In this week’s Torah portion, we are introduced in earnest to Avraham, the forefather of the Jewish nation. He is told to travel to Canaan and that he will become a great nation, that anyone who aligns themselves with him and his future nation will be blessed, and that in fact he is the source of blessing for the world. Quite a string of accolades for one man. The Torah then tells us that Avraham did as God instructed:
And Avram went, as the Lord had spoken to him, and Lot went with him. And Avram was seventy five years old when he left Haran. And Avram took Sarai his wife and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had acquired, as well as the souls they had influenced in Haran. And they went to go to the land of Canaan, and they came to the land of Canaan.
And right there, smack in the middle of all these wonderful promises to Avraham and even before the Torah tell us that he took his wife and all their stuff and his followers, it mentions, “and Lot went with him.”
He is a funny Biblical character, this Lot fellow. He is like the Forest Gump in the life of the forefather of our nation, ever-present during some of those initial pivotal moments of the first Jew. And indeed, right after Avraham is forced to go to Egypt because of a famine in Canaan, and having to stave off possibly being killed and his wife being abducted, on the way out of Egypt, there he is again: “And Avram came up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that was his, and Lot with him, towards the Negev.”
But then things get a bit dicey between Avraham and his nephew. The Torah narrates how they split, owing to too much cattle and livestock and the conflict it created between their respective employees. Because of this tension and Avraham wishing that things don’t escalate between them, he suggests that maybe they should go their separate ways.
One would think that Lot would have done all he could to minimize any ill feelings between them and stay with Avraham since his success most likely is a result of his allegiance with him. But he instead chooses to live in Sodom even though the Torah testifies that “the people of Sodom were wicked and sinned against God greatly.” Odd choice on Lot’s part.
As it happens, a regional conflict ensues between alliances of four leaders versus another five. It has nothing to do with Avraham except one little fact. Yup, you guessed it – Lot. He gets caught up in the fray and is taken captive. “And they took Lot and his possessions – Avram’s nephew – and they left; for he (Lot) was residing in Sodom.”
Great. So what does Avraham do? Well, he gathers his forces of 318 men and throws himself into the conflict for one reason and one reason only. To save his nephew’s hide, which he does. “And he (Avram) restored all the possessions, and also Lot his brother and his possessions he restored.”
On the one hand, Lot seems to be a bit of a tag-along from the get-go. That is, until he wishes to go his own way, whereupon he immediately gets himself into trouble and needs Avraham to bail him out. The question is why does Avraham go to such great lengths for him? Why would Avraham literally risk his life for Lot, especially in light of the fact that Lot doesn’t seem to make the best decisions for himself? Given his poor choice, why would Avraham risk everything and insinuate himself into a dangerous conflict?
Why? Rav Noah Weinberg used to say for one simple reason – Loyalty. Lot is Avraham’s nephew. He is his blood relative. But he is more than that – he is Avraham’s brother. And the Torah even refers to him as such when it narrates Avraham saving him. “And he (Avram) restored all the possessions, and also Lot his brother and his possessions he restored.”
He isn’t Avraham’s brother in a literal or biological sense but a brother in terms of being there for Avraham. He travelled with Avraham in the dangerous desert when Avraham got his calling from God. He was there with Avraham in Canaan during the famine. He was there with Avraham in Egypt when they were threatened. Lot stuck with Avraham during those rough years and only left him (which he probably should not have) once things got better for everyone.
Avraham remembered this. He never forgot how Lot was there by his side. And so when Lot desperately needed him, he returned the favour and was there for him.
This is something we all need to keep in mind. As life goes on and we get older and we grow and change, we will sometimes outgrow the people who were there for us in those early days. We may feel that they no longer have anything to offer us and indeed maybe they don’t. We will think it’s time to cut ourselves loose and forget about them as we forge our different paths in life. The relationship has become a one-way street; time to move on.
Avraham teaches us that this is not right. If someone was with you in those early days when times were tough, even though things have dramatically changed for all parties in the ensuing years and circumstances – you don’t just drop them. There were there for you, you have to be there for them. Whether you feel you are getting something out of it or not.
For many politicians and successful people, they forget this. They think that now that they have grown wealthy and powerful they no longer have any use for some of their early relationships. They feel they have outgrown some of those early bonds and can cut ties with them. Avraham dispels this notion. People aren’t disposable and family certainly isn’t.
Avraham knew this and so he sticks with Lot and rescues him in his time of need. Loyalty doesn’t have a time clock on it. Loyalty doesn’t have a statue of limitations. Loyalty is forever.
Through these fields of destruction
Baptisms of fire
I’ve witnessed your suffering
As the battle raged higher
And though they did hurt me so bad
In the fear and alarm
You did not desert me
My brothers in arms