Parashat Lech Lecha speaks about Abraham's initiative to separate from Lot. This decision was sparked by the dishonest behavior of Lot's shepherds who grazed their flocks on other peoples' pastures. They were rebuked by Abraham's shepherds and a quarrel ensued. Lot's shepherds justified their actions by claiming that the land was theirs. It was given by God to Abraham and since he was childless, Lot was his heir. The association with Lot meant that Abraham's family was involved in robbery and theft and this situation could not be tolerated. It would not be the first or last time that business partners or family members would decide to go each their own way. In this case, business ethics and morality demanded this separation.
The Medrash commentary however thinks differently and says that God was very critical of Abraham's decision to separate from Lot.
Rabbi Dessler suggests 2 answers.
Man is judged and made accountable to God on two levels. We are judged for our actions and we are judged for the 'level' on which we operate. So on Abraham's level, his action of ' separation ' was not only legitimate but in a sense the only option available for him to maintain his honesty and integrity. Separation was also something that Lot was thinking about for some time as he had his eyes on the more prosperous areas of Sodom. But if Abraham was on a higher and greater level he could have influenced Lot and his men to act differently. The claim against Abraham is not for the action he did – the act of separation- but for the 'level ' he operated on.
This is an important concept to internalize. People can carry on and do the right things in the context of where they are holding or in the context of their communities and think that they doing OK . No'ach and Lot were considered righteous within their respective communities, but very ordinary in a community where people were working on themselves. We need to reflect on where we are holding, on what levels we are operating, on who we are and not simply reflect on our actions.
Abraham's shepherds and so indirectly Abraham also have a certain responsibility for the separation. The Sifri commentary on Ki Teitze says that no peace can come out of quarrels and conflict. The way Abraham's shepherds approached the Lot's men was very antagonistic and involved a top-down rebuke. Rav Dessler says that Abraham's shepherds should not have started a quarrel and conflict. If Abraham's shepherds would have done acts of chesed and loving kindness towards the shepherds of Lot, they would have had a bigger impact and influence on Lot's shepherds because of the good relationship. Abraham had to take responsibility for not educating his shepherds to be attractive personalities who build relationships.
People who are in good relationships sometimes also quarrel and have conflicts. Being able to solve problems in a collaborative way and find realistic and mutually satisfying solutions is important. I want to suggest that if Abraham's shepherds would have attempted CPS – collaborative problem solving, things might have played out differently and there would not have been a separation.
In CPS we don't start with our concerns or expectations. We start with the child's or the other parties concerns. Once they feel heard and understood we have a much better chance of our concerns and expectations being heard. Once we have a clear understanding of their concerns we can look for various alternative solutions. People often present their concerns as solutions. We have to take a step back and ask 'what is the concern that this solution is addressing. We can't assume that we know the concerns and so we need to rely on the other party or child to give us this information.
Abraham's shepherds = As - we have noticed that your flocks graze on other peoples' lands, what's up!
Lot's shepherds=LS- It is too costly to graze the flocks on ownerless land and in any case the land belongs to Lot as he is Abraham's heir and God gave the land to Abraham.
AS- We understand that your concerns are financial - the cost of feeding your flocks
LS- yes, we are also concerned about the time and effort involved in grazing on ownerless land.
AS- Our concerns are that the locals – the Canaanites and Prezites are very much in control of the land and they rightly consider your actions as theft and robbery. And we by association are party to your actions.
As – let's brainstorm a solution to think of a way which addresses your concerns = the cost of grazing the flocks and our concerns that grazing on other peoples' lands is problematic.
Abraham can give Lot financial assistance or offer a profitable joint venture in order to address Lot's shepherds concerns. They could also decide to move on together to a more user-friendly economic environment. The process is also helpful in getting Lot's shepherds to 'hear' Abraham's concerns.
Sometimes the best solution is to separate. However we should still try to find some common ground where we can still cooperate. Despite the separation Abraham did promise his commitment to Lot's well being and in fact went to war to free him from captivity. However they did not decide on what matters they could cooperate.
The Sages criticism of Abraham's action to separate from Lot is a reminder to us that our actions might seem legitimate in the context of where we are holding. But if we were on a higher level, display more chesed, loving kindness and better collaborative problem solving skills we could become more powerful people and influence people to the better and help create a better and caring society.