This chinuch article is written by LJY-Netzer member Gabriel Webber. It does not necessarily represent the views of LJY-Netzer or Liberal Judaism.
There are many Bible stories we don’t teach to children. Some are X-rated; some, like the one where the prophet Elisha summons wild bears to eat 42 children who had teased him about his bald patch, are just plain weird.
But there are some other little-known episodes that we perhaps should teach. Who knew, for instance, that in this week’s parasha, Lech l’Cha, Abraham is no sooner promised the land (of ‘promised land’ fame) than he agrees to split it with his nephew Lot – hence the phrase ‘land lot’ – following a quarrel?
And if this story was known more widely, would more people be more accepting of a two-state solution?
Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents, so that the land could not support them staying together; for their possessions were so great that they could not remain together. And there was quarrelling between the herdsmen of Abram’s cattle and those of Lot’s cattle. Abram said to Lot, “Let there be no strife between you and me, between my herdsmen and yours, for we are kinsmen. Is not the whole land before you? Let us separate: if you go north, I will go south; and if you go south, I will go north.”
Let me just highlight some particular elements of this story:
- Abraham agreed, of his own volition, to split the land, after God promised it all to him. He didn’t have to do this. It was his land, and if his nephew was causing him a lot of trouble he would have been perfectly entitled to throw said nephew out altogether. But instead he chose to split the land for the sake of peace.
- Abraham particularly wished to avoid conflict with Lot because they were “brethren” – blood relatives, from the same family.
- A key feature of the allocation of land was that each portion should be capable of supporting the necessary population. Just giving Lot ‘some land’ was not enough. It had to be sufficient for its intended purpose.
- The split was made in good faith. Both parties were purely interested in being able to get on with their lives/ farming quietly and efficiently, without having to expend time and energy on fighting. Lot (we assume) didn’t spend the next 40 years building tunnels under Abraham’s patch, and Abraham (we assume) didn’t use Lot’s land to build himself housing developments.
And so it was that Abraham implemented a two-state solution, of his own promised land, bare moments after he received it.
As Israeli writer Amos Oz has said: I don’t believe in a sudden burst of mutual love between Israel and Palestine. If anything, I expect a fair and just divorce. And divorces are never happy, even when they are more or less just. They still hurt, they are painful. Especially this particular divorce, which is going to be a very peculiar divorce, because the two divorcing parties are definitely staying in the same apartment. No-one is moving out. And the apartment is very small, it will be necessary to decide who gets bedroom A and who gets bedroom B and how about the living room; and the apartment being so small, some special arrangement has to be made about the bathroom and the kitchen. Very inconvenient. But better than the kind of living hell which everyone is going through now.”
So don’t let anyone tell you that a two-state solution is un-Jewish or will lead to the destruction of the Jewish people or is like Auschwitz. Don’t let anyone tell you that because God promised the land to the Israelites, we shouldn’t let any Arabs live there.
Abraham split the land for the sake of peace within his extended family. The Arabs are our cousins – via Abraham indeed – and we do not want strife between our people and theirs.
But the remarkable stories of parasha Lech l’Cha don’t stop there. A little later, Jerusalem makes its first appearance, under the name of ‘Salem’.
Now, in modern debates about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (by which I mean ‘on Facebook and Twitter’) it is the done thing to squabble about who had Jerusalem first, the Jews or the Palestinians. “The Jews had it first!” “The Palestinians were here first!” “The Palestinians don’t exist and were invented in 1967 by the KGB.” You get the picture.
But in actual fact – or at least in the Torah – neither had it first. In the days of Abraham, (Jeru)salem was ruled over by a King Melchitzedek – literally ‘King King-of-justice’ – about whom we know very little except that he was an holy man of God.
So it wasn’t the Jews who were in Jerusalem first, or the Palestinians, but Justice. And maybe we can bring some justice back now with an Abraham-endorsed two-state solution.