Parshas Lech Lecha — Spiritual Deficiency

In contemporary jargon, Lot had issues.

The nephew of our patriarch Abraham, Lot left his homeland for parts unknown; he played along with Avrohom’s ruse of claiming Sarah was his sister to protect her from the Egyptians.  He risked his life to protect his guests from the mob that wanted to abuse them (although, perversely, sought to accomplish this by handing his daughters over to the same mob). 

Lot is identified by scripture as a tzaddik, a righteous man — but he is a defective tzaddik, righteous only in comparison with the corrupt inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah.  He is a conflicted personality, drawn to Avrohom’s spirituality but simultaneously overburdened by the demands of living a spiritual life.

Nowhere is this inner conflict more evident than in Lot’s separation from Avrohom in this week’s Torah portion.  According to Rashi’s commentary, the quarrel between Lot’s and Avrohom’s herdsmen centered around the grazing of their animals.  Lot’s herdsmen reasoned that they could graze their animals anywhere they wished: since G-d had promised the Land of Israel to Avrohom’s descendents, and since Avrohom was presumably too old to have children, clearly the land would be inherited by Lot.  Avrohom’s herdsmen argued that, since the Land was not Avrohom’s yet, they had no right to graze except on lands that were ownerless.

Lot did nothing to put a stop to his herdsmen’s thievery.  And so Avrohom dissolved their relationship.  Certainly, he had known of Lot’s shortcomings for many years.  Yet Avrohom seems to have concluded that, if he had not instilled in Lot a basic respect for the property of others after so many years, he would never succeed in changing him.  And if Avrohom could not change Lot, then there was the very real possibility that Lot might eventually change him.  He saw no choice other than a parting of the ways.

Avrohom allowed Lot to choose which direction he would go, and Lot chose the Jordan valley, because “he saw that it was well watered … and Lot journeyed from the east.”  Here, Rashi makes two curious comments.  First, he explains that “well watered” means that it was fed by streams.  Why is this important?  Second, he observes that Lot traveled away from “Kadmono Shel Olam — the Ancient One of the Universe.”  In this, Rashi connects the word kedem, meaning east, with kadmon, meaning ancient.  But why?

Back in the Torah’s narrative of Creation, Rashi explains that, although all the vegetation of the earth had be created on the third day, nothing had actually sprouted forth even midway through day six, since no rain had yet fallen on the earth.  And why not?  Because there was no man to pray for rain.  G-d’s blessing depends upon the merit of human beings, for whom the earth and everything in it was brought into existence.

Conversely, it is the condition of man to experience his dependence upon the Almighty.  When man believes himself to be independent and self-sufficient, he grows arrogant and becomes corrupt.  Only when he recognizes that his livelihood comes from above in proportion to his merit will man remain conscious of his spiritual purpose and tread the straight path that G-d has laid out before him. 

And so, Rashi explains, Lot chose the Jordan valley because it was well-watered, because it was fed by streams and not dependent upon rainfall.  Lot did not want to pray for rain because he did not want to feel dependent upon the Almighty or upon his own merit.  Although Lot was not a wicked person by any means, neither did he seek to achieve any great spiritual stature, but sought to live out his life in comfort, without either responsibility or significant accomplishment.  In this, explains HaRav Dovid Feinstein, Lot traveled away from the Ancient One of the Universe, the Master of the World who conceived the design of creation before the existence of time itself, with the intention that mankind could earn the priceless reward of spiritual pleasure in the World to Come.

The sages themselves conceived a way for us to remember this lesson daily.  They composed a blessing for us to recite after consuming even a minimal helping of food or the simplest drink:  We express appreciation to G-d, borei nafashos v’chesronan — who created souls and their deficiencies.

Why should we thank the Almighty for fashioning us to be deficient?  Because our deficiencies remind us constantly that we are all works-in-progress, never complete or completed until the last moment of our lives, and that life is only worth living when we strive for spiritual accomplishment in every way we can.

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