Last month we discussed how Lot became an inheritor of Avraham. Rashi (Bereishis 15:19) says that Avraham was supposed to receive ten lands of Canaan, not merely seven. However, three lands, that of the Keini, Knizi, and Kadmoni, which correspond to the lands of Edom, Moav, and Amon, were not given to him. The Rambam tells us that these will be given to us in the time of Moshiach (see Hilchos Melachim 11:1-2).
Our parsha recounts all of the travels of Bnei Yisrael in the desert, including passing by of the lands of Ammon and Moav. In the haftarah Yirmiyah laments that Hashem took us out of Egypt and led us through the desert and we betrayed him hundreds of years later by following in the immoral ways of nations around us, including Ammon and Moav.
Let us go back to our discussion of Lot, the patriarch of Ammon and Moav.
Lot is described in Otzar Midrashim, page 38, as a tzaddik gamur and an oseik baTorah. On page 37, we are told that Lot received nevuah and was saved from Sedom due to his involvement in seeking and honoring guests with eshel: achila, shetiya, and levaya (like Avraham did). On page 41, Lot is called a tzaddik and a zakein who kept Sedom alive; every city needs a zakein within its boundaries to insure its existence.
Perhaps we could suggest that although Lot began as a tzaddik, he didn’t remain on Avraham’s path. But this is unlikely. Not only do we see his steady involvement with hachnasas orchim in Parshas Vayeira, but the Maharal (Gevuras Hashem, Perek 6) writes that Lot was captured in the “4 vs. 5 Kings War” because the kings were really after Avraham and his ideals. Apparently, if they couldn’t get to Avraham himself, they would capture the next best person: Lot. Even in Sedom, in other words, Lot was apparently still living according to Avraham’s path.
So why isn’t Lot considered righteous by Chazal?
Pirkei D’Rabi Elazar (Chapter 25) says that when Avraham was davening for Sedom and said, ”Ha’af tispeh tzaddik im rasha,” the tzaddik he was referring to was Lot. So Avraham himself acknowledged that even after all these years Lot was still a tzadik. Lot hadn’t really gone “off the derech” apparently.
But then why did Lot go to Sedom? If Lot was indeed as righteous as the Midrashim cited suggest, we can no longer write off his actions as mere greed and hunger for money or immorality. What then was the rationalization of Lot? Yes, the pesukim in Lech Lecha imply that Lot wanted to experience the gashmius of Sedom and its vicinity but there must have been a spiritual cheshbon.
Pirkei D’Rabi Elazar tells us that Lot married off his daughter to one of the “gedolei Sedom.” Seemingly, his plan was to make a kesher with the chashuvim of Sedom and change things. The Midrash says that his daughter could not resist carrying out daily acts of chesed, which was against the laws of Sedom, and for which she was killed. Even so, Lot maintained his plans to change things in the city and ran for the position of judge. He was successful and appointed judge over all the judges. He finally had the ability to bring about change. This explains Bereishis Rabbah 50:3 which tells us Lot spent the night arguing with the malachim. He believed that there was a chance for the citizens to do teshuva.
So, we ask again, where did things go wrong?
The pasuk states, “And Lot went with him – Vayelech ito Lot” (Bereishis 12:5).
Avraham had followed Hashem’s directive to leave his comfortable homeland, birthplace, and family and travel to Eretz Yisrael. Lot decided to join Avraham in this difficult task.
Lot became wealthy, as did Avraham (Bereishis 13:2-12). A dispute arose between Avraham’s and Lot’s shepherds over the scarcity of grazing land for their flocks. Avraham told Lot they could no longer live together and must separate in order to provide enough land for both of them. Lot quickly and easily agreed.
Question: Wasn’t Lot a close student of Avraham? Isn’t that why Lot left his comfortable homeland and followed Avraham? What would you do if your aged, wise, and respected mentor and elder told you of a dispute between your workmen and his? Wouldn’t you try to work it out in order to be able to continue to stay with your mentor and continue learning from him? Why didn’t Lot? Wouldn’t you be embarrassed before your mentor? Why wasn’t Lot?
The Malbim explains that when Lot returned from Egypt laden with wealth and resources, he became “imo.” He no longer viewed himself as subordinate to Avraham. His newfound wealth and power destroyed his proper perspective and he now felt that he could be as important as Avraham.
This explains why he ran away – he did not want to have to always look to Avraham for guidance. It was time for him to be the one giving guidance. He wanted to free himself from the shackles of having a mentor. Lot wanted to start his own “kiruv center” and no longer be an underling. This is what Rashi (11:13) means when he says that Lot didn’t want to be with Avraham or his G-d. Lot wanted to establish his own path and connection to Hashem.
Even when Avraham put his life on the line for Lot in the war, Lot refused to acknowledge that he owed Avraham anything. Doing so would have meant acknowledging that he was subordinate to Avraham, something he could not bring himself to admit.
Why was it so hard for Lot to admit subordination to Avraham? Rashi (19:17) says that the malach told Lot to return to Avraham after he was saved from Sedom. One would think that at that point in time, Lot would realize he should never have left Avraham, that all of his calculations were wrong. And we can assume that the malach informed Lot that he was saved largely as a result of Avraham’s zechus (as 19:29 implies with “ayizkor… es Avraham”). Still, Rashi (in 19:19) says that Lot was concerned. While in Sedom he had been a tzaddik; next to Avraham he would be considered a nothing and a “rasha.”
Lot did not want to feel like a nothing. We can empathize. We all need to feel significant. What Lot should have realized is that being Avraham’s talmid would give him significance, as long as he properly understood his role. As Chazal say (Avos 4:20), “Better to be a tail of a lion than a head to [mere] foxes.” Lot was satisfied with excelling within the realm of mediocrity. This was his downfall.
Because Lot refused his proper role in being subordinate to Avraham, he became the ultimate subordinate. His name is forever associated with the halachic expression “shichruso shel Lot” – being so drunk that you have no awareness of your actions, a total subordinate. Lot failed to truly actualize his true purpose and essence of existence.
We are all Lot at times. We can be stubborn and fail to admit our reality – that our co-workers or our bosses, our spouses or our friends, may be more experienced or talented in particular areas. It’s important to know when to lead, but it is equally important to know when we must assume secondary roles.