The Family. What kinds of families and family dynamics do we find in the book of B'reishit? What can these relationships teach us about our own families?
"Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents, so that the land could not support them staying together; for their possessions were so great that they could not remain together. And there was quarreling between the herdsmen of Abram's cattle and those of Lot's cattle. The Canaanites and Perizzites were then dwelling in the land. Abram said to Lot, 'Let there be no strife between you and me, between my herdsmen and yours, for we are kinsmen.'" ( Genesis 13:5-9)
"The land could not support them staying together." Commentator Nechama Leibowitz suggests that Abram and Lot managed their herds and herdsmen so differently that they could not peacefully coexist. One commentary explains that Lot's herdsmen refused to contain their grazing cattle in order to allow for other people to live in the area. They allegedly followed Lot's poor example.
Abram (who eventually became Abraham) and his nephew Lot faced a difficult family conflict. Sharing resources and living together caused a serious strain on their relationship, which infected the relationships of people around them. Abram proposed a solution and allowed Lot to determine the outcome. They each agreed to go their separate ways.
The saga continues, and in chapter 14, Abram rescues Lot from the tribe that captured him during wartime in his new home. This act of courage and kindness established the model for one of the most sacred and frequently practiced mitzvot, pidyon shvuyim, rescuing captives. Maimonides ranked redemption of captives above giving money to the poor. Abram was able to remember the family ties that bound him to Lot and to overlook their differences in order to save his life.
While we may need to be reminded to share what we have with those less fortunate, it is often a greater challenge to forgive family members. In every family, there are sure to be conflicts. The challenge for every family is to resolve the conflicts amicably. Abram devised an ingenious, effective compromise. With a mixture of creativity and generosity, Abram found a way to preserve a delicate, fragile relationship with his nephew. A combination of wisdom, good will, and family loyalty served to help Abram and Lot survive their separation and maintain a civil, if not cordial relationship. Abram can be our teacher as well, if we consciously choose to follow his example.
To Talk About
a. With younger children (3-5)
- Have you ever had to take a "time out," or separate yourself from a situation which was making you upset? How does taking a "time out" help you? What don't you like about it?
- When you felt angry with someone in your family, how long was it before you wanted to make up? Why?
b. With older children (6-8)
- What do you think about Abram and Lot's compromise? What else do you think they could have done?
- What are some things you have had to do so that you and someone you love could get along?
- As a family, develop a conflict resolution plan. How will someone who is angry communicate his/her feelings? When will be a time for people in the family to share their feelings? How will you decide together solutions to problems? What will be the process for making amends? How can you reinforce a sense of family loyalty, the idea that disagreements will not destroy family relationships?
- Discuss your family history. Consider a story of pidyon shvuyim, for example, an immigrant who sponsored another family member to come to this country.
Lech L’cha, Genesis 12:1-17:27
The Torah: A Modern Commentary, pp. 91-117; Revised Edition, pp. 88-117;
The Torah: A Women's Commentary, pp. 59-84