Lech L’cha: The Seed of Strife

“And there was strife between the herdsmen of Avram’s cattle and the herdsmen of Lot’s cattle… And Avram said to Lot: ‘Let there be no strife, please, between me and you, and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen; for we are brethren.'” (Genesis 13:7-8)

While the English translation renders “strife” in both verses 7 and 8, the Hebrew word for “strife” in verse 7 is “riv,” while in verse 8 it is, “merivah.” While both mean “strife,” “riv” is in the masculine form, while “merivah” is in the feminine form. Why the change from masculine to feminine?

It is the nature of strife to be self-perpetuating. If the flames of disagreement are not extinguished immediately, they grow until the conflict becomes bigger, more intense, and spreads to other people and groups who begin to take sides, leading to full-blown fights and schisms. The “riv” (masculine) is the initial spark of strife, but the “merivah” (feminine) is the unbound strife, growing and propagating itself to greater proportions, for while the male contributes the seed, the womb of the female develops the seed until it becomes exponentially larger and more viable, taking on a life of its own and propagating further. When Avram saw the “riv,” the spark of strife, break out between Lot’s herdsman and his own, he begged Lot to help him “abort” the strife before it became “merivah,” a self-perpetuating fight that could grow and spread to uncontrolled proportions. Disagreement between people is natural, but we learn from our forefather Avraham that our role when disagreement arises is to do everything in our power to quell the flames of strife before they become a blaze. Let us seek the path of peace and reconciliation with those around us, especially those closest to us, before a slight disagreement becomes an irreparable breach.

Based on Shla”h, Parshas Lech L’cha

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3 thoughts on “Lech L’cha: The Seed of Strife

  1. The Malbim opines that while riva means strife, m’riva means the SOURCE of strife. So Abraham is not really saying “Let there be no strife”, but “Let there be no source for strife”. Malbim further says that Abraham is implying that it is the very kinship between him and Lot which is the source of strife, because, as kinsmen, they dwell together and their herdsmen are, therefore, in close proximity, competing for the same pasture. So by separating, the proximity of kinship is eliminated, thus removing the source of the strife. I wonder whether this was setting a precedent for the tendency of Jewish families to spread out — children moving far from parental homes — from East Coast to west; in order to eliminate any cause (source) of strife. This may have been a crucial factor in Jewish survival in the Exile, when Jews of one place found themselves in mortal danger, their kinsmen were safe in some other place far away.

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