No one names his son after Lot. He doesn’t rank among our great sages in Sefer Bereishis; not even close! Yet when Hashem decreed that the entire city of Sodom would be destroyed and all the inhabitants of the area would be killed, Lot and his family were singled out to be spared.
What was so special about Lot, who had, after all, chosen to live in this depraved, decadent, selfish city? Why was he given the gift of life?
Rashi (Bereishis 19:27) tells us that Lot was saved in the merit of not revealing the secret that Sarah Imeinu was Avraham Avinu’s wife when they had descended to Mitzrayim during the famine.
This is a shocking Rashi; why doesn’t Rashi point to a more obvious zechus of Lot, his special devotion to hachnosas orchim – hospitality? When the angels of Hashem came to visit Sodom – appearing as simple travelers – Lot literally begged them not to sleep in the streets, but rather to come (via the back door) and stay over at his home. That was a serious crime in the city of Sodom; Lot risked his life to give them food and shelter. Like Avraham, Lot felt a deep commitment to be a generous host to his guests, regardless of the danger. Why isn’t this the middah and the merit that stands for Lot in his time of need?
The Alter of Slobodka (Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel zt”l 1849 – 1927, founder of the famed Slobodka Yeshiva) explains that kindness and hospitality came easily to Lot. As a nephew to Avraham, these qualities were part of his DNA; as a ben-bayis who was raised in Avraham’s household bringing in guests was what came naturally. This, says the Alter, was not enough to get him a free pass out of the burning Sodom. Too easy!
But why is the episode that occurred in Lech Lecha, when Avraham left Canaan to go to Mitzrayim, more special? Wasn’t it natural for Lot to protect Sarah – who was also his sister! – and Avraham, who had done so much good for him?
Here, says the Alter, we see the power of sheviras hamiddos, breaking out of our bad habits. We all know that Lot was tremendously motivated by a love of money. Avarice is what led him to quarrel with Avraham, greed is what moved him to go from the source of greatest kedusha to Sodom, the treifest of treif environments. Yet when Lot came to the border of Mitzrayim he had a pivotal choice to make. He could ingratiate himself to Paroh by disclosing Avraham’s true (but secret) relationship with Sarah; this would likely make him very wealthy, but might lead to great harm for Avraham and Sarah. Or he could remain silently loyal to Avraham and accept his status quo. Having to choose between loyalty OR wealth; this was the hardest test that could confront young Lot!
The Alter of Slabodka tells us that although we earn reward for ALL of our mitzvos, we earn the truly great rewards when we are faced with a really tough choice…and make the right decision! These are life-changing decisions, when we must go against our very nature to do what is truly right and good.
We may falter again down the road; we are human after all (note that Lot himself nearly throws it all away by dithering over his money when he should have been packing and running for his life! See Rashi to 19:16, Vayitmahama), but each time we confront our nature and choose good there is a powerful surge of zechus that thrusts us forward.
Lot was naturally kind and hospitable and he certainly must have earned reward for that. But he didn’t need to work to pass this test; it was a legacy from Avraham Avinu. But turning down money to save someone else? That was a huge challenge…and that earned him his ticket out of Sodom.
May Hashem help us pass our tests, particularly those most challenging to our natural inclinations. Good Shabbos!
About the Author: Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is Associate Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Passaic Torah Institute, Passaic, NJ.
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