There is a lot of good stuff in Parsha Vayera to learn and apply to the building of a better life. Angels, Kindness, Laughter, Betrayal, Sacrifice, Lechery, Lust, Shame… It’s all there this week. In fact, the whole book of Berashit is like the “Greatest Hits” of The Bible, chock full of famous cautionary tales and action-packed end-to-end.
We begin with Abraham waiting for guests on the third day after his Brit Milah, move through Sarah being told by an angel that she will have a child and the destruction of Sodom, Abimelech’s abduction of Abraham’s “sister” Sarah in Gerar, the birth of Yitzchak and his subsequent sacrifice, the expulsion of Ishmael and the birth of Rivka eimeinu. That’s quite a menu of conversation topics to cover in just a week!
In the sake of brevity, and to maintain sanity, we will focus simply on Lot, the enigmatic nephew of Abraham. From him, we learn the essence of bad judgement and self-will run riot, the world be damned. This man, who’s claim to fame forever will be offering his two daughters to be raped by an entire city before fathering children with them himself, is is strange anti-hero against his own will. It’s funny sometimes how, after the fact, our crappiest behaviors turn into merits.
Someone brought a rumor into shul yesterday, unverifiable on Shabbat, that there was a multi-fatal synagogue shooting during services in Philadelphia. Avoiding sadness, I said “Moshiach is coming soon, so these things will happen. In that way, it’s a good thing.” Eyebrows raised all around with that statement, and at its second saying at the lunch drasha as well. I argued that a life of Emunah doesn’t include second-guessing G-d’s running of the world and, in fact, he does, in fact, run the world. “What difference does it make what we think anyway?” I asked.
Riled up now, I answered with an example from the Holocaust. While Jews burned by the millions, Hollywood stars and politicians staged elaborate concerts where millionaires dressed-to-the-nines eased there conscious with cocktails and checkbooks, arguing that their concern was fake and contrived; they didn’t care that Jews were dying at all, so why pretend? Why not just be honest and admit “I don’t really care about anybody in this world but myself.”
Lot’s historical misfortune is that his narrative is blended with that of Abraham and his famous attributes of kindness and generosity and self-sacrifice. Anyone would pale in comparison and Lot was of low character. Torah teaches us to “do much and say little” with Abraham offering the men he would serve bread and bringing instead milk, cheese and a tender calf. Lot, on the other hand, chose to live in the stingiest city of all the land that sodomized visitors by local custom before robbing them.
And herein lay the rub. Lot grew up around Abraham and inadvertantly inherited a tiny portion of goodness that came out when push came to shove. Two angels were sent to destroy Sodom and Lot encountered them in the streets, telling them they were not safe. The strangers resisted. Lot grabbed their hands and pulled them into his house. The town demands them. Lot refuses, to his own endangerment. The town is destoyed. Lot is saved.
That salvation is our focus. His actions before and after flavored the outcome and, had he known the infamy coming to him forever, would he have even been able to act any differently? Meaning, was Lot doomed from the start to a historical shame so we can learn not to sacrifice everything we are to greed? His choices were his alone, from choosing the rich land to the south for his home to allowing the second daughter access when he knew what the first had done. Bad guy.
But, from Lot, we learn that any tiny little kind thing is appreciated by Hashem and earns some kind of reward. We call it midda-kaneged-middah and this tit-for-tat payback is seen in the hand pulling. Lot didn’t want to lose his wealth and prestige. Endangered with hesitation, the angels grabbed his hands and pulled him to safety in the same way Lot did to save him from danger before destroying, not only the city, but his wife, his son-in-law’s wives and four other neighboring cities. In the middle of all that fire and brimstone, Hashem remembered that tiny kindness of Lot and paid him.
If only it ended there. Lot didn’t like his salvation because the loss of his low neighbors, who living near them made Lot look good, resulted in the compairison falling back onto Abraham. The lost prestige was a shame to him, so he chose, on his own, to leave his deliverance for the mountain instead. The daughter thing happened there and would not have had he not done his own thing, for once. The poor guy earns merit without knowing it, then turns his back on the reward just as callously.
Ignorance is no excuse in Judaism and a lack of faith is simply that. What good does it do to hide behind excuses and blame to justify not doing the right thing? Even Lot, a thoroughly bad character, could not resist doing good when it really mattered. Talking about the good intended in the future is an act of nothing. Stating empty good intentions is a trap for becoming a liar. Words alone are more than useless, they are harmful.
If Lot had only done what he was told, then he would not be the most famous incest story of all time. His focus was entirely external and selfish, except for that tiny spark of kindness that Abraham’s proximity planted within him. If only he nurtured the good spark rather than fan the evil flame… He didn’t. More empty words because, after-the-fact, there is nothing to be done to correct the wreckage except accept it with gratitude as a gift from G-d and just move on to the next opportunity.