Friday, November 11, 2005

Lech Lecha

Stars and Comets
Rabbi Gustavo Surazski

I would like to speak today about a man who was a real "zero". (Perhaps the Yiddish expression defining a person as "Gurnisht" would be more appropriate.) The person that I am referring to is Lot, a man with a great pedigree, the Patriarch Abraham's nephew.

According to the Midrash (Bereshit Rabbah, 41:6) Lot was similar to Abraham in appearance (in the words of the Midrash: "of like countenance") and in other ways as well:
They were both born in the same place.
They were both born into the same family.
They were both shepherds with flocks of sheep and herds of cattle, and were tent dwellers.

Aside from this, however, they were as different as the distance between east and west.

Suddenly, a dispute arose:

"And there was a strife between the herdsmen of Abram's cattle and the herdsmen of Lot's cattle. And the Canaanite and the Perezzite dwelt then in the land. And Abram said unto Lot: "Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee, and between my herdsmen and thy herdsmen; for we are brethren. Is not the whole land before thee? Separate thyself, I pray thee, from me; if thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if thou take the right hand, then I will go to the left" (Genesis 13:7-9)

Lot looked towards Sodom and Gomorrah and saw, verdant, fragrant, fertile land. Why should he pay any attention to their citizens?

There he would raise his daughters, among the corruption and crime...Was this of any importance when it was a place to make money?

Yes, absolutely. But he thought only of the future of his flocks and herds.

Abraham distanced himself and remained with his wife and the members of his household in the Land of Canaan, perhaps less fertile, but sufficient for raising his sons.

And so I say that Lot was truly a zero, or "gurnisht". Perhaps he was meant to be a man of greatness, in the fashion of the Patriarch Abraham, but his set of priorities was wrong:

Sheep and cattle in first place - daughters in second place.
Money in first place - education in second place.

Sodom and Gomorrah were, from his perspective, the place to realize his dreams.

Who today remembers Lot? What mark did Lot leave on the history of mankind in general, or on Judaism in particular?

I once read that there are people who are compared to stars, and others who are compared to comets.

Comets pass. They appear and are remembered on distant occasions. Stars are always in view.

There are many people who can be compared to comets; perhaps even Lot is one of them. They pass through life and leave behind no mark.

But there are only a few who can be compared to stars, remembered constantly throughout the years.

Lot was the complete opposite of our father Abraham...a comet as opposed to an eternal star. (It was no accident that G-d took Abraham outside to look at the stars.)

So much alike, yet so different. So close, yet so distant.

What was done with his pedigree? Not everyone is from the house of our Patriarch Abraham, but Abraham adopted Lot, just like a son!

Lot is one of the first characters in the Bible with a great pedigree that didn't succeed in taking advantage of it.

Abraham was the teacher of that generation. Everyone learned from his ways and measures, except Lot.

A great pedigree doesn't necessarily insure "expected results" or a "praiseworthy product".

There is a tale of a man who went to visit his rabbi.

He was suspected of fraud and theft, and thought that the rabbi could help put an end to his troubles. The rabbi received him into his office, looked at him and asked: "Who are you?".

This same man answered the rabbi that he was from the family of one of the great rabbis and scholars, and that even his father was an exalted rabbi.

The rabbi looked at him again and said: "I asked 'Who are you', not 'Who is your father'...!".

Sometimes, even if your father is a "ten", you can still be a "zero".

Even if you are from the house of the Patriarch Abraham, you can still be "gurnisht". Relations never confer rights.