In the beginning of Parashat Lech Lecha, the Torah presents the story of the conflict between the shepherds of Avram and of Lot. The Pasuk transcribes the ensuing conversation between Avram and Lot as “Al Na Tehi Merivah Beini UVeinecha UVein Ro’ai UVein Ro’echa Ki Anashim Achim Anachnu.” “Let there be no strife between me and you, and between my shepherds and your shepherds; for we are men, brothers” (BeReishit 13:8). Rashi explains that the Pasuk (more specifically, its conclusion) is simply explaining that Avram and Lot were close relatives, and then cites a Midrash that provides a much greater understanding of Avram’s concern of the tension between him and Lot. This Midrash says that Avram and Lot actually resembled each other physically, so much so that they were identical. Why would this concern Avram?
The Midrash tells us that Lot’s shepherds allowed their cattle to graze on others’ fields, which was stealing those people’s land. On the other hand, Avram’s shepherds weren’t at all like Lot’s; they muzzled their animals and wouldn’t allow them to steal. On the contrary, Avram’s shepherds reprimanded Lot’s for their theft. The fact that Avram and Lot looked so similar concerned Avram, because he didn’t want people to think that he was a thief, or that his shepherds were wicked. He therefore told Lot that they had to separate, in order to prevent allegations of him being a thief, and to maintain his reputation. We learn from this scene that Avram was very concerned about his reputation and standing. Indeed, Avram had a reputation to be concerned about. He was often surrounded by followers, and heavily influenced and impacted his generation.
Later on in Parasha, the Pasuk states, “VaYavo HaPalit VaYageid LeAvram HaIvri…” “And the fugitive came and told Avram the Ivri…” (14:13). This Pasuk is notable for being the only Pasuk in which Avram is referred to as an Ivri, even though that term is commonly associated with his descendants. What does the calling of Avram an Ivri tell us about him? The Chachamim tell us that it points out how Avram was unique from the rest of mankind, that he was different. The word Ivri means stranger - the Jewish people are often referred to as such – and Avram himself was a stranger to ordinary society, he was different.
Don’t these two pictures of Avram contradict each other? The first depiction is that of a person concerned with his reputation, making sure he was viewed in the positive light he deserved; but we later learn that Avram was unique from the rest of the world and unlike anyone else. Why would Avram care how people viewed him if he was already an Ivri? How could Avram care so much about how he looked next to everyone else but still take the title of being different from everyone else?
The contrasting profiles of Avram actually teach us an important lesson on where we stand as Jews among society. Jews are different from the crowd, sticking out in our own unique ways. But, while we may be different from everyone else, we play a huge role in society, even one that we aren’t a large part of; we impact the world like no other nation. Due to this responsibility, we must guard our reputation. Avram was worried about appearances, because he knew that he represented something great, Hashem. If Avram looked bad in front of others, he would be making Hashem look bad. We too have to make sure to always be making a Kiddush HaSheim and setting the example for the rest of the world. Like Avram, we have to be proud to be different, yet still impact the world, humbly and with a Kiddush HaSheim.