In the middle of this week’s parsha, we read, “And there was an argument between the shepherds of Avram’s flock and between the shepherds of Lot’s flock and the Canaanite and the Perizzite were then dwelling in the land.” The Torah is relating to us how Lot ended up in the area of Sodom. Like Avram – more accurately, in the merit of Avram - Lot was also wealthy. The land could not support both. Their shepherds had an argument. Avram did not want to have a dispute with his nephew, so he suggested that they part ways. Lot liked the quality of the land by the Jordan Plain, so he chose to live in Sodom.
However, there seems to be an extra phrase in the narrative – “And the Canaanite and the Perizzite were then dwelling in the land.” What does that fact have to do with the dispute between Avram and Lot? Those two nations were not involved whatsoever in the dispute!
Whenever there is a difficulty with the explanation of a verse in Tanach or a matter in the Talmud, the first place that we look for a solution is the commentary of Rashi. Rashi gives us a clear and concise explanation of any difficulty that we might encounter. Rashi clarifies for us the argument between the shepherds of Avram and the shepherds of Lot. Based upon the Midrash, Rashi explains, “because Lot’s shepherds were wicked men and grazed their cattle in other people’s fields. Avram’s shepherds rebuked them for this act of robbery, but Lot’s shepherds replied, ‘The land has been given to Avram, and since he has no son as heir, Lot will be his heir. Therefore, this is not robbery.’ The Torah however, states, ‘And the Canaanite and the Perizzite were then dwelling in the land.’ So, Avram was not yet entitled to possession.” That explanation of Rashi teaches us the necessity of the phrase regarding the Canaanite nations in the land. Their presence prevented Avram from taking over at this point.
Years ago, Rabbi Fasman offered another suggestion about this phrase regarding the presence of the Canaanite and Perizzites in the Land. The Torah is being critical of the shepherds of Avram and Lot. They were having an open dispute in the presence of the Canaanites and Perizzites. Those two nations were able to see the inner fighting within the extended family of Avram. The Torah knows that the Jewish people will have arguments over serious matters. However, the Torah is instructing us that we must not air those disputes to the world. That only weakens us in the eyes of the world and strengthens their resolve against us. Unfortunately, we have seen such behavior too often amongst the Jewish people – especially in matters related to the State of Israel.
We read six times in this week’s Parsha that G-d promised the Jewish people the Land of Israel. The very first comment of Rashi in Chumash teaches us the reason that G-d wrote the entire Book of Breishis. In case anybody should ever challenge the Jewish right to the Land, we can say, “G-d created the world and everything is His. He gives it to whomever He wants.” Now, imagine the ambassador of Israel telling this to the foreign minister of Jordan, Syria, Iran, Iraq, England, France or any of those other countries whose love for Israel knows no bounds. It would never go over with them! What is Rashi teaching us?
Rashi is not telling us to say it to the other nations of the world. Rashi is teaching us that the Jewish people must know that it is G-d in control and He gives the Land to us. We have to teach it to our people, and they have to be strong about it. All the big shots who think that they know everything and what is good for the Jewish people and say that Israel should surrender land to a people that is out to destroy it don’t even know the first thing about Chumash or Rashi. But it is most crucial for the entire Jewish people to understand this. The Torah is for us . . . G-d is speaking to us . . . G-d is telling us that the Land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people. And we really must believe that and give it our full support whether or not we agree with its policies.
Unfortunately, some groups like to air their differences in public to make the Jewish people look bad. They are not embarrassed to do so at the United nations or at public conferences in Washington, D.C.
On the other hand, thank G-d, we have and have had many Jews who will do whatever they can not to publicly air their grievances about Israel.
That is a lesson from the fight between Avram’s and Lot’s shepherds. There is no need for the outside world to see our dirty laundry. That is a private matter. If some of those zealous groups would understand that, we would be an even brighter “light unto the nations”.