Breakups are never easy
This week’s parshah tells the story of Avraham and his nephew Lot. For many years, the two had lived together in harmony, until a bitter fight broke out between their respective shepherds. As the fighting escalated, the once-close relatives decided that the land was not big enough for both of them, and ultimately they decided to part ways.
The Midrash (P’sikta Rabbasi, 3) asks: Obviously, the size of the land had not changed; why had it suddenly become too small for them to share? The difference, Chazal answer, is all in the attitude. When people get along, they enjoy spending time with each other in even the most cramped and uncomfortable of settings. But when they are embroiled in conflict, even the largest mansion cannot accommodate them. This is why the land suddenly felt “too small” once Avraham and Lot started fighting. Elsewhere, Chazal coined the expression: When our love was strong, we could live together on the tip of a needle; now that our love is not strong, a bed of 60 amos (120 feet) is not enough for us (Sanhedrin 7a).
There is a tendency to blame life’s unfortunate circumstances for our unhappiness. Limited finances, a small apartment, the stress of daily chores – these are the reasons we are constantly fighting. These are the reasons we are unhappy. The expectation is: Once conditions improve – once we get that job, purchase a spacious house, and finally get our own washer/dryer – then we will get along. Then, we will be happy.
Unfortunately, such fantasies rarely turn out as imagined. Those who have strained relationships while living in small apartments often continue to have strained relationships after moving into large houses – only now with sufficient space to become physically distant, as well. By contrast, those who take steps to build communication and connection in times of calm can be equipped to maintain their strong bond despite a sudden hardship or need to downsize. From Avraham and Lot we learn that a bitter attitude can make any place seem too small and cramped, while a positive outlook can help make even a challenging situation feel spacious and comfortable.
Put another way: It is not the size of our homes that determines our level of happiness. It is our level of happiness that determines the size of our homes.