by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek
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Parashas Lech Lecha (70)This week's sedra tells of Abram's following G-d's instruction to go to the land of Canaan; Lot's separation from Abram; the destruction of Sodom in spite of Abram's intervention; G-d's covenant with Abram; the birth of Ishmael; and the mitzvah of circumcision. Below we discuss Lot's separation from Abram.
Is not the whole land before you, please separate from me. If (you go) to the left, I (will go) to the right and if (you go) to the right, I (will go) to the left.
If (you go) to the left, I (will go to) the right: Rashi: Wherever you will settle I will not be far from you as a protection and for help. Ultimately, indeed, he (Lot) did need him (Abraham) as it says: 'And Abram heard that his brother was taken captive' etc. (14:14).
A Question: Rashi tells us something very strange here. Remember the shepherds of Lot and the shepherds of Abram quarreled over the grazing land. So Abram suggested they separate so they would not be in conflict, "for we are brothers."
So separation was to be the guarantee that they would no longer fight with each other.
The verse tells us how Abram suggested how they should separate: "You go right then I'll go left; or if you want to go to the left, then I'll go to the right." Abram's idea would be to put a lot of geography between the two of them.
But Rashi seems to say just the opposite! Abram promised Lot he would dwell near him!! Rashi says: " Wherever you will settle I will not be far from you."
Why would Rashi say this? What is bothering him that he had to turn the verse on its head?!
WHAT IS BOTHERING RASHI?
An Answer: There may be two reasons for Rashi doing this:
1) As Rashi himself says at the end of this comment "And in the end he did need him" So Abram didn't disown his nephew, he was there to help him when he was in danger.
2) When we look at the Torah's verses after they separated (13: 11, 12 ) we find these words: "And Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan and Lot journeyed east; and they parted one man from his brother. Abram dwelled in the land of Canaan while Lot dwelled in the cities of the plain and he pitched his tent until Sodom."
So Abram didn't go to the right or to the left - he stayed where he was. It was Lot who travelled and who separated himself from Abram. In light of this it is difficult to understand the words "If you go to the left I'll go to the right" as meaning Abram would journey as Lot is journeying.
Possibly for these reasons Rashi sought a different understanding of our verse.
How does his comment help us?
An Answer: When the Torah says: "If you go left, I'll go to the right", it means according to Rashi: "If you go to the left I'll still be to the right of you." Not: I'll go to the right, but I'll be to the right of you." Being to the right of someone means being nearby. See the verse in Zechariah 3:1 where it says "And the Satan stood to his right to accuse him."
So Abram's words do not mean that he will distance himself even further from Lot (as they appear to mean) because we see that Abram did not move at all. Rather these words mean Abram will "be to your right" - nearby. So too, the meaning of the words "I will go to the left", actually mean "I'll be to the left of you - nearby."
With some effort to understand, even strange sounding Rashi-comments can be made meaningful and reasonable.
"What's Bothering Rashi?" is produced by the Institute for the Study of Rashi and Early Commentaries. The five volume set of "What's Bothering Rashi?" is available at all Judaica bookstores.
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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