Ethical Issues in the Historical Books of Tanach;
JOSHUA, JUDGES, SAMUEL, KINGS (Nevi’im Rishonim)
These four books ostensibly are merely the history of Israel from the entry into the Promised Land until the destruction of the Temple and the temporary loss of independent statehood. In fact they are actually, in a specifically Jewish sense, the most deeply religious and spiritual books of the Bible. One does not have to be specifically Jewish to see or feel the religion and spirituality in the revelations of the prophetic writings or in the words of the Tehillim. They speak to all people, as evidenced by the fact that the Bible is still the world's bestseller and there are millions of non-Jews who regularly recite the Psalms. However, it is specifically and intrinsically Jewish to understand that G-d is revealed in the prosaic material, in the political, social and military events in the lives of ordinary men and women, kings and leaders that are described in the Nevim Rishonim. Here are described the ideology and religious thoughts in Judaism, while in Chronicles we have the purely historical.
Lot Rejects the
Abrahamic Way 
"And there was strife between the herds men of Avraham and the herds men of Lot; and the Canaanites and Perizzites were then dwelling in the land" (Gen. 13:7). To what shall we ascribe this quarrel? The text tells that they were both replete with flocks herds and wealth, so that the land could not bear them both. Was that sufficient to lead the Lot who had gone from Haran together with Avraham, who had followed him down to Egypt and who had not revealed the truth about Sarah to Pharaoh, to quarrel and ultimately separate himself from the Abrahamic path?
In truth, there was a problem of the scarcity of grazing and water in the area between Bethel and Ai, north East of Yerushalyim where Avraham and Lot camped. Further- more, at that time as our text tells us, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, two of the Seven Nations that then dwelt in the Promised Land, had encroached on that area originally allocated to Bnei Shem by Noah after the Flood. "The text tells us that the land could not carry these nations as well as Avraham and Lot" (Ramban).
However, throughout the Tanach, indeed throughout history, our Jewish sources see beyond the economic, political and social reasons that on the surface explain events in the lives of individuals and nations, to provide the ethical and spiritual motives that are the real causes. Here too, the real reason was not materialism but rather the question whether or not Lot desired to continue to cleave to the Abrahamic way, to do righteousness and justice.
Chazal tell us that the spiritual challenge of wealth is more difficult than that of poverty; "And Jeshurun [Israel] waxed fat and rebelled". It is not wealth per se that is evil nor is it even the pursuit of wealth; after all G-d created a world in which the satisfaction of human needs is to be found in material and natural ways and not through revealed miracles. However, the danger lies in not ever having enough, in greed and in the lack of faith that G-d supplies all the needs of all His creatures; "One who does not say in Ashrei, 'You open Your Hand and satisfy all that lives', does not fulfill their obligation" (Orech Chaim). These all lead to theft, robbery, fraud, oppression and bloodshed. It was the un-Abrahamic concept of how to earn and spend money that was at the root of Lot's quarrel and ultimate separation.
The shepherds of Avraham and of Lot echo the spiritual and ethical standards of their masters.
"The shepherds of Lot, echoing their master's evil thoughts, said to those of Avraham", You graze your animals while they are muzzled only because you are jealous of Lot. You know that your master is childless and that ours will inherit him, so you muzzle the animals to retard their growth thus cheating Lot out of his full inheritance" (Pesikta Rabbati 3). This mid- rash may seem to be either trivial or unreal, yet we know all too well the bitterness, recriminations and quarrels that divide siblings or heirs who previously were united and loving, as soon as inheritances become real and tangible. Jealousy, bickering and material desires that become apparent when inheritances are involved have little to do with the relative wealth of the heirs.
"The shepherds of Lot left their flocks and herds unmuzzled, which meant that they were free to graze everywhere even in the fields of others, while those of Avraham's were careful to prevent their sheep and cattle from grazing on the land of others. They rebuked Lot's men saying that their method meant the theft of other people's property. To which the shepherds of Lot replied, "G-d has given this whole land to Avraham and his descendants, and since Avraham is childless and Lot will inherit him, there is no theft or immorality involved in our method of grazing" (B'reishit Rabba).
Rationalization of unethical deeds is the way we all justify actions that we clearly know are wrong or forbidden by Torah, so that these arguments of Lot's men should not surprise us at all.
To the shepherds of Lot in both these midrashim, the actual reply of Avraham's men was the same. "It is true that G-d promised the whole of this land to the descendants of Avraham. However, that promise is only to be fulfilled in 400 years time, after a period of exile and slavery as recorded in the Brit Bein HaBetarim(Genesis 15: 13-21). This means that now neither Avraham himself nor Lot nor other descendants has any rights or privileges in the land therefore what you are doing is nothing more that theft and robbery".
The reference to the presence of the other nations in Eretz Yisrael and the postponement of the rights of Avraham's descendants to the Promised Land highlights another vital religious truth: "The seal of G-d is truth and He is a King of Justice, Melech Hamishpat". In the covenant of the Brit Bein HaBetarim it is made clear that at that time the sin of the Seven Nations had not yet sunk to the level of iniquity that deserves expulsion from the Holy Land, which does not stomach evil and tum'a. Avraham's descendants had therefore to wait until they could take possession. Later, the Torah says: "You shall not defile yourselves in any of these things that the nations who were before you in your Land defiled them-selves so that the Land was defiled, that the Land not vomit you out as it did those nations" (Vayira 18:24-28).
This is the 99th installment in Dr. Tamari’s series on “Tanach and its messages for our times”