Abraham’s Character


Moshe Ben-Chaim




Abram's Respect for Human Rights

God commanded Abraham to leave Charan. Abraham did so and headed towards Canaan:

 “And Avram traversed the land until the place of Shechem; until Alon Moreh; and the Canaanite people were in the land.”  (Gen. 12:6)


Later we read,

“And also to Lote who traveled with Avram were there sheep and cattle and tents. And the land could not sustain them both for their property was great and they could not dwell together. And there was a dispute between the shepherds of Avram (Abraham) and the shepherds of Lote; and the Canaanite and Prizzite then dwelled in the land. And Avram said to Lote, ‘Please let there not be a dispute between myself and you, and between my shepherds and yours, for we are brothers. Is not the entire land before you? Separate before me; if you go left I will go to the right; if you go right I will go to the left’.” (Gen. 13:5-9)


What is significant to mention that these nations were “in the land”? Why mention this obscure detail, and why join this detail with seemingly unrelated information, regarding Avram’s travels, and the shepherds’ dispute? 

Rashi (Gen. 13:7) teaches that Avram’s shepherds justly rebuked Lote’s shepherds for their grazing in pastures belonging to others. Lote’s shepherds’ justification was that Avram is to eventually inherit all of Canaan. But Avram’s shepherds knew that Avram did not “yet” receive that promise.

We learn Avram’s perfection, through this Rashi citing his shepherd’s perfection. We are told that Avram initially “traversed the land until the place of Shechem; until Alon Moreh”. He traveled “until” this location. “Until” is stated twice in this verse, stressing Avram’s respect of others’ property. He didn’t travel further for the reason that the verse explains, the Canaanite people “were in the land.” Similarly, the verse that describes the dispute of the shepherds also ends with “and the Canaanite and Prizzite then dwelled in the land (ibid 13:7) .” 

The Torah’s means of catching our attention is often through repetition. Repeating the idea that the Canaanite were in the land causes us to compare that verse 13:7 with the previous verse 12:6. We then note the context of both verses. The first verse describes how Avram traveled “until” a certain location, due to the presence of the Canaanites. The second verse describes the shepherd’s dispute, also related to the Canaanite’s presence in the land. Through this repetition, and the seemingly unrelated content of both verses, we learn that Avram did not trespass occupied land, nor did he allow his shepherds to graze there; the cause of the dispute with Lote’s shepherds as Rashi teaches.

Abram's Care for Monotheism

A second story records Abraham's military victory over the powerful four kings. However, the Torah's intent is that man learns values relating to God; Torah is not concerned with man's prowess per se. As always, God provides ample clues in His words. 

In the 14th year of their reign, Cadarlomer and his three mighty companion kings succeeded over the five kings who rebelled. Cadarlomer then pillaged Sodom:

"And they took all the wealth of Sodom and Amora and all their food and they left. And they took Lote and his wealth, the son of Abraham's brother, and they left, and he [Lote] dwelled in Sodom. And a refugee came and told Abram the Ivri…"

"And Abram heard his brother was captured… (Gen. 14:11-13)"

Abram was victorious in battle: 

"And Abram returned all the wealth and also Lote his brother…(ibid 16)"

Why did Cadarlomer leave "twice"? Clearly, Cadarlomer returned after his first leaving, this second time for Lote, "son of Abram's brother." Why do we need to be told of Lote's relation to Abram? Why here, is Abram called the "Ivri"? Finally, why does Abram return the wealth, before Lote? Was not Lote his true concern?

Abram recognized the Cadarlomer's objective in kidnapping Lote. Lote was Abram's relative. Cadarlomer, like many in that generation, disliked Abram the "Ivri", the "Hebrew" or the one who lived differently ("ever hayam", the river's other side). Abram was a monotheist, unlike all others, metaphorically "living on the river's other bank." In his battle,  Cadarlomer saw another opportunity aside from power and booty: to repudiate Abram and his monotheism. This is why Cadarlomer returned for Lote alone, "Abram's relative."

Abram's battle was twofold: 1) to save his nephew, 2) to defend monotheism. And in order not to give an impression of nepotism, Abram returned the wealth of the victims first, then Lote second. Abram was sensitive to the public's feelings of self interest. He wished that his reputation as a monotheist be untarnished. So he maitained respect by deferring to the victims' cares first. In this manner, the public would accept Abram, and be more open to his monotheism.

Torah teaches correct values and morals, in God's framework. Torah is not a historical book, or a book that praises man. It is all about God and the truths He wishes to impart to man. God imparts these truths in a special method, and this method is where we find Torah's objectives. It is not a literary work, where we might use "literary styles and critiques" as means of interpretation. It is not a work where anything anyone suggests contains merit. Only that which "must" be said, should be said. All other theories, and certainly views that contradict our greatest minds, must be dismissed. 

To learn Torah's true lessons, we must defer to our leaders, in whom God instilled great insights so as to keep His promise that we will never lose His Torah (Isaiah 59:21).