“And he delayed, and the men held him, his wife, and his two daughters by the hand because of the mercy of Hashem, and they took them and left them outside of the city.” — Bereishis 19:16
Hashem appeared to Avraham and told him that the people of Sodom were wicked and would be destroyed. The only ones who would be saved were Lot and his family, because of the merit of Avraham. Hashem then sent two malachim, Gavriel and Michoel, to accomplish this task.
When they arrived on the scene they explained to Lot that they were on a mission to wipe out the city, and he was to take his family and flee. Yet he didn’t move. “He delayed.” While he clearly understood the consequences, he remained glued to the spot. Finally, the malachim grabbed him by the hand and pulled him and his daughters away to safety.
The Sforno notes that there is an apparent contradiction here. It is clear that Lot was being saved because of the merit of his brother-in-law Avraham. Yet in this pasuk it says he was saved because of “the mercy of Hashem.” Which was it – the merit of Avraham or Hashem’s mercy?
The Sforno answers that both are true. Initially Lot was to be saved because of the merit of Avraham. However, he wasted that opportunity. The malachim told him to flee and he didn’t. The merit of Avraham was now used up. However, Hashem still had mercy on him because “it wasn’t out of rebelliousness that he delayed, rather out of being overwhelmed by the situation and out of laziness.”
This Sforno is difficult to understand. The two reasons given are: 1) being overwhelmed and 2) laziness. Aren’t these two concepts contradictory?
If Lot was “overwhelmed by the moment,” that means he understood the gravity of the situation. The entire city – and every man, woman, and child in it – was going to be annihilated. That understanding is enough to evoke terror in any man’s heart, and we can certainly understand why he didn’t move. He went into emotional overload. He froze out of fear.
But Sforno said there was a second reason: laziness. If he was gripped by fear, how could he be too lazy to move? Is it possible a man could be standing in a burning building, knowing this life is in danger, and be too lazy to move?
To understand this we need a deeper perspective on the human personality.
When Hashem created man, He took two diverse elements and brought them together. One part of man is pure intelligence, the nefesh ha’schili. The other part is animal instincts, the nefesh ha’bahami. Together, these two make up the “I” that thinks, feels, and remembers. The nefesh ha’schili only wants to do that which is good, proper, and noble. It aspires for holiness and growth. More than anything, it desires to be close to its Creator. The nefesh ha’bahami is made up of all of the instincts, drives, and passions in the human. Each part has its own nature; each has its own inclinations.
To better understand the animal soul of man, we need to look for its corollary in the animal kingdom.
The King of Beasts
Living at the very top of the food chain, the mighty lion is known as the king of the beasts. You would imagine that his life would be idyllic, until you watch his daily routine. In the African Serengeti, the male lion will wake up in the noon sun, let out a monstrously loud yawn, roll over and go back to sleep. A few hours later, he will wake up for bit, and then go back to sleep again. Not long after that, he will stir, let out another earth-shaking growl, and go back to sleep yet again. On average, he will sleep twenty hours a day. When there is no food to eat and the pride is not under not under threat, there is a heaviness to his nature that is almost depressing to watch.
Part of the human has that tendency. We know it as laziness, but it is actually a sluggishness that is part of his inner nature. As the Mesillas Yesharim describes it: “The nature of physicality is thick.” There is a part of me that just doesn’t want to move. It is a weightiness that makes we want to just stop and remain inactive – not out of tiredness, not out of fatigue, but because of a lazy streak that makes me just wants to vegetate.
Rabbi Ben Tzion Shafier