Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Our Grass Is Greener

Parshas Noach introduces us to Avrohom Avinu, but his true greatness is only revealed in Parshas Lech Lecha. Without any hints as to who Avrohom really is and what he represents, the Torah tells us that Hashem appeared to him and told him to leave his birthplace, to uproot himself from his ancestral home and to move to the land He would show him.

Hashem promises Avrohom that he will make him into a great nation, showering him with wealth and many other blessings. The Torah also recounts that his nephew, Lot, went along with him. Lot left his ancestral home just as Avrohom did. It would seem that Lot was a good guy, casting his lot with Avrohom, following the word of G-d and setting out for parts unknown. His allegiance to Avrohom paid off, as the posuk recounts (12:5) that Lot was blessed with material possessions. Rashi quotes the Gemorah which states that this was a result of his accompanying Avrohom.

Shortly thereafter, the pesukim lift the veil on Lot’s true character. As a consequence of Lot’s being blessed with an abundance of livestock, a rift developed between the shepherds of Avrohom and Lot. Avrohom told Lot that it was time for them to separate. Lot must have been relieved; he apparently didn’t put up an argument. He looked out towards Sedom and was attracted by the lush vegetation there. He offered to move there as Avrohom settled in Eretz Canaan.

Lot, the talmid and relative of Avrohom, ended up in the city, whose very name until today is synonymous with sin.

To understand where he went wrong, let’s take a closer look at Avrohom Avinu.

It took much determination and intelligence on Avrohom’s part to arrive at his position in life. Though Noach was alive when Avrohom was born, the world had already forgotten its Creator. The heathens worshipped the moon, stars, sun and getchkes they themselves fashioned. Avrohom realized that the world had to have been created by a Higher Being and spent the first years of his life seeking Him out.

Avrohom had to contend with enormous opposition. He was vilified by all around him for violating the prevailing doctrines of his day; for not bowing to political correctness. Worse, he became a threat to his father and the ruling powers of the age. So threatened were they that they conspired to kill him and put an end to his dangerous influence.

It would have been much easier for Avrohom to play along with them as he pursued his own agenda. His life would have been smoother had he not antagonized the powers that be as he went about his own personal search to understand how the world came into being.

But Avrohom was not one to accommodate the status quo at the expense of his principles. He stood up and fought for the truth. Once he discovered the Ribono Shel Olam, he was not embarrassed to tell the world about his discovery. He was not deterred by powerful people, by his boyhood friends and not even by his own father. In order to remain true to his ideals, he made sure not to be enamored by the trappings of pagan life. Power, glitz, and accouterments of success did not tempt him.

When Hashem’s blessing came to fruition and he was showered with wealth by Paroh, he remained the same Avrohom he was in Choron. As he returned from his adventure in Mitzrayim which led to the accumulation of his great fortune, the Torah recounts that he returned to the same tent in which he had previously lived. He did not permit his material success to give rise to pride and arrogance and turn him from Hashem. He went back to the mizbeach he had made and called out in the name of Hashem.

Lot was different. He hung onto Avrohom, but when he returned from Mitzrayim, there was a change. The posuk doesn’t recount that he called out in the name of Hashem. The posuk doesn’t say that he returned to his humble abode. In fact, a study of the pesukim indicates that just the opposite was the case. The pesukim (13:3-5) which state that Avrohom returned to his previous home and mizbeach are followed by the posuk which recounts that, “Lot who traveled with Avrohom also had sheep, cattle and tents.”

The posuk’s silence on the subject of how Lot conducted himself seems to indicate and highlight the difference between the two men. Although Lot was blessed with physical wealth in return for staying with Avrohom, his behavior did not mimic those of his patron Avrohom.

It was then that his employees began quarreling with those of Avrohom, leading to the separation between the senior saintly rebbi and the junior talmid. Lot looked towards Sedom and the grass was greener on the other side. It beckoned and Lot responded.

If wealth attracts a person, he will find it hard to resist the temptation for money. If the glamour and glitz appeal to him, he will have a tough time turning his back on that world. If popularity is important to him, he risks succumbing to the will of the masses, even at the expense of his own values.

If the ‘good life’ attracts him, then it will be difficult to smash pagan idols of the time. It is only to someone as impeccably honest as Avrohom Avinu that G-d entrusts his blessings. Avrohom was far wealthier than Lot ever dreamed of becoming because he stayed loyal to his mizbeach and cared for others. The selfish people of Sedom wouldn’t share anything with anyone.

They ended up with nothing but eternal damnation. Avrohom and his offspring will forever be sealed with brocha, becha chosmin, as long as they remain loyal to what is true and good. They follow the laws of G-d and man; they take pains to ensure that they and their employees do not engage in devious, dubious, dishonest behavior. Their children are brought up and trained to distinguish right from wrong. They are socially responsible and loyal to a higher credo than the people around them. People who are deserving of the Divine brachos are not seduced by the blandishments of Sedom.

Avrohom Avinu taught that the grass really is greener on the other side - on our side. He defied conventional wisdom. He delved into the intricacies of this world and mastered the underlying truth of Creation and man’s purpose in this world. Once he discovered these truths, society’s delusions and icons held no appeal for him. He wouldn’t have his sheep graze in unfamiliar territory and he wouldn’t accept as much as a shoe-lace from the king of Sedom.

In our day as well, get rich quick schemes abound. There appear to be easy ways to make money, and although they involve not being entirely honest and scrupulous, some are enticed to make the attempt. The everyone-does-it excuse is also always available. There are plenty of ways to circumvent the halacha and the law in order to make money. The pressures are difficult to withstand. As children of Avrohom, we need to be reminded that our path is the better and greener one. The most rewarding and eternal blessings are reserved for those who know that all else is fleeting.


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