One can only imagine the sheer frustration Avraham must have sensed upon discovering the contention that developed between his shepherds and those of his nephew and brother-in-law, Lot. Here it was, his loyal nephew valiantly joining him in a journey into the unknown, and suddenly, Avraham, because of a dispute between their respective shepherds feels compelled to part ways.

Is this the Avraham we know? Did he give up on Lot so readily without any resistance or effort to reconcile? Avraham, the greatest outreach professional that ever existed, walks away from his own flesh and blood without putting up a fight to win Lot back? What is going on here?

אל נא — Please not,  תהי מריבה— let there be strife, between me and you... for we are brothers...הפרד נא please part from me... (בראשית יג ח-ט)

Avraham pleads with Lot to settle their difference because they are kinsmen.

Is that the only reason they should make peace? Didn’t Avraham seek to bring unity among all men irrespective of their familial bonds. Why appeal only on the basis of their kinship? Doesn’t that minimize Avraham’s noble ideals and mission?

Rashi justifies Avraham’s reference to their being brothers, despite their being only uncle and nephew, by emphasizing they were close relatives and thus appropriately termed ‘brothers’.  Alternately, Rashi quotes the Midrash that attests to their uncanny ‘physical resemblance’, thus appearing as actual brothers.

These further complicates the emphasis on resolving their conflict because they are ‘brothers’. Does the fact that they ‘look alike’ make it a more compelling reason for them to repair their relationship? Emotional closeness demands reconciliation, but physical alikeness is merely coincidental and irrelevant.

There is remarkable verse in Mishlei (27 6), that seems to tell us one thing but when discerning carefully it teaches quite the opposite.

Wounds of a lover are, נאמנים — faithful, whereas kisses of an enemy are נעתרות — burdensome.

In its simplest understanding Shlomo Hamelech extols the value of a true friend who even when he inflicts pain it is purposeful, as opposed to an enemy who even when he throws kisses it is disingenuous.

Tosafos in Taanis (20) offers a very different perspective.

He writes: Some say that when lovers quarrel and hate each other, the hatred is Ne’emanah (lasting). The verse means that “wounds from a lover are lasting”, i.e. the hatred between lovers — It endures. When enemies make peace with each other, the Shalom and compromise between them is faithful and lasting. “V'Ne’etaros Neshikos Sonei” means that his kisses are Ne’etaros (many, i.e., enduring).

The great 17th century, Turkish scholar, Rav Shlomo Alagazi sees this idea as the motivation of Avraham.

Avraham realized that at times it is precisely those closest to you that when they feel hurt, the wound runs deep and reflects on a ‘enduring’ raw nerve that has been exposed and intensifies with time. The pain is ‘real’ and נאמנים — ‘authentic’.

It was with this in mind that Avraham realized that unless Lot takes a breather and gains some space, the hurt will endure and create a greater rift. Precisely because they were ‘brothers’ Avraham felt the rift required him asking of Lot to part ways, to preserve what was left of the relationship. (גופי הלכות תענית כ.)

The question that begs is why is this so? Why are we sometimes inconsolable to those closest to us.

The Rebbi Meir teaches that we were each created different from each other in three ways: voice, appearance and thinking. They differ in voice and appearance, lest men be intimate with others’ wives; they differ in thinking, due to thieves and extortionists (people think of different places to hide valuables).(סנהדרין לח.)

Certainly, the Talmud is speaking on a practical level. Having singular appearances and voices prevent us from being an impostor taking advantage of others. Thinking differently disallows us from second guessing someone else and utilizing that information to pilfer his possessions. But  perhaps there is a deeper thread being conveyed here.

If people were identity less, we would never find satisfaction within ourselves and always measure our success or lack thereof against those so apparently like ourselves. However, when we develop a sense of self that is unique in its skills, intellect and needs, we are less likely to feel diminished when comparing ourselves to others. When we strive to carve our own niche, that only ‘I’ can fashion, we stand a chance of thriving and making our successful way in the world.

Perhaps this is what frustrated Lot. Having possessed not only a strong familial connection to Avraham, but also a striking ‘resemblance’, and being in close proximity to the radiant success of his dear uncle, he simply could not carve his own unique existence and destiny. The impossible expectations that fell upon him due to this natural association with Avraham, frustrated him to the extent that his exasperation filtered down and found it in the jealous aspirations of his shepherds, striving to assert themselves by encroaching on the territory they believed were Lot’s entitlement.

The Chasam Sofer suggests reading Avraham’s initial response to Lot’s shepherds' instigation of conflict, as two separate sentiments. First telling him to stop contending, then encouraging him to maintain the ‘conflict’ by parting ways. The Chasam Sofer sees this as Avraham’s assertion that he can no longer live with Lot and must separate to preserve his own purity of mission.

Might I borrow his approach of the Chasam Sofer, dissecting the statement, but with a positive twist.

Avraham first encourages Lot, אל נא — please do not, simply instructing Lot to stop with his angst. He then goes on to add תהי מריבה — let there remain ‘divergent attitudes’, for by going in a different direction apart from one another, you will be able to preserve our connection, by discovering your own uniqueness.

Avraham remains forever the ultimate teacher.

With his understanding of human nature, he was able to do an act of kindness by encouraging Lot to forge his own path. After all, is this not in the spirit of the Creator Himself who devised humanity with a need for self-expression by making us so different from one another.

May we discover ourselves but never forget our allegiance to one another.


צבי יהודה טייכמאן