” Abraham counts his bounty in his children, Lot counts it in his possessions. Abraham longs for children and Lot’s children are alluded to in this passage only by the fact that someone must be dwelling in all those tents. Moreover, Abraham will have two sons who will both found great nations while Lot will have two daughters who commit incest with him.
Nonetheless, both Lot and Abraham have too much. We read “And the land could not support their dwelling together, for their substance was great and they could not dwell together.” Their blessings become curses when they try to live together. While Abraham and Lot as individuals perhaps could have gotten along, the land cannot support all the nations stemming from each of them. Scarcity is a real issue. So they separate. Lot goes his way and Abraham goes his way. From that moment onward, Lot and Abraham’s descendants will have complicated relationships. We are forbidden from letting the descendants of Lot join our people. They will belong in separate places, see themselves as separate people.
This is not true for Abraham and Lot as individuals. Twice over, Abraham rescues Lot. Lot, who is not Abraham’s heir, who is no longer even Abraham’s fellow traveler, who has rejected Abraham’s way of life, nonetheless remains Abraham’s kinsman and responsibility.
Lot is taken captive in the Battle of Siddim. All the other residents of Sodom escape – the leaders hide in shameful places and everyone else escapes to the hills. But Lot stays and is taken captive, along with all the possessions of the people who have fled. Lot, who once seemed to value possessions more than people, is now counted as a possession. While we could read this as an example of middah k’neged middah, letting the punishment fit the crime, that is not how Abraham chooses to see it. Instead, the moment Abraham hears the news, he sets about to rescue Lot. It does not matter that those who took him are kings with armies and Abraham is not a king and he has no army. It does not matter that Lot has rejected his way of life. Nothing matters in that moment except that his kinsman has been taken. Abraham will stop at nothing, will transform into a warrior king, in order to return his loved one to safety. And Abraham succeeds. He brings back “all the substance, and also Lot his kinsman and his substance he brought back, and the women and the other people as well.” Abraham does what needs to be done to bring them home.
This is true also in the second instance of Abraham rescuing Lot. When God decides to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, where Lot is, Abraham leaves no stone unturned to save his nephew. He will send in messengers at the risk of their own lives to extract his kin. Even as he watches God destroy the city, Abraham gets his kinsmen out.
Lot is not the continuation of the Jewish people. Lot is not Abraham’s heir. Lot is his kinsman, his fellow, his neighbor. And Abraham stops at nothing to rescue him. Even when the situation looks impossible, when God himself is raining fire and brimstone down on the city, Abraham rescues Lot. I hope that we are worthy of his legacy.