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Vayera 5765

By: Shprintzee Rappaport

In Parshat Vayeira we read about two similar stories that seem to have
very different outcomes. In chapter 18, Avraham does a "Chesed--kind
act" by offering food and lodging to some guests. The guests
immediately agree to take him up on the offer and then they inform him
that he will have a son. In the next chapter (19) Lot invites two of
those same guests in to his home, but at first they refuse to accept the
offer. When they finally agree to accept the offer, the result is that
most of Lot's family is killed and then later he is intimate with his
two daughters. Not exactly the happy ending that Avraham's story has.
What is the difference between what Avraham does and what Lot does? How
can two similar acts of kindness have such different results?

Perhaps these two acts of kindness are not as similar as they appear at
first. The Torah tells us (18:3) that Avraham offers the guests the
opportunity to wash their feet, rest under a tree, eat, and then be on
their way, and they agree. When it comes to Lot's offer (19:2) he tells
his guests to rest in his house (Avraham only offered them a chance to
eat outside his home), to eat and sleep overnight (Avraham says they
will leave the same day) and then to leave. Their response to Lot's
offer is "No thanks, we would rather sleep in the street". What is
going on?

Regarding Avraham's offer to his guests to "wash your feet" Rashi says
the major difference between Avraham's offer and Lot's is that Avraham
made them wash their feet first and then rest, but Lot offered them
entrance to his home first and then offered them to wash up. It's after
these words that the angels agree to Avraham but refuse Lot. As to why
that is, Rashi says Avraham made them wash their feet first because he
suspected these men were idol worshippers and that their feet were dusty
from bowing down to idols. Avraham refuses to have dust from idol
worship brought into his home. On the other hand, Lot does not seem to
care about idolatry and invites the guests in without washing up first.

Interestingly, Avraham does not ignore the guests just because they are
of another faith, he merely extends his hospitality to them outside his
home because bringing idol worshippers into his home could have a
negative affect on his family and Avraham is not willing to risk that.
Nevertheless Avraham still does the Chesed, but in a manner that will
not upset his family or put them at risk. In other words, Avraham does
not do Chesed to others at his family's expense. The angels see
Avraham's consideration for his family and agree to his hospitality,
because that is what true Chesed is about. Lot's Chesed is just the
opposite. On the same words "washing their feet" in Lot's story, Rashi
asks--"Why did Lot let them come in without washing? It is not the
normal custom to do so". Rashi answers his question by saying "Lot did
this on purpose because he knew the men of Sodom would violently object
to his inviting guests into his home (such an act of kindness was
punishable by death in Sodom) and so Lot wanted it to appear like they
just arrived with the dust still on their feet, so that maybe the
Sodomites wouldn't be so angry. In other words, Lot knowingly put his
family in danger, in order to do kindness to others. The angels refuse
this offer because they see that Lot is not doing true Chesed. Instead,
he is endangering his family and they want no part of that.

Further proof of this comes later when the Sodomites come to Lot's house
and demand that he hand over his guests so that they can (19:5) "know
them". Rashi says that the Sodomites meant to know them in the biblical
sense--i.e. to abuse them. Lot comes up with a better idea and tells
the crowd of men outside (19:8) "I have two daughters who have never
known a man. Do to them whatever you see fit, but do not harm my
guests". How "kind" of their father to make that offer!

Later, after the destruction of Sodom, Lot and his daughters flee to a
cave and there the daughters get Lot drunk and are intimate with him.
Some wonder--how in the world do two daughters decide that it is a
viable option to sleep with their father?! If you say the girls were
promiscuous having grown up in Sodom, the question becomes--why were
they saved from Sodom in the first place? Their two other married
sisters and their own mother did not make it out because they were not
worthy. And even if you suggest that the girls thought they were the
only ones left in the world (since the only precedent of mass
destruction like this was the Flood which indeed killed out all of
humanity) and thus the girls felt it was up to them to continue the
human race, the question still is--how many girls left alone on this
earth with their father would even be able to think of doing what these
girls did?

Unless of course, they did not see this as an immoral act because for it
to be so, there has to be a father/daughter relationship. How can you
consider a man to be your father when he threatens your life by taking
guests into your home under the penalty of death and then offers you up
to an angry mob of men outside who have just told him what they plan to
do to the guests?! Lot makes it quite clear to his daughters that they
are expendable when it comes to doing kindness to others. That is not
the way a father--a man who is supposed to think of his children
first--would treat his daughters. So of course they can be intimate
with him. Essentially, he is just another man to them.

The message here is--when we do acts of kindness, do we stop to question
whether someone else gets hurt in the process? If we thought about that
more often, maybe there would be a lot less cruelty in the world and a
lot more kindness.

Shabbat Shalom,
Shprintza Herskovits

 

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