Parshat Vayeira 5784: Lot’s Vacillation, Ordeal and Escape from Sodom’s Evil and Perversion

Shalom Friends;

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Moshe Burt
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Parshat Vayeira 5784: Lot’s Vacillation, Ordeal and Escape from Sodom’s Evil and Perversions

by Moshe Burt

As Avraham sat at the entrance of his tent, following his Brit Milah, seeking visitors in the heat of the day, this vort on Parshat Vayeira begins with an excerpt from Rabbi Shmuel Goldin’s Parsha Summary in his sefer “Unlocking The Torah Text,” Sefer Breish’t (page 77) :

Three angels [melochim] visit Avraham and Sarah and are greeted with warm hospitality. During the course of the visit, they are informed of the impending birth of a son.

Hashem decides to inform Avraham of His decision to destroy the evil cities of Sodom and Amora. Avraham courageously responds by arguing in the cities’ defense based on the possible presence of righteous individuals.

[What follows is “bargaining” between Avraham and Hashem regarding the number of possible righteous people which would justify Hashem sparing the two cities. Following a count down regarding the possible number of righteous found in these cities,] Hashem agrees not to destroy the cities if ten righteous individuals are found.

Rabbi Goldin now switches the scene to Sodom and Lot’s house (ibid, pages 77, 84-87) :

Responding to a dispute that erupts between Avraham and Lot’s shepherds, Avraham turns to his nephew and says: “Let there not be a dispute between you and me and between my shepherds and your shepherds, for we are brothers. Behold, all the land that is before you. Separate yourself from me. If you go left then I will go right, and if you go right, I will go left.” (Rabbi Goldin rendering to English, Sefer Breish’t, Perek 13, posukim 8-9)

Given the opportunity to choose anywhere within the land of Canaan, Lot chooses the fertile Jordan plain and Torah states, Va’ye’ehal ad Sodom, “And he tented until Sodom.” (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Breish’t, Perek 13, posuk 12)

The Torah… convey[s] a sense of ambivalence [noun: uncertainty or fluctuation, especially when caused by inability to make a choice or by a simultaneous desire to say or do two opposite or conflicting things.] By stating that Lot tents “ad Sodom”, the Torah leaves his situation vague. Is Lot in the city or outside the city? The facts are unclear.

The reasons for this ambivalence are made abundantly clear in the Torah’s next sentence: “And the citizens of Sodom were greatly evil and sinful towards Hashem.” (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Breish’t, Perek 13, posuk 13)

The seemingly superfluous phrase [in Torah during the battle of the four kings vs the five kings when Lot was captured] “and he is living in Sodom” (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Breish’t, Perek 14, posuk 12) is actually chronicling an important transformation. By this point, Lot is no longer living at the edge of the city, but rather “in Sodom.” At first ambivalent about his relationship with Sodom, Lot is now comfortable as a full citizen of Sodom.

Five Perakim later, now in Parshat Vayeira, by the visit of the angels to Sodom, Torah introduces this event in the following fashion: “And the two angels came to Sodom in the evening; and Lot was sitting b’sha’ar Sodom, in the gates of Sodom.” (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Breish’t, Perek 19, posuk 1)

Only specific people had the privilege of sitting in the gates of a city in biblical times: the elders and officials of a city. By now, Lot’s transformation is complete. He has moved from the edge of the city to its center. Lot is now a respected elder of the evil city of Sodom. The man who felt that he would be able to withstand the lure of the city has fallen prey to its power.

Lot is not an evil, but rather, a weak man. His most fatal flaw, in fact, is his failure to recognize his own vulnerability. The Torah testifies that you cannot live near Sodom and remain unchanged.

At the most critical juncture of his life, Lot displays the… behavior of a man trying to reconcile the irreconcilable. Lot fails because he believes that he can live in two worlds at once — the two worlds which simply cannot co-exist.

Two of the three angels [melochim] arrive at the gates of Sodom where they are greeted by Lot, who showers them with hospitality as he invites them into the protection of his home. It does not take long, however, before the evil inhabitants of the city learn of the angels’ presence and surround Lot’s house demanding that the strangers be given up to them. Seeking to protect his guests from the danger confronting them, Lot reasons with the mob and offers his two unmarried daughters instead. The Sodomites refuse the offer, and prepare to storm the house. The angels miraculously afflict their potential attackers with blindness.

After being threatened by the residents of the city, the melochim warn Lot to leave with his family in order to escape the coming cataclysm [noun: any violent upheaval, especially one of a social or political nature.]. Lot and his family escape. Lot’s wife, however, disobeys Hashem’s command not to look back and turns into a pillar of salt.

The Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash now provides a background regarding the evil and perversions of Sodom (Sefer Breish’t, page 81):

The cruelties of Sodom have become… the epitome of selfishness, callousness and depravity, but the root of their evil was greed. Sodom was a rich and fertile region and, as such it was a magnet for people seeking to make their fortune, as it was for Lot. But the Sodomites wanted to maintain their own prosperity and not be encumbered by a flood of poor immigrants. The wealthy and well-connected Lots of the world were welcome in Sodom, because they would give more to the economy than they would take. To discourage undesirable newcomers, the Sodomites institutionalized state cruelty so that it became a crime to feed a starving person or offer alms to a beggar. Even the sexual perversion for which Sodom was notorious was employed to keep visitors away. According to one opinion of the Sages, this cruelty stemmed from an attitude of “What is mine is mine and what is yours is yours.” (Artscroll Stone Chumash citing Pirkei Avos 5:10) Such selfishness descends to cruelty and perversion — and a metropolis that elevates such behavior to a legitimate way of life forfeits its right to exist.

Regarding that last Artscroll Stone Chumash citing from Pirkei Avos, this author understands that in Sodom, it would seem that what was theirs was theirs and what was yours was theirs. The Midrash Says, by Rabbi Moshe Weissman notes (Midrash Says, Sefer Breish’t, pages 164):

In the selfish fear that their wealth might be diminished, they allowed no strangers into their country. They guarded their possessions so jealously that all trees growing on public property were pruned to remove their fruit so that the birds should have no benefit from them.

The Sodomite constitution included the following laws:

1/ Any stranger found in the vicinity may be robbed of his money and maltreated.
2/ It is the duty of a Sodomite judge to insure that every wayfarer leaves Sodom penniless.
3 Anyone handing food to a pauper or stranger will be put to death.
4/ Anyone who invites strangers to a wedding will be punished by having all clothes removed from his body.

Midrash Says then goes on to recount the experiences of Avraham’s servant, Eliezer, when he happened to pass through Sodom (as paraphrased by this author pages 164-165).

While walking in the street, Eliezer was attacked and beaten bloody by a band of Sodomites. He went to the judge demanding justice. The judge ruled that Eliezer owed money to the attacker who bloodied him. Upon hearing this, Eliezer picked up a stick and beat the judge until the judge bled. Then Eliezer said to the judge, “Now you owe me money because I let your blood. Instead of paying it to me, you can give it straight to the other fellow.”

Then there was episode with the guest beds when the Sodomites invited Eliezer to avail himself of their “hospitality” overnight. Eliezer declined their offer?, but it was later explained that the Sodomites had special beds for guests and would come at night with knives while the guests were asleep. If the guest’s height exceeded the length of the bed, they cut off his feet. If he was shorter than then the bed, they stretched his limbs.

Eliezer had not eaten all day, since the Sodomites refused even to sell him food for money. There was a wedding that day and Eliezer kind of crashed the affair and sat down at the end of the table. Above, it was noted that the Sodomite “constitution” stated that anyone who invited strangers to a wedding would be stripped of their clothes. People noticed Eliezer and asked who invited him. Eliezer pointed to his neighbor who made a hasty retreat from the scene fearing he’d lose all of his clothes. Eliezer changed his seat several times as the same scenario played out, each time the new neighbor would split the scene, fearing losing his clothing. Meantime, Eliezer sat comfortably and consumed his meal.

Rabbi Goldin concludes ( “Unlocking The Torah Text,” Sefer Breish’t, page 87) :

Lot’s story remains a cautionary tale concerning the efforts of external environment on our lives. We must be ever aware of the world which surrounds us and we must actively reject those elements of our surroundings that are incompatible with our own standards. Through such vigilance, we will escape Lot’s fate.

May we, the B’nei Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled, back in Gush Katif and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them, that the thrice expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes and the oft-destroyed Yeshiva buildings in Homesh be rebuilt, as well as the buildings of Yishuv Elchanan, all at total government expense, as the wild beasts of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, all other terrorist units, and if necessary, Syria, Iraqi militias and Iran are all destroyed and eradicated. Baruch Hashem that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard is in his third year at home in Eretz Yisrael and has embarked on a new chapter in his life. May Esther Yocheved bat Yechiel Avraham have an aliyah in Shemayim and may her spirit and memory continue to lift Jonathan to at least 120 years. May the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem — as with the return in April, 2019, via Russia, of theremains of Zachariah Baumel, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of nine years ago. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and prevent Chas V’Challila the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we see, in 5784, the REAL Jews, via matrilineal descent, from the Ukraine and Russia make Aliyah enmass — via thorough review by Misrad HaPanim. And may we soon and finally see the total end to the Communist Chinese Wuhan Lab corona virus pandemic and all like viruses and variants. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nei Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem Al’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos!
Good Shabbos!
Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.