After returning from Egypt a wealthy man, Avram settles down near Beis El (בראשית י"ג:ג'). Lot, the orphaned nephew Avram took under his wings, accompanied Avram on his travels and amassed a respectable cattle fortune as well (שם פסוק ה'). Given the scarcity of adequate grazing area and the impressive herds belonging to Avram and Lot, it is only natural to expect conflict over territory. While Avram and Lot personally strove to stay away from confrontation, it was inevitable that their shepherds would lock horns.
As a last ditch effort to avoid becoming embroiled in a controversy with Lot, Avram makes Lot a generous offer. You choose the land you want, and I'll stay far away. "If you go to the left, I'll go to the right; if you go to the right, I'll keep to the left" (שם פסוק ט'). [In the directional orientation of the Torah, right refers to the south and left to the north.] Lot chooses to go southward, to the fertile valley leading toward Sedom (שם פסוק י"ב). Naturally, we expect Avram to fulfill his agreement. Strangely enough, however, the end of that section of the Torah (שם פסוק י"ח) describes Avram as settling in Chevron, also south of Beis El! Did Avram suddenly have a change of heart? Did he initially plan to deceive Lot? What accounts for the discrepancy between Avram's original offer and his actions?
Perhaps, it could be suggested, Avram was merely doing what every good parent or guardian would. After their initial travels through Eretz Canaan into Egypt, Lot was beginning to come into his own. The Torah describes only his financial independence, yet it is not difficult to imagine the accompanying personal independence Lot must have wanted to express. In essence, Lot needed to spread his wings and become his own person, and not be merely Avram's nephew. The Torah describes this by saying "ולא נשא אתם הארץ לשבת יחדו ... ולא יכלו לשבת יחדו," "The land could not bear having them live together.....they could not live together"(שם פסוק ו'). The repetition of the idea that they could no longer live side by side indicates that the tension was more than strictly over land rights.
Recognizing the situation, Avram understands that pulling the reigns tighter on his nephew would be counterproductive, and thus takes the only course he deems appropriate - allowing Lot the freedom to go as he pleases, and promising to keep out of Lot's way. "If you go to the north, I'll keep to the south." Avram truly intends to keep his promise of non-interference, yet remains concerned for his nephew, particularly since Lot is headed for Sedom, a place whose inhabitants are already recognized as very evil in Hashem's eyes, as the Torah stresses (שם פסוק י"ג). Avram pauses for a while, allowing Lot to move on ahead, but decides to follow - perhaps just a few steps behind - just in case. Lot, unaware of his uncle's protective movements, enjoys the freedom he so yearns for.
As it turns out, Avram's decision came in handy. The very next chapter describes the capture of Lot by the four invading kings and Avram's bold rescue (שם י"ד:י"ב-ט"ז). Strikingly, whereas the Torah describes in great detail the greetings and thanks offered by the kings of Sedom and Shalem (שם פסוקים י"ז-כ"ד), the silence regarding Lot's reaction to Avram reveals but one more aspect of the complex relationship between parents and their maturing children.