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If You Go Left... -- Chronicle Online/The WORD 11/03/22

Weekly On-line Rabbi's D'var-Torah

November 3, 2022

9 Cheshvan 5783

Parashat Lech-Lecha

Last week, in Michigan, after an emotional football game against an in-state rival, a group of college football teammates surrounded two players from the opposing team and assaulted them —kicking them, punching them and hitting them with their helmets. In Iowa, two teenagers were accused of killing their high school Spanish teacher because she gave one of them a bad grade. And, of course, in California, a man invaded the home of a politician with whom he disagrees and attacked her husband with a hammer while calling out her name. We, as a society, have forgotten how to disagree amicably. We, as a society, have forgotten how to express our differences without resorting to hate and violence. And it has got to stop. In this week’s Torah portion, we see Avram and his nephew Lot (as well as the shepherds who worked for them) get into a quarrel over water and grazing. “Avram said to Lot: Pray let there be no quarreling between me and you, between my herdsmen and your herdsmen, for we are brother men! Is not all the land before you? Pray part from me! If you to the left, then I to the right, if you to the right, then I to the left (Genesis 13:8-9).” Avram’s approach was to simply have them go their separate ways. He didn’t want to deal with trying to fix Lot or educate Lot. He just didn’t want to deal with him anymore. Fine. Later in the Torah, Avram’s grandsons Jacob and Esau, who were complete opposites, argued over a pot of stew, over the birthright, and over their father’s blessing. Jacob initially followed Avram’s model and ran away for 20 years, but then he came back. Upon his return, we read, “Esav ran to meet him, he embraced him, flung himself upon his neck, and kissed him. And they wept (Genesis 33:4).” They decided to co-exist. They decided to live with one another despite their differences. They didn’t exactly hang out every day, but they were no longer enemies either. This is an improvement. Then, even later in the Torah, Jacob’s son Joseph also had difficulty with his brothers—all 11 of them. They ended up selling him into slavery, which led to a great Broadway show. Eventually Joseph was in a position to really punish his brothers. He was the second-most powerful man in the world, and they were at his mercy. Instead, he said to them, “Do not be afraid! For am I in place of God? Now you, you planned ill against me, (but) God planned-it-over for good, in order to do (as is) this very day—to keep many people alive. So now, do not be afraid! I myself will sustain you and your little-ones! And he comforted them and spoke to their hearts (Genesis 50:18-21).” Joseph forgave them for their hurtful actions. He tried to repair the relationship. This is the best possible response. Ideally, we’d all be like Joseph. We’d find a way to forgive those who harm us or with whom we disagree. That’s a tough thing to do, though. Perhaps, we could even be like Jacob, who gave his brother time to cool off before trying to reconcile. At the very least, we should be like Avram and peaceably go our own way when we can’t settle our differences with another person. But, we simply cannot continue on this path of violence. Shalom, RAF.


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