Lech Lecha- Rationalizing the Unrationalizable

A week ago from today (Friday morning), I had the zechut of joining hundreds of Jews visting the Kotel in honor of Rosh Chodesh. It was quite a beautiful sight- there were people davening in a few small minyanim, and then there was a larger minyan of mainly Ultra-Orthodox Jews, praying tehilim for Rav Ovadya Yosef z”l and for עם ישראל. On the other side of the mechitza, there were many women quietly praying and many, mostly Women of the Wall, who were so overjoyed with the New Moon that they wanted to bring their singing and dancing from their designated site on the southern wall to the main Kotel plaza. They slowly and surely started celebrating louder until it reached a point where the Hareidi minyan, in an attempt to drown out the forbidden noise of the women, set up loudspeakers and continued their tehilim, eventually reaching the point of screaming the sacred Psalms. Meanwhile, I and the few people who were still davening Shacharit were left with so much noise coming from both sides that we could barely hear ourselves think, let alone try to talk to someone else (G-d). Eventually, the loud stalemate broke and many of the Hareidimitpalilim charged the mechitza screaming all sorts of things at the women praying there, leading to a few of them being arrested by Israeli police. At that point, I came to a realization; with everyone making so much noise and trying to drown out the others’ prayers, they were losing sight of where they were- the most accessible holy spot in the world. Specifically, while the Women of the Wall’s refusal to daven in their designated area could’ve been planned to disrupt tefillah and incite a riot, it was nevertheless inappropriate for the Hareidim to react with violence, for while their opinions may have been correct and justified, their actions put them in the wrong.

In פרשת לך-לך, a reading which contains many of G-d’s invitations to and blessings ofארץ כנען, one story stands out as being particularly not ארץ ישראל-friendly:

וַיַּעַל אַבְרָם מִמִּצְרַיִם הוּא וְאִשְׁתּוֹ וְכָל-אֲשֶׁר-לוֹ, וְלוֹט עִמּוֹ–הַנֶּגְבָּה …  וְגַם-לְלוֹט הַהֹלֵךְ, אֶת אַבְרָם הָיָה צֹאן-וּבָקָר, וְאֹהָלִים. וְלֹא-נָשָׂא אֹתָם הָאָרֶץ, לָשֶׁבֶת יַחְדָּו כִּי-הָיָה רְכוּשָׁם רָב, וְלֹא יָכְלוּ לָשֶׁבֶת יַחְדָּו. וַיְהִי-רִיב, בֵּין רֹעֵי מִקְנֵה-אַבְרָם, וּבֵין, רֹעֵי מִקְנֵה-לוֹט וְהַכְּנַעֲנִי, וְהַפְּרִזִּי, אָז, יֹשֵׁב בָּאָרֶץ. וַיֹּאמֶר אַבְרָם אֶל-לוֹט, אַל-נָא תְהִי מְרִיבָה בֵּינִי וּבֵינֶךָ, וּבֵין רֹעַי, וּבֵין רֹעֶיךָ:  כִּי-אֲנָשִׁים אַחִים, אֲנָחְנוּ.

And Avram went up from Egypt with his wife and all he had, and Lot with him, towards the Negev… And Lot, who went with Avram, also had sheep, cattle, and tents. And they didn’t travel together in the land, because they had many belongings and they weren’t able to settle together. And there was a fight between the shepherds of Avram and those of Lot, and the Canaanites and Perizites were still in the land. And Avram said to Lot; let us not make a fight between me and my shepherds and you and your shepherds, because we are family… (בראשית יג)

A rift has begun to develop between the seemingly-close uncle and nephew. Lot’s shepherds had, validly, assumed that since ארץ ישראל was promised to Avraham and his family, they could help themselves to their land. Yet, Avraham and his shepherds don’t seem to agree with this. What could be the problem? Why does this become the straw that broke the camel’s back and caused Lot to move to סדום?

Rashi, in explaining the seeming non-sequitur “והכנעני והפרזי אז ישב בארץ,” answers:

ויהי ריב- לפי שהיו רועים של לוט רשעים ומרעים בהמתם בשדות אחרים, ורועי אברם מוכיחים אותם על הגזל, והם אומרים נתנה הארץ לאברם, ולו אין יורש, ולוט יורשו, ואין זה גזל, והכתוב אומר והכנעני והפרזי אז יושב בארץ ולא זכה בה אברם עדיין:

And there was dispute- since the shepherds of Lot were wicked and would  feed their animals from fields that didn’t belong to them, and the shepherds of Avram would reproach them for this stealing. They (Lot’s shepherds) would say; ‘The land was given to Avram, and Avram has no inheritor except for Lot, so therefore it isn’t stealing.” [To answer this claim,] the passuk says “And the Canaanites and Perizites were still in the land,” [showing that] Avraham hadn’t yet inherited the land. (רש”י שם)

Avram was promised ארץ כנען for himself and his descendants, and since אברם had no children, Lot would logically be next in line for the Holy Land. Lot’s shepherds twisted this thought process to try to justify stealing from the current inhabitants’ pastures and plants. While their logic was technically right, they could not use this rationalization to warrant something as wrong as stealing, which is one of the 10 commandments. The פסוק therefore concludes “והכנעני…,” to shows that אברם and his shepherds were right, and the end does not necessarily justify the means. If there’s one lesson we can learn from this teaching of Rashi, it’s that we must resist the temptation to do something wrong, even if we can rationalize it by saying the others (the כנענים, in our story) are wrong too, because at the end of the day, we are judged by what we do as much as why we do it.

Back to the scene on Friday morning at the Kotel, I believe that it is important for the Hareidim who reacted violently to the WoW to learn from this lesson as well. Observant Jews are well aware of the fact that the Women of the Wall have a tendency to disrespect the religious standards set for the Western Wall. Those who study the media also know that their incitement of hatred from orthodox Judaism is a tactic to gain more media attention and more support for their otherwise weak cause. Even with this in mind, we still do not have the right to assault our fellow Jews, especially if we are creating a חילול השם in the process. Lot’s shepherds violated the Eighth Commandment by stealing from the temporary inhabitants of Eretz Canaan; by taking violence and proclaiming it to be G-d’s will, these extremists could be going even further and violating the 5th Noahide Law of ברכת השם, blasphemy, a command which even the shepherds of Lot never violated. Hopefully, when the scene inevitably repeats itself next month, both sides will approach the holy site with the respect due to it instead of fighting their fight at the expense of others who are genuinely interested in praying at the Kotel. Shabbat Shalom and Choref Bari.