5. Lekh Lekha I - A GORNISHT

I WOULD LIKE TO SPEAK to you briefly about a man who was a "nobody." In Yiddish we would call him a gornisht . The individual I have in mind had great yichus , for he was the nephew of Abraham, the founder of our people. But what good is a high pedigree when the person himself is a nix -- a good for nothing, a gornisht !

You must have guessed by now that the man I am talking about is Lot. Now why do I call him a gornisht ? Because, I believe that he had the characteristics of a nobody.

Lot was a "hanger-on." A verse in the sidrah of this week speaks of him as a "me-too" sort of fellow, who leaned heavily on his uncle. "And Abraham went out of Egypt, he and his wife and all that he had, and Lot also..." (Gen. 13:1). The two Hebrew words ve'lot imo, sum up the man. Lot was a nochshlepper , a man who initiated nothing, gave nothing and leaned upon Abraham. In short he gave gornisht and took everything that he could lay his hands on.

When I was a young boy I loved the story of Sinbad the Sailor. One incident in that series of humorous tales lingers in my memory. Sinbad once found himself in a deep gorge which was surrounded by huge cliffs. No matter how hard he tried Sinbad couldn't climb out of that cave. One day he managed to tie himself to the leg of a very large bird that visited the gorge. When the bird began to fly, it carried Sinbad also. Slowly, however, the dead weight of the sailor began to have its telling effect on the bird. It had to either get rid of the "hanger-on" or give up the idea of flying.

In a sense, Lot was the biblical Sinbad, for he tied his dead spiritual weight unto his illustrious uncle and proved himself an even greater impediment to Abraham's striving for God than the legendary sailor was to the flight of the huge bird.

In commenting on the verse, "And the Lord said unto Abraham after Lot was separated from him," Rashi states, kol zman sheharasha imo haya hadibur porosh mimenu, "All the time that the wicked (Lot) was with him (Abraham), the word of God departed front him (Abraham)" (Gen 13:14).

Another defect in the character of Lot was that he refused to be taught. Think of it! Abraham was the teacher and guide of an entire generation but had little influence on the nephew whom he vied to raise as a son. An illustration of that failure is Lot's choice of neighbors and friends. When strife arose between the herdsmen of Abraham and Lot, Abraham offered his nephew the choice of the land he wanted. And Lot settled on a fertile plot of land despite the proximity to the corrupt and immoral cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Lot was willing to expose himself and his children to the wicked influences of those people because of his greed for material possessions and his lust for pleasure.

Still another weakness in his character was ingratitude. When Abraham resolved that he must part company with his nephew and granted Lot's choice of the best parcel of land in the area, the young man accepted it as a matter of course and did not offer even one word of thanks. Later, when Lot was taken captive, Abraham waged a fierce battle with the captors to liberate his kinsman. Lot received his freedom passively and did not utter a word of recognition or appreciation to his valorous and self-sacrificing uncle.

"So," you will say to me, "What's the big deal! These are small faults, and it does not pay to get upset about them!" Ah, but that just isn't so! Little things do matter. They accumulate and count heavily in the end. As the Yiddish saying goes, foon abissel und abissel vert afulle shissel "From a little and a little the bowl is filled."

A little more than half a century ago a French naturalist brought a handful of gypsy moths to this country for experimental purposes. Accidentally some of the moths escaped. If taken in hand at once, they could easily have been captured or destroyed, but the authorities dallied with the problem for a number of years before they decided to do something about it. Up to the present time the little handful of moths has cost America millions of dollars, and it is estimated that it will cost even more to put an end to them. The little moths of lust, greed and ingratitude had done a destructive job on the soul of Lot. His faults had increased and multiplied until they made a gornisht out of him.

I have read somewhere a few lines of verse by an unknown poet that describe the difference between Abraham and Lot and the people they represent.

"The two kinds of people on earth, I ween,
Are the people who lift and the people who lean.
Wherever you go you will find the world's masses
Are always divided in just these two classes.
And oddly enough, you will find, too, I ween,
There is only one lifter to twenty who lean.

In which class are you? Are you easing the load
Of overtaxed lifters who toil down the road?
Or are you a leaner, who lets others bear
Your portion of labor and worry and care?"

Unfortunately Lot has a multitude of heirs, people who are leaners and "hangers-on," nochshleppers and parasites, who take and do not give anything in return, not even a word of gratitude or thanks. What we need are Abrahams, men who stand for something, who lift for others, who give of themselves and take giant steps forward for the improvement of society and the benefit of man.

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