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ב"ה

Right or Left?

Friday, 30 October, 2020 - 6:28 am

A friend of mine, implying that we saw things differently, suggested that we take a bit of a break from each other. He didn’t unfriend me on Facebook. Instead, he pointed to an episode in this week’s parsha, Lech Lecha.

The Torah describes the difficulties that Avraham and his nephew Lot were having, primarily due to their numerous flocks and the subsequent dispute between their shepherds.

Avraham, in an effort to maintain the peace, suggests:

“Please let there be no quarrel between me and between you and between my herdsmen and between your herdsmen, for we are kinsmen. Is not all the land before you? Please part from me; if you go left, I will go right, and if you go right, I will go left.”

My friend was echoing these words, believing that going our own ways would be the best way to handle potential differences. It would be more peaceful than remaining tangled together.

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We all know people who are close to us, but do not think like us. You may have a sister, friend or neighbor that has radically different views about sports, education, faith, COVID-19 or – dare I say – politics.

Or, it might just be the matzah ball debate. Floaters or sinkers?

Are we doomed to unfriend all those who disagree with us? Should we part ways in order to keep the peace?

*

Rashi offers a surprising commentary on this Biblical dialogue. Rashi explains that – contrary to popular assumption - Avraham’s intent is not to sever ties. In fact, his intent is, “Wherever you dwell, I will not distance myself from you, and I will stand by you as a protector and a helper.” Rashi continues to point out that, indeed, Avraham comes to Lot’s rescue soon enough.

Why does Rashi interpret this text in such friendly and favorable terms? The text states, “Please part from me.” Yet, Rashi insists that Avraham was pledging to stay nearby and help! Where does Rashi get this from?

Perhaps, Rashi’s inference is from Avraham’s unique choice of words. Instead of saying north or south, Avraham suggests that Lot choose to head to the right or the left. Usually, the Torah describes locations by the definitive descriptions of north, south, east and west. In this instance, however, Avraham employs the terms right and left.

If I were offering you directions to the Chabad Jewish Center and simply told you to go to Maple Grove Road and turn left, that might be poor advice. It would be great advice if you were coming from one direction (east, for example). But, it would be horrible advice if you were coming from the opposite direction. North and south are absolute designations. Right and left are relative descriptions. 

The terms right and left only work if we are both facing the same direction.

And, this is Avraham’s entire point! Our separation itself demonstrates that we have a common point of reference. We share a commonality.

You might prefer the left, and I the right. You may favor the right, and I the left. But, if we are facing the same direction, we are still together! I will always be at your side.

And, let’s face it. Lot wasn’t the most commendable fellow around. He made lots of poor choices. Still, Avraham knew that if they could – at the minimum – face the same direction, the relationship would last.

Maintaining a peaceful relationship despite our disagreements is a tough call when we view each other on opposite sides. When we realize that we are really one, we can comfortably choose right or left without strife and without writing each other off.

The first Jew models one of the most potent themes of Judaism – that what unites us is far greater than what divides us. We are all facing the same direction. Instead of disengaging, we should be standing side by side – with our differences.

You don’t need to be right or wrong, right or left. You just need to face the same direction.

 

Based on a talk by Rabbi Shais Taub

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