BY RABBI JUDITH BEINER / AJT //
In Parashat Lech Lecha, Abraham receives a call from G-d, and his journey begins.
A lot of ground, literally and figuratively is covered in these chapters. Abraham and Sarah travel from their home, collecting both people and property along the way. G-d solidifies a covenant with Abraham and the future Israelites, and Hagar gives birth to Ishmael.
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Abraham and his nephew Lot fare well as they both grow wealthy, acquiring large flocks of animals. Quarrels among the herds and handlers ensue, as it becomes clear that sharing land and close proximity of the two households is no longer tenable.
“Abram said to Lot, ‘Let there be no strife between you and me, between my herdsmen and yours, for we are kinsmen.'” (Genesis 13:8)
Rabbi Ismar Schorch teaches:
“Abraham, the source of Lot’s good fortune, chooses not to pull rank. He suggests instead separating their families and magnanimously grants Lot first choice as to where he would like to settle: ‘If you go north, I will go south; and if you go south, I will go north.’ When Lot grabs the most fertile land, Abraham still does not demur. At no point in this narrative does he assert authority to impose his will on his disrespectful and greedy nephew. For whatever reason, be it a desire to avoid conflict or because he is blinded by love, he refuses to resolve the dispute by force… what strikes me is the extraordinary display of restraint.”
Abraham acts with restraint, for the sake of peace. Whether or not he was aware of it, Abraham was in the stronger position, and could have dictated the outcome.
Rather than exercising his power and potentially inflaming the situation, Abraham chose not to take advantage. He allowed Lot to choose and in so doing, followed the path to peace.
Think about how frequently we witness the opposite: The power grab, an immediate reaction with yelling, anger and impatience.
How much more appealing is a response characterized by restraint, taking a deep breath, counting to 10, a moment of regrouping to think. When a reasoned response takes place, discussion, compromise and good will can result.
Nobody is left angry or ashamed or feeling shortchanged.
While pursuing peace is a lesson for the ages, it feels particularly relevant today in the midst of a government shutdown, with intransigence, mudslinging, and vitriolic reactions the norm in the public sphere. When everyone yells and nobody compromises, there are no winners, only losers.
Peace can never be the outcome.
Paul Schenk, a local clinical psychologist has written “Great ways to Sabotage a Good Conversation”. It is a short readable book in which he illustrates how common words and phrases and various language traps ultimately and consistently block dialogue between co-workers, parents and children, partners and friends.
Schenk notes that when you can’t have a dialogue, both sides cannot be heard or understood, and conflict and enmity result. Schenk’s book is required reading in my household. And while our conversations are not always perfect, they are much, much more peaceful.
While we may not be able to change our public official’s behavior until the next election, we can work on our own in the meantime. Abraham stands as a model of one who ‘used his words’ thoughtfully and carefully. We are taught in the book of Proverbs: Her ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths peaceful (3:17)
May we learn to use our words in the pursuit of peace.
About the writer
Rabbi Judith Beiner, a board member of the Atlanta Rabbinical Association, is the community chaplain for JF&CS.