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    Lech L'cha  
(Gen 12:1 - 17:27)

B'resheet/Genesis 13:11   And Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan.

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There's trouble afoot in the land of Canaan. The Canaanites and the Perizzites who have been there since no-one can remember when have recently been joined by a family who have come up from the Negev, although some reports suggest even further, from Egypt. Headed by an uncle and nephew, the family is reported to be very rich; they certainly have large numbers of cattle and sheep, and have brought lots of herdsmen with them as part of their households. Settled now between Bethel and Ai, the local elders are close to declaring a farming crisis as the land cannot support the burden of grazing this amount of livestock. Temperatures have been rising too between different groups of herdsmen, arguing over land and water - it takes a lot of water to quench the thirst of such large flocks, more than the local wells and watercourses can comfortably supply. In the last few days, tensions are reported to have led to public disagreements at the top of the family, between the uncle - Avram, a distinguished man in his eighties - and his younger nephew, Lot. This may result in a family split, with the two principles parting and going in opposite directions to put some distance between their families and workers in order to avoid open conflict. We'll bring you more details and and when they become available. Wire ends +++

Rather than have warfare between their households - they are, after all, kinsmen - Avram makes Lot an offer he can't refuse: "Is not the whole land before you? Let us separate: if you go north, I will go south; and if you go south, I will go north" (B'resheet 13:9, NJPS). Cut it whichever way you wish, he says, but we need to disengage and move apart so that there is enough water and grazing for the herds and so that our people are not always squabbling over pasture land. "Lot found this argument quite rational," Rabbi Who Is ...

Hirsch: Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888 CE), German rabbi, author and educator; staunch opponent of the Reform movement in Germany and one of the fathers of Orthodox Judaism
Hirsch suggests, "he seems to have been waiting only for some such opportunity. Wandering in inhospitable regions could not have appealed to a man like him. What he wanted was a rich luxurious district, protected against famine and scarcity, and that he found. He let himself be guided, undeterred by any consideration which would affect an Avraham, simply by what appealed to his sensuous eyes." Seizing the moment with both hands, the Torah tells us, "Lot looked about him and saw how well watered was the whole plain of the Jordan, all of it" (v. 10, NJPS). As Nahum Sarna comments, "He does not defer to Avram, but selfishly selects the most attractive prospect."

What sort of territory was it that Lot chose with such alacrity? The Who Is ...

The Radak: Rabbi David Kimchi (1160-1235 CE), rabbi, biblical commentator, philosopher and grammarian; born in Narbonne, France; best known for his commentaries on the Prophets, he also wrote a philosphical commentary on Bresheet that makes extensive use of the Targum of Jonathan ben Uzziel; influenced by a strong supporter of Ibn Ezra and Maimonides
Radak proposes that "he chose one of the places from 'the whole plain of the Jordan', all of which were good," but is very much in the minority. The Hebrew text seems unambiguous. is a three component construct. , most frequently translated 'all', can also mean 'each', 'every' or 'any' although none of those alternatives would make sense in this context, comes from the root , "to complete". Davidson suggests, "the whole, expressive of totality." , an fs noun from the root , is "a district or valley" (ClinessFootNoteRef(1)), held by Jewish commentators to be the plain or valley floor. is the absolute of the construct, with a leading definite article, derived from the root , "to go down, descend" (Davidson), clearly describing the flow of the Jordan river as it drops from the Kinneret - already below sea level - to the valley now occupied by the Dead Sea. What Is ...

Targum Onkelos: An early (1st-2nd Century CE) translation/paraphrase of the Torah into Aramaic; attributed to a Roman convert to Judaism, Onkelos; used in Babylonian synagogues during the Talmudic era
Targum Onkelos confirms Lot's choice, rendering the phrase as , "the entire Jordan plain" (Drazin and Wagner). Here the Aramaic word is used for "a straight line, horizontal, level" (Jastrow). It was therefore well watered, green and fertile, offering both pasture and water for sheep and cattle, without the hard work of scrub, mountains and rocks all to be found in abundance to the west.

What was on Lot's mind as he made his choice? What factors other than geology and geography might be influencing his decision? Gordon Wenham points out that "the boundaries of the promised land of Canaan are defined in B'Midbar 34:2-12." The eastern border clearly runs down the Jordan valley to the Salt Sea. "In picking this area to live in, Lot is moving to the edge of Canaan, if not beyond it. 10:19 definitely suggests that Sodom and the neighbouring cities mark the borders of the land. Lot is stepping out towards the territory that his descendants, the Moabites and Ammonites, would eventually occupy in TransJordan. Though offered a share of Canaan, he is here depicted turning his back on it."2 What is Lot after? Just a softer life, as Hirsch suggested above? Leon Kass perceptively observes that "[Avram] magnanimously offers Lot the first and finest choice of the available land. Attracted by civilisation, Lot, understandably but unwisely chooses the fertile plain of the Jordan."3 The Who Is ...

Sforno: Rabbi Ovadiah Sforno (1470-1550 CE), Italian rabbi, philosopher and physician; born in Cesena, he went to Rome to study medicine; left in 1525 and after some years of travel, settled in Bologna where he founded a yeshiva which he conducted until his death
Sforno surmises that "He chose a place where only he and his herdsmen would have the right to seek out pasture, while Avram and his herdsmen would not be permitted to do so." Nechama Leibowitz perhaps gets closest to the question when she observes that, "Lot then proceeded to Sodom because 'it was well watered everywhere' although he knew what went on there and that 'the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners before the L-rd exceedingly' (v. 13)." Did Lot know how wicked the cities of the plain were? Did he care, or was he seeking either to participate or at least to benefit from that environment?

Our text, then, is about choice: Lot's choice of which area of the available he wanted to occupy. But the context of this verse make it clear that there are two other choices at work that provide a governing context for Lot's choice. The first is Avram's choice. As Walter Brueggemann points out, "As the older uncle, Avram might have pre-empted the good land. But because he believes the promise, he does not doubt that he will finally receive the land G-d wants him to have. He risks everything by permitting Lot to choose."4 Avram could simply have called Lot to order and instructed him to have his herdsmen behave themselves. Or he might have decided for himself where he and Lot were going to live and told Lot unilaterally of his decision. As head of the family, both were well within Avram's prerogative. Instead, strengthened by having returned to the altar that he had previously built to the L-rd and remembered that HaShem had appeared to him and said, "I will assign this land to your heirs" (12:7, NJPS), he now "invoked the L-RD by name" (13:4, NJPS), and then offered Lot the choice "Let us separate: if you go north, I will go south; and if you go south, I will go north" (v. 9, NJPS). Countering his behaviour in the previous chapter, where G-d had to step in to save Sarai from Pharaoh's depredations, Avram shows himself to be a man of faith.

The second choice is, of course, is that of G-d. Although it is very much in the background of Lot's choice - the text doesn't even suggest that Lot consulted or considered G-d in the matter - it is clear that G-d had an over-riding choice in the matter. While verse 10 tells us that "Lot lifted up his eyes and looked", for himself as it were, to make his choice, verse 14 records that HaShem told Avram, "Lift up your eyes and look"; Avram looks under divine mandate. He is told to look "to the north and south, to the east and west" (NJPS), in every direction, because "I give all the land that you see to you and your offspring forever" (v. 15, NJPS). No matter what Lot thinks he has done, or Avram may have chosen to let him do, the disposition of the land remains entirely within The Name ...

HaShem: literally, Hebrew for 'The Name' - an allusion used to avoid pronouncing the Tetragrammaton, the so-called 'ineffable' name of G–d
HaShem's hands as He will remind Moshe and the Israelites later: "the land is Mine. For you are strangers and sojourners with Me" (Vayikra 25:23, ESV).

With that said, G-d offers every person a choice for their lives. Moshe urged the Israelites to "Choose life -- if you and your offspring would live" (D'varim 30:19, NJPS). Yeshua offers the crowd the same choice for life, telling them to "Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few" (Matthew 7:13-14, ESV). We need to consider how we will make that choice and upon what criteria will our choice be based. Will we, like Lot, look around for ourselves and make the choice that seems to offer us what we want, or will we, like Avram, call upon G-d's name and trust in His promises, waiting for His word to direct our gaze that that which is better? Will we rush to choose first, while what we want or need is still available, or can we be content to wait until G-d's choice is revealed? As the amazed master of the feast said to the host, "you have saved the best till now" (John 2:10, NIV).

1. - David J. A. Clines (ed.) The Concise Dictionary of Classical Hebrew, (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2009), page 176.

2. - Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15 Word Biblical Commentary, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson), page 297.

3. - Leon R. Kass, The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis (Chicago, IL: Chicago University Press, 2003), page 300.

4. - Walter Brueggemann, Genesis Interpretation, (Atlanta, GA: John Knox Press, 1982), page 131.

Further Study: Joshua 24:14-15; Isaiah 49:18-23; Luke 13:23-30

Application: What choices lie before you today and how will you go about making them? Will you be flying solo, trusting in your own observations and perceptions, or will you make sure that the Divine Navigator is setting your course and telling you which landmarks to see?

Comment - 02:13 03Nov19 kcb: My heart said "yes!" Because "his eyes were on that City with eternal foundations, whose Designer and Builder is God" Hebrews 11:10. From all appearances, Lot got the better deal. But Abraham was content to wait. He had that "substance of things hoped for, and that evidence of things unseen."

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© Jonathan Allen, 2019

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