13:1-3 “..and he proceeded on his journey..” – On his return trip he retraced his steps and lodged in the same places where he stayed on the outward journey – retracing his former route. This teaches good manners: One should not change his lodging.
The Talmud explains that one’s lodging should not be changed unless one is the object of great harassment and anguish. This is because a boarder who changes his lodging discredits both himself (because he will acquire the reputation of a man hard to please or of a man who acted improperly and was refused further lodging); and he discredits the lodging place which will be regarded as unsatisfactory. According to the masters of the Mussar Movement, Abraham’s behavior displays a lesson in frugality. When he went to Egypt in the midst of famine, he would have chosen inexpensive lodgings in order to conserve his dwindling resources. Upon his return he was exceedingly wealthy, yet he did not change his style of living.
Malbim perceives in the use of the plural ‘journeys’ that Abraham’s intention was not to journey to one permanent destination, but to visit many places where he could lecture and spread the Word of the True God.
13:4 This informs us that he did not pitch his tent on a different part of the mountain but near the very spot where he had previously built an altar. This teaches that it is proper for a person to select a permanent place for his prayer and divine service. One’s heart is better attuned in a familiar place (Radak).
13:6 “..the land could not support them..” – According to the Midrash the inability of the land to support them went beyond natural considerations: ‘Could it really be – a land that supported such a large population could not support them? It was the quarrels between their shepherds that was the true cause. Even the most abundant land cannot suffice for quarreling parties (Midrash HaGadol).
In truth, Abraham and Lot were separated by great ideological differences as alluded to by the Sages who interpreted the phrase (verse 11) as meaning that Lot removed himself from the Ancient One of the Universe saying ‘I desire neither Abraham nor his God.’ And on verse 14, ‘As long as the wicked Lot was in Abraham’s company, God did not communicate with Abraham.’ Therefore, the verse is to be interpreted: The land could not support them to dwell together because of their abundant possessions; neither could they themselves dwell together because of the ideological differences which separated them (Malbim).
13:7 They quarreled because Lot’s shepherds were wicked and they grazed their flocks on other people’s pastures. When Abraham’s shepherds rebuked them for this act of robbery, Lot’s shepherds contended that they were within their rights because the land had been given to Abraham (12:7). Since Abraham was childless, Lot was his heir; therefore, it was not robbery. The Torah specifically negates their contention by stating ‘the Canaanites and Perizzites were then dwelling in the land’ to emphasize that Abraham was not yet the legitimate owner (Rashi).
This is elaborated upon more fully in the Midrash. Abraham’s cattle would go out to pasture muzzled so as not to graze in other’s fields whereas those of Lot were not muzzled. Abraham’s herdsmen would chide them: “Has then robbery been permitted?” To which Lot’s herdsmen would reply: ‘Thus did God say to Abraham ‘Unto your descendants will I give this land’, and Abraham is as barren as a mule who cannot begret children. Therefore when Abraham dies, Lot will be his heir, even if they eat of other’s pastures, they are eating their own because the land will ultimately be theirs.’
God said to them: ‘I have said that I give the land to his descendants. When? – When the seven nations are uprooted from it (see 15:18). Meanwhile, however, ‘the Canaanites and Perizzites were then dwelling in the land.’ (The version in Pesikta Rabbasi concludes: ‘…I promised the land to Abraham’s descendants, and not to this wicked man (Lot), as you imagine … and only when I drive the Canaanite and Perizzite from its midst. Abraham has still not been given children and the Canaanite and Perizzite are still the rightful owners, and you still say thus?)
13:8 Scripture speaks in praise of Abraham. Although it was arrogant and presumptuous of Lot to cause offense to Abraham, his protector and teacher, Abraham nevertheless pleaded with him ‘let there be no strife.’ What is more, Abraham gave Lot the choice to settle wherever he wished.
B’chor Shor explains it as “The fact that we are related makes our quarrels a source of embarrassment. Our neighbors will say: They cannot even dwell peacefully and tolerate one another as brother – how will they then act to strangers? They are a wicked people!”
13:9 “..please separate from me..” – Abraham did not want a total and unbreachable rift between himself and Lot; what he sought was a separation of ways with a promise that he would still come to Lot’s aid should it be necessary. And as Rashi comments: Lot was ultimately in need of him (14:14) and Abraham, indeed came to his aid.
13:10 From his vantage point atop the mountain where they had encamped (12:8; 13:3), Lot gazed across the whole area, and his gaze rested on the fertile Jordan plain (Radak). He based his decision only on the fertility of the area and paid no heed to the evil of his future neighbors.
Lot chose the area because a land which is so well irrigated is unlikely to be affected by drought and is good for pasture (Ramban).
Harav David Feinstein comments that the basis of Lot’s choice should be understood in the light of the Midrashic interpretation to the next verse that Lot departed from the Ancient One of the World. Lot saw a well watered plain, an area so rich and abundant that there was no need for God’s assistance or intervention, nor would its inhabitants be required to pray for God’s mercy.
Conversely, during Israel’s formative years in the Wilderness, God gave the manna day by day rather than once a year or once a month, in order to teach the people that they must look to Him constantly for their sustenance.
“..going toward Zoar.” – Zoar is the name of a city to the south of the Dead Sea. When God was about to destroy Sodom, Lot was allowed to escape to Zoar, ‘a little city’. Therefore the name of the city was call Zoar – meaning ‘little’. Zoar is also mentioned in Deuteronomy 34:3 as being the southernmost locality seen by Moses when he was shown Eretz Yisrael from Mount Nebo.
13:11 “..they departed from one another.” – There is a great prophetic significance to this statement. Lot, in whom were hidden the sparks which would one day produce Ruth, the mother of Israel’s royal family, did not remain in the Camp of the Shechinah. He departed from Abram, and in time the rift would become absolute and irreversible, reaching the point where his male descendants would be prohibited from entering the congregation of Israel (Deuteronomy 23:4 – An Ammorite or Moabite (they were descendants of Lot) shall not enter the assembly of Hashem).
13:12 “Abram remained in the land..” – In a more positive vein, the Zohar perceives Abraham’s remaining in Canaan as serving as a sign of his desire to cling to the place which was to become the fountainhead of faith – Eretz Yisrael – and to learn wisdom so he could cleave to his Maker. Lot, on the other hand, dwelt in the cities of the plain and pitched his tents as far as Sodom, among the sinners who abandoned all faith. Thus, each chose a path befitting his own particular nature.
13:13 “the people of Sodom were wicked and sinful..” – Lot did not refrain from living with them. They were wicked with their bodies (adulterous), and sinful with their money (by withholding financial assistance from the poor) (Rashi).
Since the Canaanites were themselves steeped in wickedness and sin, the Torah adds, when describing the Sodomites’ sinfulness, the adjective ‘exceedingly’. This emphasizes that their wickedness exceeded even that of the Canaanites which will be described in more detail later.
13:14 The Repetition of the Promise…. “..look out from where you are..” He did not even have to move from that spot! God caused him miraculously to view the entire land from his present vantage point. In this respect Abraham was greater even than Moses who, before he was shown the land, was told to ‘get up to the top of Pisgah’ (Deuteronomy 3:27).
13:15 “For all the land that you can see..” – Bethel, where Abraham was standing, is in the central region of the Land. From that vantage point he was afforded a magnificent panoramic view of the whole country (Hoffmann).
“..forever.” Hirsch comments – by this promise God does not proclaim that the Land will always be in their possession, but that they and the land will always be destined for one another, just as here it was given to Abraham without his ever taking possession of it.
13:16 Clearly, the verse does not refer to an enormous Jewish population during any particular generation. Jews were never consistently prominent numerically – Deuteronomy 7:7: “It is not because you are more numerous ….indeed, you are the fewest of all peoples.” Rather our verse refers to the countless total of all the generations of an immortal nation which will flourish throughout history (Hirsch).
The comparison to dust of the earth is explained in the Midrash:
- Just as the dust of the earth is found from one end of the world to the other, so shall your children be found from one end of the world to the other;
- As the dust of the earth can be blessed only through water, so will your children be blessed for the sake of Torah which is likened to water (Isaiah 55:1);
- As the dust of the earth wears out even metal utensils yet itself endures forever, so will Israel exist forever while the nations of the world will cease to be;
- As the dust of the earth is trodden upon, so will your children be downtrodden under the heel of foreign powers…
- But as the dust outlives those who tread upon it, so God said to Abraham, shall your sons outlive the nations of the world that persecute them.
13:17 “..walk about the land..” – Ramban offers two interpretations:
- This was not a command to Abraham that he walk through the Land. Rather it was a promise of God’s protection, telling Abraham that he could feel free to get up and walk fearlessly throughout the land for to you will I give it – eventually it would be his.
- This was a command. The act of walking through the Land would denote taking possession of the gift (12:6). Abraham was now in the east; when he later went to the land of the Philistines in the west, he thereby fulfilled the command.
13:18 “..in the plains of the Mamre..” – Mamre was the name of the owner (Rashi). He was an Emorite, as it says (14:13). However, whenever the Torah mentions Mamre – as in 23:19 and 35:27 – it refers to the name of a city (Ramban).