True Evil – In Memoriam of Mr. David M. Warren (Menachem Dovid ben Harav Yosef Z’L)
Abraham returns from Egypt and settles in the Land of Cana’an (Israel) with his nephew Lot. Both men had acquired great wealth and large herds of sheep and cattle. However, Lot’s shepherds were evil and weren’t careful where they grazed their sheep and often grazed in the fields of the Cana’anites. (Rashi 13:7)
Abraham’s shepherds began quarreling with Lot’s shepherds, accusing them of theft for grazing on other people’s lands without permission. Lot’s shepherds retorted “G-d promised this land to Abraham and his family will inherit it.” (Genesis 12:7).
But the argument makes no sense. Abraham, himself, could never claim rights to land that G-d had not yet given him. How then could Lot’s shepherds argue they were entitled to use other people’s properties because, in the future, Abraham’s family would inherit the land?
Nachmanides (13:7) explains Lot’s shepherds weren’t putting forth a logical argument but rather rationalizing their actions. The Torah says, “The land could not carry them to live together.” Lot’s shepherds needed a place to graze and it was too much work to find permitted areas so they simply grazed on other people’s lands. When they were confronted by Abraham’s shepherds that they couldn’t use other people’s lands without permission, Lot’s shepherds argued it didn’t matter since Abraham’s family was destined to inherit all the land.
Lot’s shepherds sought to justify their actions, not because they thought they were right but because they wanted to keep doing it. There’s no legal argument here whether someone can use another’s property without permission. Lot’s shepherds wanted to graze wherever was convenient and any rationale, no matter how weak, would have sufficed.
This is the nature of evil. I want to do what I want to do and I can always find a rationale to “prove” I’m right. If I want another person’s property, I can justify that I need it more than he does. If I don’t want to be charitable, I can argue that since I can’t help everyone, I might as well help no one. And if I choose a destructive lifestyle that requires others to support me, well, it’s my life to do as I please.
In political discourse, we hear these same arguments. Making people give their “fair share”. Not becoming the “world’s policeman”. It’s a “free world”.
People can always find a rationale to do what they want. The prisons are full of such people. But if it’s forbidden by the Torah, then it’s forbidden. Lot’s shepherds knew they were stealing. They just didn’t want to stop.