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Knowing Your Place

Lech Lecha (Genesis 12-17 )

by Rabbi Boruch Leff

Lot and insubordination.


Oftentimes we fail to glean insights and lessons from the less famous Biblical personalities such as Lot.

"Lot who?"

Lot is Abraham's nephew and this week's Torah portion describes Lot's steadfast dedication to his Uncle Abraham.

And Lot went with him - Vayelech Ito Lot. (Genesis 12:4)

Abraham had followed God's directive to leave his comfortable homeland, birthplace, and family and travel to Israel. Lot decides to join Abraham in this difficult task.

Later, when Abraham is forced to leave Israel and go to Egypt in order to survive a bitter famine, Lot once again follows Abraham both in his journey to Egypt as well as in Abraham's return to Israel. The Torah, however, expresses Lot's actions with a slight and subtle difference. This subtlety will prove to be Lot's transformation.

The Torah states:

Abraham went up from Egypt with his wife and all that was with him, and Lot was with him -- V'Lot Imo. (Genesis 13:1)

In translation, the difference is not even noticed. In English both words mean 'with him.' But in the actual Hebrew, the first verse says 'Ito' while the second one uses the word 'Imo.' The Torah never haphazardly chooses words or expressions. Why would two expressions, which seem to mean the same thing, use two different words?

In answering, we must first analyze Lot's personality in general by referring to other places in Lech Lecha where Lot exhibits strange behavior.

Later, Lot becomes wealthy, as does Abraham (Genesis 13:2-12). A dispute arises between Abraham's shepherds and Lot's shepherds over the scarcity of grazing land for their flocks. Abraham tells Lot that they can no longer live together and they must separate in order to provide enough land for both of them. Lot quickly and easily agrees.

Question: Wasn't Lot a close student of Abraham's teachings? Isn't that why Lot left his comfortable homeland and followed Abraham? What would you do if your aged, wise, and respected mentor and elder reported to you of a dispute between your workmen and his? Wouldn't you try to work it out in order to be able to continue to learn and grow from your mentor at all cost? Why didn't Lot? Wouldn't you be embarrassed before your mentor? Why wasn't Lot?

There is another quandary of Lot's puzzling behavior. The entire Chapter 14 describes a large scale World War to which Abraham enters, fights and helps win for his side. Why did Abraham enter this war? Verse 14, tells us directly:

Abraham heard that his relative (Lot) was taken captive and he armed his men ... and he gave chase as far as the land of Dan.

At the end of the chapter, we find Abraham receiving words of gratitude and the offering of gifts from the various kings that Abraham fought for and helped them win the war. But nowhere do we find any gratitude from Lot! No words of thanks, not even a conversation between Lot and Abraham.

Abraham, even without the fact of his being Lot's mentor, just saved Lot from death and Lot can't even bring himself to thank Abraham?

Let us return to the two Hebrew words for "with him" -- 'Imo' vs. 'Ito'. Yes, both words mean 'with.' But in Hebrew, 'ito' has its word root as 'et'. 'The word 'et' is used to precede a subject in order to give emphasis to the subject. In its very essence, then, 'et' is subordinate. When Lot was originally with Abraham he knew his role. Abraham was the wise, talented, teacher and leader. Lot was the faithful, trusted, and able student.

In order to succeed in virtually anything, one has to know his talents and limitations. Imagine an offensive lineman in football who thinks he is the quarterback. Or imagine a gifted auto technician who thinks he is the CEO. Such people will not only fail in their dream positions, they will also fail in the jobs in which they are truly talented.

Lot went from a proper perspective of 'Ito' -- subordination -- to a disastrous one of 'Imo'. 'Imo' means I am with you as an equal. When Lot returned from Egypt laden with wealth and resources, he became 'Imo'. He no longer viewed himself as subordinate to Abraham.

Like so many in world history, his newfound wealth and power destroyed Lot's proper perspective. He now felt that he would be as important as Abraham. This also explains why he ran away at the first opportunity: he did not want to have to always look to Abraham for guidance. It was time for him to be the one to give others guidance. He wanted to free himself from the shackles of having a mentor.

Even when Abraham puts his life on the line for Lot in the war, Lot refuses to acknowledge that he owes Abraham anything. For by doing so, he would once again have to see himself as subordinate to Abraham and he could not bring himself to admit to that reality.

We are all Lot at times. We can be stubborn in our mindsets and fail to admit the reality that our co-workers or our bosses, our spouses or our friends, are truly more experienced and/or talented in particular areas. It's important to know when to lead, but it is equally important to know when we must subordinate ourselves to others, and be happy about our occasional secondary roles.

After all, what would famous great quarterbacks like Dan Marino or Joe Montana be without good, subordinate, offensive lines? Dead meat.

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