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Lot's Spiritual Downfall

Lech Lecha (Genesis 12-17 )


Bereishis, 13:14: “And Hashem spoke to Avraham after Lot parted company from him.”
Rashi, 13:14, Dh: Acharei: “The whole time that that evil man [Lot] was with him, Prophecy was separated from him…”

The Torah tells us that after leaving Egypt, Avraham and his nephew, Lot, were both laden with great wealth and large flocks of animals. However, a dispute arose, whereby Lot’s shepherds reasoned that it was permitted to graze their flocks on the land of other people in the Land of Israel. Their flawed reasoning was based on the rationalization that God had given the land to Avraham and Lot was his sole inheritor, so he could already benefit from the land. This was incorrect because Avraham had not yet inherited the land, thus their actions constituted stealing.

Avraham’s shepherds rebuked Lot’s shepherds because of this and as a result, discord reared its head. In order to prevent the dispute from developing further, Avraham suggested that Lot separate from him. Lot acquiesced and moved to the evil, but prosperous land of Sodom. The Torah then says that God spoke to Avraham, “after Lot had parted company from him.” The Midrash Tanchuma1, cited by Rashi, states that these seemingly superfluous words are coming to teach that Avraham did not receive Prophecy while Lot was with him, because Lot was considered to be an ‘evil man’ and God would not speak to Avraham while this nefarious person was present. However, the problem arises, that earlier God spoke to Avraham while Lot was with him2!

The commentaries answer that at that earlier time, Lot was considered righteous, so God did speak to Avraham even though Lot was with him. However, by the time Lot separated from Avraham, Lot had spiritually deteriorated and was now on the level of a wicked person. Accordingly, from then on, God would not speak to Avraham until he separated from Lot. The obvious question is what happened that caused Lot’s spiritual descent?

Rabbi Shimon Shwab3 answered this question based on an insightful inference in another verse in the Parsha. The Torah tells us that during the war between the four Kings and he five Kings, the victorious four Kings kidnapped Lot: “And they took Lot and his possessions, the nephew of Avram, and they left4.” The grammatical construction of this verse is difficult to understand – the words, “the nephew of Avram”, seems to be misplaced. It would have seemed to make more sense to write: “And they took Lot, the nephew of Avram, and his possessions.” Why do the words, “and his possessions” separate between Lot and his description as Avraham’s nephew?

Rabbi Schwab suggested that the construct of the verse is hinting to us what was the underlying cause of the separation between Avraham and Lot – Lot’s possessions. Lot’s money is what separated the two relatives, not only in this verse but in their entire outlook on life as well. And when did this separation take place? When Avraham and Lot left Egypt laden with great wealth. The very next verse tells us about the unethical activities of Lot’s shepherds, which were surely influenced by their master, Lot. This teaches that Lot’s acquisition of wealth was the direct cause of his spiritual deterioration. His love of money caused his shepherds to find weak rationalizations to justify thievery. Moreover, it was the cause of his fateful decision to move to Sodom, because of its rich pastures: As Rabbi Yissachar Frand expresses it:

“It seems that after accumulating a little money, Lot wanted to go live “the good life”. Lot moved to Sodom. What kind of person would do that? Imagine if a person was living together with his righteous uncle in Monsey or in Baltimore and he suddenly decided to move to Atlantic City. What kind of person would do that? What happened? “The possessions” – that’s what happened. Lot’s wealth went to his head. His desire to live “the good life” drove him off the straight and narrow path of Avraham.

The example of Lot reminds us of the all-too-common phenomenon that acquisition of money causes a spiritual decline. When a person acquires material possessions, he may well become more concerned with acquiring more money, and he will forget that the source of his success was not his own efforts, rather Divine Providence. This was very apparent in the case of Lot.

When the Torah tells us that Lot had gathered great wealth, the Sages explain that this was purely in the merit of Avraham, and that Lot’s mere proximity to such a righteous man caused him to receive blessing. Yet Lot did not internalize this message, and use it to become closer to Avraham. Instead, it caused him to think he could gain wealth by acting in a dishonest manner, as demonstrated by his shepherd’s stealing land. And, instead of trying to stay close to Avraham, he chose to live in the place that was the polar opposite of everything Avraham represented – Sodom – in order to gain even more possessions. And what was the final result of his choice? He lost all his possessions when Sodom was destroyed.

We have seen that when a person acquires wealth, he is at great risk of spiritually deteriorating and of resorting to dishonest and spiritually damaging actions in order to maintain his wealth. May we merit to use our material possessions in a way that brings us closer to God.

  1. Midrash Tanchuma, Vayetsei, 10.
  2. Bereishit, 12:7.
  3. Cited by Rabbi Yissachar Frand.
  4. Bereishit, 14:12.

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