It has always surprised me about Abraham (Abram at this point in the Torah) that he hasn’t learned his lesson about conflict. Abraham has just left Egypt and Pharaoh behind, having nearly created an enemy through his deceit that was caused by his fear of losing his own life. Almost immediately after the conclusion of these harrowing events, Abraham finds himself thrust into the middle of another conflict – this time with a member of his own family – his nephew Lot. What is Abraham’s solution to conflict this time? Is it to rise to the challenge and address and solve the issues head on? No, his resolution to conflict this time is to split and run. Abraham acknowledges the conflict, but instead of seeking to find a truly successful answer to the pains and arguments, he decides to split his family. Abraham says to Lot:
“There should be no quarrel between you and me, and your herdsmen and mine, for we are close kin. The whole land lies before you! Pray part from me: you go north, I will go south, you go south, I will go north…” (Gen. 13:8-9)
At first glance, it seems as though Abraham has indeed dealt with this conflict. Abraham resolves to solve the problem by removing the warring parties and sending them on their own way. But this is only a temporary solution! What Lot’s and Abraham’s communities were fighting over is a never ending problem – the ability to deal with the finitude of our world’s resources as well as how to resolve mahkloket! Sadly, our ancestor does not give us a lasting solution to such problems. What we can do, however, is learn from Abraham’s mistakes and missed opportunities to bring shalom to the world.
When we look at this section of parshat Lech L’cha today, the failures of such an approach to solve perennial and fundamental problems are plain for all to see. There is not enough for all to be satisfied if we continue to use our world the way that we have for centuries. In the immediate future (especially as I write this sitting here in the politically coveted and divided State of Pennsylvania), retreating to our separate corners does not solve our disagreements. On the contrary! With our technological marvels, geographic distance does not prevent quarrels, rather it only seems to fan the flames of derision and division. What then is the example we are to follow? I believe that Abraham’s actions are in fact a challenge for us today – can we broach the divide that was created from his actions long ago? Turn to the words of our haftarah reading for this Shabbat, and there I believe is our answer to Abraham’s challenge.
Isaiah calls to us in chapter 41, verse 5-7: “They draw near, they approach; each helps the other, saying “Be strong!” The artisan encourages the goldsmith. The one who hammers the metal smooth compliments the one who strikes the anvil…” We provide the answer to the riddle left to us by Abraham through these words of Isaiah – we come together. We come together not by losing our individuality, our differences that make us who we are, but by embracing our sense of self and identity and using these gifts from the Eternal to bring holiness and wholeness to our world. As one people, using our unique talents and embracing our identities, we can indeed find solutions to the limits of our natural world and as one people, we can find ways to share differences and still say “these and those are the words of the ever-living God.”
This call to come back together, to use our limited resources for a better tomorrow, is part of that sacred call that Abraham heard so long ago. But as we know from Sinai, no one person can hear the entire message; acting as one, however, we can provide the pieces to reveal the complete message. Let us see in the example of Abraham the challenge to be better than the past, to reach higher than before, and fulfil the prophet’s dream.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ).
 Translation from The Torah: A Modern Commentary, New York: pg. 93; 2005
 Translation from The Torah: A Modern Commentary, New York: pg. 119; 2005.