Avraham and his nephew Lot could not harmoniously co-exist in the same locale and it became necessary for them to separate. Avraham gave Lot the first choice: If you go to the right I will move to the left, if you choose to travel leftwards I will go to the right.
Why do both of them have to move? Why can’t one of them stay put, e.g. Lot will stay at the current location and only Avraham will distance himself.
Locations are normally dictated by compass positions, North South East and West are preferably used as points of reference. Thus it would seem more appropriate to say you move North and I will move South, rather than use right and left.
Looking at two other places in the Torah where the terms right and left are used will shed light on this instance. Firstly, by the supremacy of the Sanhedrin it states:
“According to the law they instruct you … you shall do; you shall not divert from the word they tell you, either right or left.” (Devorim 17:11).
Secondly, the Jewish king is instructed to write a Sefer Torah and to transport with him constantly
“so that his heart will not be haughty over his brothers, and so that he will not turn away from the commandment, either to the right or to the left”. (Devorim 17:20).
The significance of the terms right and left, in this two situations, convey and suggest spiritual dedication. Thus ‘not moving to the right or left’ communicates an unerring devotion with no deviation whatsoever.
What Avraham was telling Lot was that they are incompatible because of their outlook on life. Lot’s weltanschauung was at odds with Avraham’s mission and it was time for them to take leave of each other. This then was the message Avraham was trying to convey, we are at different ends of the spiritual spectrum the main point was not the physical distancing which would be manifest but the conflicting ideology necessitating them to split. In the process Avraham and gave Lot first choice, you Lot can take your pick as how to objectively view yourself: If you view your position is that of the right, I will be on the left, and if you perceive yourself as a liberal than I will be considered the conservative.
(For the record. Later in the next week’s portion the Torah references Lot as being to the left of Avraham, and Yishmael to the right.)
Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn (1880 – 1950) was the sixth Rebbe of the Chabad Movement. When he was but four years old he asked his father Rabbi Sholom Dovber Schneersohn (1860 – 1920) the fifth Rebbe of the Chabad Movement the following question. “Why did Hashem make people with two eyes, couldn’t He have made people with one eye?”
His father replied, “Yosef Yitzchok you have already mastered the Aleph Beis, and you know there are two letters that look similar the Shin and the Sin. What is the difference between the Shin and Sin?”.
The little boy answered “The Shin has a dot on the right and the Sin has a dot on the left”.
“That should be a lesson for you that right and left can make a big difference” responded Rabbi Sholom Dovber, “there are some things you should see with your right eye while others should be viewed from your left eye”.