Lech Lecha (Genesis 12-17 )
Without effective intervention, conflict escalates quickly. Whether at work, home, or with friends, if a fight isn’t nipped in the bud, the consequences can leave a long-lasting negative impact. Yet, instead of directly dealing with conflict, some people avoid it. They pretend it doesn’t exist, even though it is still there under the surface, primed to erupt. Other people shut down and withdraw completely (what Dr. John Gottman calls stonewalling), which prevents resolution and makes the problem worse. Still other people fall into a cycle of perpetual arguments over an extended period of time, leading to increased tension as the arguments repeat ad infinitum.
After living successfully with each other for years, a conflict (‘riv’) began to fester amongst Avram and Lot’s herdsmen. Noticing the problem, Avram approaches Lot and says “Please let there not be strife (‘meriva’) between me and you, between my herdsmen and yours, for we are brothers.” Rabbi Moshe Alshich suggests that there is a fundamental difference between the word used for conflict in the first verse (‘riv’) and in the second (‘meriva’). A ‘riv’ is a small disagreement; a ‘meriva’ is when the disagreement spirals into a much bigger issue. Noticing the ‘riv,’ Avram quickly take charge to nip it in the bud, before it becomes a ‘meriva.’
Alshich references the verse in Proverbs that compares the beginning of strife to the release of water (17:14). The Talmud (Sanhedrin 7a), in the name of Rav Huna, elaborates on the metaphor and suggests that a quarrel is compared to a puncture in a hose, which causes water to burst out. If the hole is not repaired quickly, it will widen to the point where it can no longer be fixed. So too with a dispute, if it isn’t worked on immediately, the damage can be irreversible.
Noticing that there was no way to effectively stay together, Avram then suggests a “win-win” solution, where both parties could expand and grow in their own direction, ending the source of the conflict while still on good terms. A close read of the verses based on the commentary of Rabbi Isaac Arama and aided by contemporary research related to conflict resolution, leads to some important strategies to help resolve disputes:
First, Avram, being in the position of power, could have just brazenly demanded that Lot leave. Yet, Avram uses what Dr. John Gottman calls a “soft start up.” He starts very peacefully and politely, using calm and inviting language: “Please let there not be (‘al na tehi’) strife…”
Second, Avram states the issue without placing the blame fully on Lot. Avram takes partial responsibility, even mentioning himself and his herdsmen in relation to the conflict before mentioning Lot and his herdsmen. Third, in order to avoid a me vs. you mentality, Avram reminds him of their closeness and strong relationship (‘anashim achim anachnu’). Finally, Avram empowers Lot with the autonomy to choose which direction he wanted to go in. Avram was willing to compromise and accommodate Lot to avoid building tensions.
Avram serves as a role-model for us both by teaching us to approach conflicts, rather than letting them fester, and by teaching us the best ways to work on resolving conflict. By using a soft start up, not blaming, taking responsibility, focusing on the shared relationship, and compromising, Avram and Lot were able to move forward on good terms, setting the stage for the next phase of their shared story.