Independence

“So Lot raised his eyes and saw the entire plain of the Jordan that it was well watered everywhere … like the garden of Hashem, like the land of Egypt…” (Beresheet 13:10)

The dispute between the shepherds of Avram and those of Lot became unbearable to the point where Avram offered Lot first choice as to where he would live. Avram agreed to reside in the opposite direction, thereby ending any conflict. Lot checked out the surrounding areas and chose the lushest real estate available which was near Sedom, the city whose inhabitants were the most wicked on earth. Rashi (13:11) quotes a Midrash that reveals Lot’s motives. He was unable or unwilling to live the restrictive lifestyle of one devoted to the will of Hashem rather than his own, and so he chose to leave his uncle and Rabbi, Avram, in favor of the world of physical pleasures.

The Chatam Sofer (Commentary on the Torah, Lech Lecha) states that we learn an important principle regarding service to Hashem from this settlement. Lot moved to a place that was blessed with all a person could want so that he would not have to ask Hashem for anything. Hashem did not want the vile prayers of the wicked denizens of Sedom and so He provided everything for them, nullifying any need for prayer. This situation fit Lot’s true desires, and so he chose to live with them, mistakenly assuming he would not be influenced by their rotten values. Avram, on the other hand, moved to Chevron, a dry, rocky wasteland which would force him to pray to Hashem to provide his material needs.

There was once a case brought before the Megaleh Amukot, Harav Natan Nata Shapiro. A rich, distinguished gentleman sued a poor Torah scholar. The scholar was a man who baked cookies and crackers fresh daily and sold them door to door in his hometown. As soon as he had enough to provide his family’s needs for the day, he went to learn Torah until after midnight. When the rich man learned of the scholar’s financial situation, he proposed an agreement. “You don’t have to bake and struggle to sell your wares any longer,” he proposed. “Just learn all the time and I will provide all your requirements.” The scholar accepted. A short time later the talmid chacham went back to peddling his home-baked delights. The rich man claimed he had broken the contract and the poor man said it was a “mistaken transaction” and therefore no longer binding. They went to beit din to resolve the conflict.

The Megaleh Amukot asked the poor man wherein was the flaw that would nullify the clear agreement. “When I was poor,” he explained, “I woke up every day and poured out my heart to Hashem to give me my daily bread. When I went to bed exhausted each night, I prayed that He would do well by me again the next day. Once I had this agreement, I lost my ability to pray to Hashem with all my heart. If I had known that was the price I would pay, I would never have agreed in the first place.” The case was decided in favor of the pauper.

The Chatam Sofer explains that Hashem desires the prayers of the righteous and gives them cause to pray. Our Matriarchs were barren and prayed for children — to provide Hashem with the prayers He so much “desires.” When people behave in ways repugnant to Hashem, He may provide them with all their needs so that they will not approach Him in prayer. This was true of the people of Sedom and of the wicked citizens of Egypt as well. Egyptians never needed rain because Hashem gave them the Nile, eliminating any need for rain.

The Gemara (Berachot 33b) says that one should say a blessing on bad events in the same manner as one blesses for good events. Based on the Chatam Sofer, one may say that this means that when one realizes that Hashem sent the trouble to prompt prayer from one whose prayer He desires, one will offer his prayers enthusiastically. Unlike Lot, we should appreciate our dependence on Hashem as a basis for a close relationship with Him. In this sense, dependence is preferable to independence.

Shabbat shalom.