Choosing Life Over Land in Genesis: Following Abraham and Remembering Rabin —by Ayala Emmett

A man who claimed to love God and hate peace, murdered Yitzhak Rabin Israel’s Prime Minister. The shooting took place twenty years ago at a peace rally at the end of the Sabbath known as Shabbat Lech Lecha, [Genesis 12-17], the very Sabbath in which Jews in synagogues around the world read the Torah portion that opens with God’s call to Abraham to literally take himself off from his home and go to the land that God would show him. This dramatic call frames Abraham’s grasp of the ethical obligations attached to God’s promise when he is faced with a dangerous land dispute.

The land-clash in Genesis unfolds as Abraham and his nephew Lot return from a stay in Egypt coming back rich people, so wealthy in fact that “the land could not support them staying together.” Their material possessions overshadow their kinship ties, “for their possessions were so great that they could not remain together.” The conflict takes shape in a fight among their herdsmen and Abraham decides to resolve the conflict peacefully by choosing life over land. God has promised Abraham the land yet he refuses to draw on the promise, because he understands its ethical aspect when human lives are at stake. He tells Lot to survey the land and choose, which part of it he would like to inhabit and Abraham will take the other part, “let us separate if you go north I will go south; and if go south I will go north.” Lot chooses what he sees as the most fertile land, “thus they parted from each other.” Abraham does not pull rank as elder, he does not argue that God’s promise gives him exclusive rights, nor does he banish Lot, he offers dividing the land to averts violence and bloodshed.

This year on October 24, we read this same Torah portion in which land is both promised and disputed, bequeathed by God and immediately becomes an object of quarrel over ownership and resources. As we read it, we remembered Rabin who followed Abraham in taking peaceful action to resolve the Israeli Palestinian conflict.

In choosing life in a land-dispute Rabin followed Abraham’s ethics, which he clearly articulated in his Nobel Prize address, “There is one universal message which can embrace the entire world, one precept which can be common to different regimes, to races which bear no resemblance, to cultures alien to each other…It is a message which the Jewish people has borne for thousands of years, a message found in the Book of Books, which my people has bequeathed to all civilized men: “V’nishmartem me’od lnafshoteichem”, in the words in Deuteronomy; “Therefore take good heed to yourselves” – or, in contemporary terms, the message of the Sanctity of Life.

Military cemeteries in every corner of the world are silent testimony to the failure of national leaders to sanctify human life…There is only one radical means of sanctifying human lives. Not armored plating, or tanks, or planes, or concrete fortifications. The one radical solution is peace.”

Rabin’s killer told the Israeli court that he was determined to stop any peace agreement and a two states resolution initiated by Prime Minister Rabin. It was clear from the outset of his trial that the man who fired the gun had substantial support from the extreme Right for his position that land supersedes life, and that killing is better than peace with Palestinians. In the fatal shooting of Rabin, the murderer both revealed and widened a growing norm of political violence within the state of Israel and among supporters of this violence in Jewish communities in the United States.

Let us choose to honor Torah’s ethical message of the sanctity of life and follow Abraham in rejecting violence in land-disputes and like him, choose life and coexistence. Let us remember Rabin by actively supporting a negotiated agreement of peace, security and two states for two people.