The Torah in Parashat Lekh-Lekha tells of Avraham’s decision to separate from his nephew, Lot, after both men became wealthy and their shepherds began quarreling. Avraham turned to Lot and suggested they part ways, offering Lot the choice of where to live: “If to the left – I will go right; if to the right – I will go left” (13:9).
Rav Reuven Horowitz of Zarnovtza, in Dudaim Ba-sadeh, sees Avraham’s offer to Lot as a model of the attitude we must all have towards our inner “Lot,” our negative inclinations with which we often find ourselves bitterly quarreling. Just as Avraham resolved to restore peace by separating from Lot, so will we find inner “peace” and satisfaction by firmly and resolutely “separating” from our sinful tendencies. Right and left, Rav Reuven of Zarnovtza noted, are often seen as corresponding, respectively, to the realms of sanctity and impurity. The right is commonly associated with holiness, whereas the left is regarded as a symbol of sin and desecration. Accordingly, Avraham’s offer to Lot – “If to the left – I will go right; if to the right – I will go left” – expresses our firm rejection of our negative inclinations, regardless of the direction along which they seek to lead us. Most commonly, they seek to push us to the “left” – to defilement, to commit clear-cut violations. We must respond by pushing ourselves to the “right,” towards sanctity, towards firm, unwavering devotion to Torah study and mitzva observance.
However, there are some occasions when to the contrary, our evil inclination pulls us towards the “right” – towards actions, words and attitudes which outwardly appear sacred and righteous. For example, sometimes we are inclined to perform an inherently noble, religious act at a time or under circumstances when it is inappropriate. On some occasions, people find it proper to malign or offensively criticize others’ wrongful behavior when such a response is counterproductive or just plain wrong. And there are times when we might want to place special emphasis on one area of religious life, thereby compromising our commitment to other areas. In all such situations, the evil inclination appears to pull us to the “right,” in the direction of spiritual greatness, when in reality, this is the wrong direction to take.
Just as Avraham realized that he needed to remain apart from Lot whichever direction Lot chose, so must we resolve to reject our negative impulses in whichever manner they confront us, even – or especially – when they lure us to perform what outwardly appears to be a noble act.