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Eternal Vigilance is the Price of Jewish Continuity

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are that of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the Union for Traditional Judaism, unless otherwise indicated.

by Rabbi Robert Pilavin

1) Thus they (Abram & Lot) parted from each other. Abram remained in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled in the cities of the Plain, pitching his tents near Sodom. Now the inhabitants of Sodom were very wicked sinners against the Lord. (13:11-13)

Dr. Nahum Sarna notes that the above text “carries with it a judgment on Lot’s character. Dazzled by the surface appearance of prosperity, he pays no heed to the moral depravity of his future neighbors.” (JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis, page 99).

2) [The invaders] seized all the wealth of Sodom & Gomorrah and all their provisions, and went their way. They also took Lot, Abram’s brother’s son, and his possessions and departed; for he had settled in Sodom. (14:12)

Sarna notes a great irony: “Lot has greedily picked the best part of the country, but now his choice turns out to have been disastrous, and his very life depends on the selflessness and loyalty of the uncle he has alienated.” (op. cit., page 102)

3) The two angels arrived…in the evening, as Lot sat in the gate of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to greet them…and said: Please, my lords, turn aside to your servant’s house to spend the night… (19:1-2)

“Lot lived formerly in a tent ‘near Sodom’ (13:12). Now he has become a townsman and resides in a house inside the city (cf. vv.4, 10f.). Although he has changed his style of life, he still preserves the virtue of hospitality that is characteristic of a pastoral society generally, and particularly of a member of Abraham’s family.” (Sarna, op. cit., page 135).

4) [The townspeople of Sodom said:] “This fellow (Lot) came here as an alien, and already he acts the ruler! (19:9)

There is a touch of irony in this, for Lot had, by stages, integrated himself into Sodom’s society. First he merely ‘pitched his tents near Sodom’ (13:12). Then ‘he had settled in Sodom’ (14:12). It was solely on his account that the city had earlier been saved by Abraham (14:14). Now he lives in a house there and ‘sits in the gate’ where the city elders gather. His daughters are about to intermarry with local men. Yet, despite his best efforts, he cannot fully assimilate into Sodom’s society, and when it comes to the test, he finds he is an outsider after all.” (Sarna, op. cit., page 136)

5) So Lot went out and spoke with his sons-in-law…”Up, get out of this place, for the Lord is about to destroy [it]” But he seemed to his sons-in-law as one who jests. (19:14)

“Their fault lies not in their disbelief but in their lack of seriousness, which reveals their insensitivity to the enormity of the moral evil about them.” (op. cit. p. 137)

6) Still [Lot] delayed. So the men seized his hand…in the Lord’s mercy on him, and brought him out and left him outside the city. (19:16)

“Lot’s deliverance is an act of divine grace undeserved by any merit on his part … Perhaps his hospitality to strangers was a contributory factor.”(op. cit., p. 137)

7) 19:30-38. Lot’s two daughters ply him with alcohol and conceive through him.

“The two sons are born, and nothing more is heard of Lot.” (op. cit., 139-130)

According to Genesis Rabbah 49:13, when Abraham said to God (Gen. 18:21) “What if ten [righteous people] would be found [in Sodom] he was erroneously including Lot, his wife, his four daughters and four sons-in-law.

POINTS TO PONDER:

When Lot separated from Abraham, he fell apart spiritually. Perhaps he felt that he had learned “enough” to maintain his identity in Sodom. It was a fatal miscalculation.

Without Abraham’s ongoing religious guidance, Lot was overwhelmed by his new environment. He retained only bits and pieces of what he had learned from Abraham (i.e., hospitality to strangers). His children intermarried and, as Sarna ominously notes, “nothing more is heard of Lot.”

Are 6 years of Hebrew school (or 8 years of day school) really “enough” ? What about yeshiva high school? What about a post-high school year of study in Israel? What about religious summer camps or youth groups?

If we don’t raise our children in a Jewish “cocoon,” we’ll never get butterflies!

The above can be applied to any ongoing adult education projects as well.

“If you truly wish your children to study Torah, study it yourself in their presence. They will follow your example. Otherwise, they will not themselves study Torah but will simply instruct their children to do so.” (Rabbi Menahem Mendel of Kotzk, cite in Rabbi Joseph Telushkin’s Jewish Wisdom, page 344)

Shabbat Shalom!