Parashat Lekh L'kha

The First Jewish Environmentalist

Abram models interpersonal and environmental harmony.

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Provided by Canfei Nesharim, providing Torah wisdom about the importance of protecting our environment.

In this week's Torah portion, Abram and Lot's inability to coexist on one piece of land leaps out at us: "And the land was unable to bear them to live together, because their possessions were great and they could not sit together" (Genesis 13:6). In our era, when environmental issues such as population, food, and land distribution are major concerns, we can look to this text for guidance. 

canfei nesharimThe great commentator Rashi interprets the verse to mean that the land was simply unable to provide sufficient pasture for all the cattle and sheep involved. It is as if there is missing information intended to be inserted in the verse: "And the [pasture of the] land could not bear them."

An alternative approach is that of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (Germany 1808-1888) and the "Netziv" (Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin, Russia 1817-1893):

"It was not because they had too many herds or because there was not sufficient pastureland for both of them. If it all had been combined into one herd, one household, the land would have been sufficient…if two people cannot agree…separate tents are needed--boxes, crates, everything separate for each of the two parties…Had their personalities been compatible, there would have been no need for separate pastures…the only thing that counted in Lot's enterprise was profits, while in Abraham's household attention was given to interests of a higher level."  

According to this approach, Abram and Lot's attitudes were incompatible, therefore they could not cooperate. This is why the verse stresses "together"--yahdav.  Interestingly, Targum Onkelos translates yahdav using the wording "as one," connoting the need for a deep interconnection that ultimately enables living in harmony with the Land. The Abrahamic tradition demands that we make our personal and societal decisions based on both environmental considerations (the approach quoted by Rashi) and social considerations (the approach quoted by Rabbi Hirsch).

Abram and Lot

Lot followed Abram, but was not committed to the moral path. There is a textual nuance that proves this point. When Abram receives the command to immigrate to Canaan, the verse notes (12:4), "Lot went [et] him." Similarly, the Torah (13:5) states that "Lot was going et [with] Abram." Rabbi Meir Leibush (Malbim) explains that to go 'et' merely implies a shared travel itinerary, while to go 'im' (with) connotes a shared sense of purpose and mission. 

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Tuvia Aronson

Tuvia Aronson is an environmentalist and Jewish educator living in Israel.