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Oh Brother! Why Bother?

11/07/2019 11:58:22 AM


When it comes to families in the Bible, and brothers in particular, one can expect tension and drama. Just consider Cain and Able, Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, or Joseph and his eleven brothers. Cain kills his brother Abel, Ishmael is banished, Jacob steals his brothers blessing, and Joseph is thrown into a pit. It seems that the Torah knows a thing or two about sibling rivalry, and while it makes for good drama in the biblical narrative, it also hits close to home even in the world we live today. It seems that family members know how to push our buttons, and that it often is harder to mend such broken relationships. After all, the deeper the relationship, the bigger the betrayal.


In this week’s parsha, Abraham gets into a fight with his nephew Lot. Interestingly, the Torah refers to Lot as Abraham’s brother, and our sages imagine that perhaps this stems from Lot’s physical resemblance to Abraham. Yet, they act like brothers and as they both become wealthy and their shepherds get in each other’s way, they end up splitting up; one and his crew going one way, the other and his gang going the other way. Immediately afterwards, God speaks to Abraham and reaffirms his commitment to giving the land to Abraham’s offspring as an inheritance. But why now? Rabbi Judah imagines that God is angry with Abraham. Abraham has a reputation of bringing people into his tent. He is persuasive and approachable, and our tradition imagines he amasses quite a collection of followers. But apparently, Abraham can’t get through to his own family; his nephew who is like a brother. When God then tells Abraham that all this land will be his inheritance, He might then be suggesting that Abraham can’t pretend to live here, while Lot lives there. Rather, they both are on the same land, and thus need to figure out how to make it work between the two of them.


When we think about our own relationships in our life, we might be all too familiar with what Abraham and Lot might be going through. We can think about family members that have done worse than push our buttons and can appreciate how much easier it is to just split up and never talk to one another again. However, I wonder if there is a way to work through such complicated and broken relationships. While knowing that the healing of the brokenness in our lives often comes with scar tissue and fault lines and unique obstacles, I still wonder what it might look like if we were to remember that we are all living on the same land. And more broadly, even for those who aren’t our family but who frustrate and infuriate us, perhaps we can still apply this lesson to them and think about how all the Earth is our inheritance and we therefore need to work to bring everyone together. It might not be a utopian existence, but it has to be better than a world where we all mute each other’s texts, block one another’s posts, and give each other the silent treatment.

Tue, December 5 2023 22 Kislev 5784