Lech Lecha - On the Path to Destruction

And there was a quarrel between the shepherds of Abram's cattle and between the shepherds of Lot's cattle, and the Canaanites and the Perizzites were then dwelling in the land.
Breisheit 13:7
What Quarrel?
The verse describes a quarrel, a dispute that arose between the shepherds of Avram and the shepherds of Lot. With Lot being the nephew of Avram, this could be considered a family feud.

What were they fighting about?
Rashi describes the details of the confrontation.
Since Lot’s shepherds were wicked, and they pastured their animals in fields belonging to others, Abram’s shepherds rebuked them for committing robbery, but they [Lot’s herdsmen] responded, “The land was given to Abram, who has no heir; so Lot will inherit him, and therefore this is not robbery.” But Scripture states: “And the Canaanites and the Perizzites were then dwelling in the land,” and Abram had not yet been awarded its possession. [from Gen. Rabbah 41:5]
There was no fight over land, since the shepherds of Avram had no interest to graze the lands that the shepherd of Lot had moved onto, grazing on private property. So essentially this tension was based on a matter of honor. Lot's shepherds did not deny grazing on this land, or even that this was obviously under private ownership. They based their integrity on a controverted interpretation of the law, whereby they concluded that the land was bound to be theirs, so in a sense it was theirs now. Rashi emphasizes that verse mentions the presence of Canaanites and Perizzites to undermine the claim by Lot's shepherds, showing that this promise had yet to come about.

Yet Rashi's explanation opens several questions.
The shepherd's of Avram did not know otherwise that Avram, already at an advanced age, would eventually have his own heir. So why contest this claim by Lot's shepherds?
Rashi explains that the verse includes the seemingly extra text “And the Canaanites and the Perizzites were then dwelling in the land,” in order to show that the lack of validity to the claim by Lot's shepherds, that the promise to Avram had not yet been fulfilled. Yet why mention both nations, the Canaanites and the Perizzites?  After all in the earlier verse, it referred only to the Canaanites being in the land.
And Abram passed through the land, until the place of Shechem, until the plain of Moreh, and the Canaanites were then in the land
Breisheit 12:6
Peace in the Land
The Kli Yakar raises these issues and addresses them in his commentary. The Kli Yakar says "some say that the verse wants to say that these were the two great nations - the Cannanites and the Perizzites - and they dwelt in the land [of Canaan] without dispute, [while] these two groups of shepherds couldn't settle the land together."

The great family of Avram, the proto-Jewish family, lived in strife and fought. To mirror this condition, the verse shows how our enemies, the nations destined to be vanquished by the tribes of Israel - the Cannanites and Perizzites - live amongst each other in harmony. It is both a lesson and a criticism of our behavior as a Jewish nation, that we fight between ourselves while our enemies live in comfort.

The Great Surrender
Following the dispute between the shepherds, Avram makes Lot a generous offer
Is not all the land before you? Please part from me; if [you go] left, I will go right, and if [you go] right, I will go left.
Breisheit 13:9
The Kli Yakar explains also the appearance of both these nations in our verse explains Avrams motives to dealing with Lot. Says the Kli Yakar "Here the shepherds of Avram did their part and rebuked the shepherd's of Lot for stealing and if they did not accept the rebuke then they were saving their own lives"

What does this mean "saving their lives?"

Continues the Kli Yakar, "the shepherd's of Avram rebuked them for stealing and the shepherd's of Lot contended that all of the land belonged to Avram (etc.). and Avram considered that if the inhabitants of the land saw that he was taking hold of the land and assuming ownership, while his group was small in numbers then obviously they would gather their forces and attack. That is why this verse also includes the Perizzites, for they were brave people living in fortified cities"

The verse later, based on the report of the spies, supports this contention.
the people who inhabit the land are mighty, and the cities are extremely huge and fortified

Bamidar 13:28  
Shows the Kli Yakar further, he brings the episode of Shimon and Levi and the slaughter of Shechem, to show further the reputation of the Cannanites and Perizzites.

Thereupon, Jacob said to Shimon and to Levi, "You have troubled me, to discredit me among the inhabitants of the land, among the Canaanites and among the Perizzites, and I am few in number, and they will gather against me, and I and my household will be destroyed."
Breisheit 34:30

Tranquil Dwelling
The verse is also particular to not only mention the names of these other nations that could be aroused to confrontation, but also says that the 'dwelled' in the land.
and the Canaanites and the Perizzites were then dwelling in the land.

Breisheit 13:7
Says the Kli Yakar, "the verse says that they dwelled to say that until now they are dwelling in tranquility. By seeing that shepherds are in their fields establishing ownership, then there will be senseless war. There [Avram says]  "Please part from me."

This further displays Avram's cautious decisions, putting full faith in Hashem's promise to give him the land, without entering into useless wars, and not showing unnecessary hubris to the inhabitants.

Time to Make Choices
Despite the initial contentions of Lot's shepherd's that in fact they were doing nothing wrong, that in fact the fields were theirs de facto, they never denied sending their flocks to graze in these fields.

Says the Kli Yakar, "thus Lot went to dwell with the people of Sodom, who were not particular about stealing."

Avram dwelt in the land of Canaan, and Lot dwelt in the cities of the plain, and he pitched his tents until Sodom.  And the people of Sodom were very evil and sinful against the Lord.
Breisheit 13:12-13
Says the Kli Yakar, the verse "And the people of Sodom were very evil and sinful against the Lord" is placed adjacent to this to show that since they sin with money and were not particular of stealing, thus Lot goes to settle by them."

The Path to Destruction
Lot's choices at the beginning of this episode were motivated by greed but blurred by his own legal acrobatics to justify his party's behavior. Ultimately the path he set down lead him to Sodom, a doomed city.

As we note in mishna:

Ben Azzai said: Be eager to fulfill the smallest duty and flee from transgression; for one mitzvah induces another and one transgression induces another transgression. The reward of a duty is a duty, the reward of one transgression is another transgression.
Pirkei Avot 4:2

 Lot took step after step, transgression after transgression, which lead him down a path which he was locked into, sealing his destiny. In our lives, we are constantly confronted with decisions for how to behave. Sometimes it feels like a little lie is easiest, or to slightly bend a rule won't be noticed, or worse to deny any wrongdoing through sophisticated justification. These may start out as small, minor infractions, but once we allow ourselves to behave in this manner, then we are quickly sliding down towards a destiny that will be difficult to extricate ourselves from, without conscious and dedicated effort to correct our behavior.

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