7.1 Lot – the Judge of Sodom
Earlier we read that “HaShem said: ‘Verily, the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and, verily, their sin is exceeding grievous,” meaning it was impossible to let this behavior continue any longer. Sodom was ripe for destruction and this meant that the seed contained in Sodom was ripe to be released. The time had come to perform a trial, that is, to separate the positive spark from the general evil of Sodom (the idea of a trial (gevura) is in itself a kind of separation). But before making a final decision regarding Sodom, God descends (i.e. sends angels) to the city: “I will go down now, and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come unto Me; and if not, I will know” (Genesis 18:21). This was the final test for Sodom, as well as for Lot.
We should note that this episode introduces us to an important function of the angels—to act as a test and at the same time a trial, “an educational playground” for humanity. Meeting with angels is a challenge sent to a person, and at the same time a test of his inner content. Abraham and Sarah rose to a higher level in the process of talking to angels; Lot withstood his trials upon meeting the angels (although with difficulty), but Sodom ultimately failed. (1) And the two angels came to Sodom at even; and Lot sat in the gate of Sodom; and Lot saw them, and rose up to meet them; and he fell down on his face to the earth; In Biblical language, “to sit in the gate” usually means “to judge,” “to be the judge.” Here, the word “sits” (yoshev) is written without the letter “vav,” a verb which can be understood not only as written in the continuous tense but as the perfect tense as well: “yishav,” i.e. “By this time Lot had sat himself down in the gates of Sodom.”
Lot’s judgment category is emphasized further in the text: This one fellow came in to sojourn, and he will needs play the judge” (19:9), although Lot did not judge the Sodomites who attacked his house, but simply urged them to stop.
The Midrash discusses that Lot was appointed to the post of judge in Sodom very recently. Apparently, after Abraham’s war with the kings, Lot became an “internationally recognized” celebrity and the Sodomites decided to use him to create a good image for themselves by appointing Lot to one of the most important positions in the city. Lot hoped he would be able to improve the judicial system and fix Sodom. Even at the very moment when the citizens were attacking him, Lot probably thought that since he had received such a high status the Sodomites would attend to his words—but the citizens of Sodom, naturally, did not intend to do so.
We should note that in contrast to Abraham who ran to meet the angels, Lot only stands up and bows to them, although to his credit he bows “with his face toward the ground.” Abraham goes towards union and synthesis, of his own accord: he is found in movement and development. Lot is spiritually immobile, although those spiritual values which he does accept are fairly deeply ingrained in him. Lot does not have a thirst for inner development, and this is one of his essential problems. He advances only under pressure from the outside (the angels, his daughters, etc.) and therefore pays a high price for his advancement.
The judgment of Sodom occurs in Lot’s house, who was not only nominal clerk-judge of Sodom, but its true judge in all respects. The Sodomites thought they had appointed Lot as judge in name only, but from the point of view of Divine judgment, Lot was “appointed” to become the judge of Sodom, and events related to him determined the fate of the city.
Sodom presented itself as a law-abiding society and judicial government, although, in reality, it was far from being such. Appointing a “relatively good” judge but treating him villainously became the last indication that Sodom could not be fixed.
Lot is simultaneously a righteous man in Sodom (in whose shadow the sins of Sodom became more noticeable) and its judge, and therefore it is precisely through Lot that Sodom is doomed to destruction. In a sense, every Sodom has its own Lot, and it is this Lot which determines the fate of the Sodom. Of course, any Sodom is in conflict with its Lot, but as long as it cooperates with him, or at least somewhat heeds him, the Sodom can continue existing. Sodom’s uprising against its Lot predetermines the city’s downfall.
7.2 Conscience and Legislation
(2) And he said: ‘Behold now, my lords, turn aside, I pray you, into your servant’s house, and tarry all night, and wash your feet, and ye shall rise up early, and go on your way.’ And they said: ‘Nay; but we will abide in the broad place all night.’ (3) And he urged them greatly; and they turned in unto him, and entered into his house; and he made them a feast, and did bake unleavened bread, and they did eat.
Lot strongly implored the travelers not to spend the night on the street, but the Midrash notes that the expression “turn…into your servant’s house” most likely does not mean “enter” but “go in a roundabout way.” It is as if Lot were saying to the guests: “I am explaining to you where my house is and you will somehow get to me through the alleys.”
When Lot sees that the people have nowhere to go, he invites them to be guests at his house—after all, hospitality was one of the central religious principles of Abraham’s family. Being the Sodomite judge, Lot is tested on his readiness to put morals ahead of the city’s laws, and this becomes his important spiritual achievement, although he acts with caution. We remember that earlier Lot contains the category of malkhut (Kingliness), and in this category everything that pertains to the functioning of the kingdom, including a strict observance of the laws, is vital. We have also noted that the trials of the forefathers are connected to “constraining and limiting” their presiding categories. Abraham is hesed and his trials teach him that it is not always necessary to display hesed; Isaac is gevura and his trials consist of limiting gevura. But Lot, as the representative of malkhut, which is comprised of obligation, order, and abiding by the laws of the kingdom, must recognize that these laws must not be followed at any cost, and that the principles of morality must be placed above the laws of the kingdom.
7.3 Lot–A Righteous Man on Sodom’s Level
Although Lot repeats Abraham’s actions, he does so on a lower level. Abraham runs to meet the guests, while Lot only stands and bows. Abraham gives the guests “a calf, and butter, and milk,” but Lot only “did bake unleavened bread.” Lot had to convince the travelers to enter his home, but Abraham, radiating hospitality, did not have to plead with the travelers. Of course, Abraham had full freedom to accept guests, while Lot endangered himself by doing so—but he chose these conditions of life for himself when he settled in Sodom.
Lot is a righteous man on Sodom’s level. He does not want to live near Abraham, and wants to live in Sodom so that he can be righteous against the background of his environment.
Lot has basic moral principles, but he does not stand firm on them; he is a “spineless” righteous man. He wants things to be good, but is not capable of putting in enough effort to achieve his goal. Once in the world of Sodom, Lot falls under its influence, and this, in part, is demonstrated in his offer to give his daughters to the citizens.
Lot’s position is twofold. On one hand, he personally wants kindness; but, on the other hand, he is the conductor of evil—since he becomes a judge in Sodom, Sodomite laws are realized namely through him.
Lot is a kind of representative of “half-Judaism,” a prototype of the fate of many Jews who departed from the Jewish people and decided to assimilate into the non-Jewish surroundings. He is talented and so upon arriving at Sodom, is appointed to a high position. But, in the end, his Jewish character leads him to come into conflict with Sodom and to the destruction of his initial hopes.
7.4 Sodom as a Pseudo-Messianic Category: the Messiah comes from the Depths of Evil
(4) But before they lay down, the men of the city, even the men of Sodom, compassed the house round, both young and old, all the people from every quarter. (5) And they called unto Lot, and said unto him, ‘Where are the men which came in to thee this night? bring them out unto us, that we may know them.’
The Midrash relates that Lot’s wife was much assimilated into the Sodomite lifestyle, or perhaps even came from Sodom herself (after all, from the moment when Lot settled in Sodom until these events happened, more than 20 years had transpired, and by then Lot had achieved a high position in Sodom, and his children had grown up there). She went to their neighbors and asked for salt, complaining that “that intolerable Lot brought home some guests, they need to be fed, but there is no salt in the house.” The neighbors then spread the news around the city and united against Lot. It was because of this that Lot’s wife eventually turned into a pillar of salt.
Although the Sodomites’ behavior combines homosexuality and violence towards foreigners, Sodom has the appearance of a very organized society. The Midrash describes Sodom as almost a “pseudo-messianic” category. Sodom and Gomorrah were two of the most prosperous cities in the world (“And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of the Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere, before HaShem destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, like the garden of HaShem” (13:10)). Reminiscent of the Garden of Eden, Sodom was a place so rich that its citizens achieved the peak of material prosperity. But this prosperity turned out to have a flip side as well.
The people of Sodom claimed prosperity was the purpose of life, which led them to a complete spiritual downfall. However, from a religious and spiritual point of view, the presence of prosperity in a society is not bad in and of itself. Moreover, prosperity is one of the parameters of Messianic times. Sodom’s problem was that it made this parameter absolute (“economic Messianism”) and limited the ideal society to his own city.
In general, the essence of pseudo-Messianic teachings is taking a single Messianic idea to an extreme and neglecting all the others. This distortion of Messianic concepts is what led to Sodom becoming, in some way, the first pseudo-Messianic society in history.
A society’s pretence that it is the peak of human development is eventually transformed into the idea that trying to improve the world is absurd and shameful. This leads to the Sodomite prohibition to give charity: after all, the necessity for charity shows not everything is right in the world, and is insulting to the Sodomites. The prophet Ezekiel described Sodom in this way: “Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister, Sodom: pride, fullness of bread, and careless ease was in her and her daughters; neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy” (Ezekiel 16:49).
Who are the beggars in a prosperous society? Only visitors and strangers. And so in Sodom, egoism was realized on a societal level. In Sodom, they hated newcomers and acted in a way that no one would want to seek hospitality.
Sodom became the center of evil, but the Messiah must come from Sodom in order to be connected to it, since the Messiah will have to fix everything in the world, including evildoers. For this reason, the Messiah’s path has always been, from the very beginning, “along the edge,” along events that were borderline from a moral perspective (additional examples are: Lot’s daughters who gave birth from their own father; the story of Judah and Tamar; the story of Ruth; the relationship between David and Batsheba). But the Messiah must pass through all of these problematic situations in order to get a feel for them from within, and, as a result, learn to correct even them.
The Messiah ascends from below, both morally and “geographically.” It is no coincidence that Sodom is located at the lowest point on Earth.
7.5 The Distortion of Morals in Sodom
(6) And Lot went out unto them to the door, and shut the door after him. (7) And he said: ‘I pray you, my brethren, do not so wickedly. (8) Behold now, I have two daughters that have not known man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes; only unto these men do nothing; forasmuch as they are come under the shadow of my roof.’ (9) And they said: ‘Stand back.’ And they said: ‘This one fellow came in to sojourn, and he will needs play the judge; now will we deal worse with thee, than with them.’ And they pressed sore upon the man, even Lot, and drew near to break the door. (10) But the men put forth their hand, and brought Lot into the house to them, and the door they shut. (11) And they smote the men that were at the door of the house with blindness, both small and great; so that they wearied themselves to find the door.
Lot calls the Sodomites brethren because he still believes he will be able to convince them. Subsequently his behavior seems to be entirely mindless when he offers his two unmarried daughters to the Sodomites.
There are two possible explanations for Lot’s actions: either he hoped they would not touch his daughters, since they are, after all, Sodomite citizens. Alternatively, Lot had lost his moral orientation and stopped understanding where the limits of acceptability lie.
We must note that in declaring its society to be ideal, Sodom had a great influence on those around it—and later on, we will see that upon arrival in Sodom even the angels become disoriented about their assessment of the situation. Lot, of course, was Abraham’s relative and pupil, but life in Sodom twisted his morals. Not knowing how to advance independently and find true solutions to new problems, Lot reduces righteousness to the list of items inherited from his youth. Since he knows perfectly well that one must be hospitable to travelers, he selflessly does so. But, when faced with the opposition of a roaring crowd, Lot becomes completely lost.
Living in Sodom causes Lot to lose his true, intuitive, sense of morality. The principles and life mindset of the city and country where we live affect us very strongly, and so a person, especially if he is alone with his family, should not settle in a place of evildoers and hope to rectify them. Rather, one should settle in a place where righteous people live, in order to perfect oneself and one’s family—this will have a profound influence on the world.
7.6 The Angels extricate Lot from Sodom
(12) And the men said unto Lot, ‘Hast thou here any besides? Son-in-law, and thy sons, and thy daughters, and whomsoever thou hast in the city; bring them out of this place: (13) For we will destroy this place, because the cry of them is waxed great before HaShem; and HaShem hath sent us to destroy it.’
Three processes are happening in parallel: on the one hand, the city is being destroyed; on the another, all the righteous people (and even those who are only potentially righteous), that is, Lot’s family, are being saved from the destruction; and at the same time, a third, hidden process is occurring—a preparation for the future birth of the Messiah. For this to transpire it is necessary not only to extract Lot from Sodom, but also to “extract Sodom from Lot” because Lot’s spark needs to be purified before it can be attached to the Jewish people.
“And the men said unto Lot, hast thou here any besides?” The angels not only ask Lot, but also invite him to reflect: is there anything else valuable in this city? What is there for you to seek in Sodom, if its citizens act in such an awful manner? Any connection between a Sodomite resident and Lot means this person is not hopeless, and gives him hope for salvation–and the angels emphasize this. But a connection to Sodom, conversely, destroys. Lot was able to sever his connection with the city, although he was unable to influence even the members of his household in this respect. We are not told whether Lot’s wife was originally a Sodomite, or if, after twenty years, she had so much become attached to Sodom that she could not resist turning around, but this resulted in her ruin.
7.7 The Echo of Divine Laughter at Sodom
(14) And Lot went out, and spoke unto his sons-in-law, who married his daughters, and said: ‘Up, get you out of this place; for HaShem will destroy the city.’ But he seemed unto his sons-in-law as one that jested.
Besides his two unmarried daughters who lived in his house, Lot also had two married daughters, and it was their husbands that Lot went to convince to leave with him. These two, of course, did not go to riot at Lot’s house, but stayed at home and did not try to stop the Sodomite demonstration. Everything that is connected to Sodom loses all chance of salvation unless it finds the strength within itself to disconnect from Sodom.
Lot “seemed unto his sons-in-law as one that jested” both in the sense that it seemed to them that he was joking, and in the sense that they laughed at his words. It was funny to them: it did not make sense to them that something bad could happen in such a wonderful place. The Torah’s mention of this laughter is not accidental: it comes to echo a different laughter—the Divine laughter at Sodom (“Divine laughter” is an important concept and we will discuss it in greater detail below). Thus, the laughter in response to Lot’s words was not a complete mistake on the part of his Sodomite sons-in-law. They felt the reflection of a metaphysical, lofty Divine laughter (and this is why they wanted to laugh), but were not capable of properly interpreting it.
Laughter is an integral part of geula, Messianic liberation, because the Messianic process never goes the way it was initially expected. This laughter is reinforced and combined with Divine laughter, as it is described in the Talmud: “There is no full laughter before the Most Holy, but only on the day of Deliverance, since “He that sitteth in heaven laugheth, the L-rd hath them in derision.” (Psalms 2:4). Upon Lot’s departure from Sodom, the breakthrough in the direction of geula begins and King David’s soul begins to descend into the world; the Messiah’s origin from the ruins of Sodom’s evil contradicts standard logic, and therefore it is “laughable.” Laughter is overcoming of the laws of logic, bound to the radiance of the new world.
7.8 The Extraction of Lot from Sodom
(15) And when the morning arose, then the angels hastened Lot, saying: ‘Arise, take thy wife, and thy two daughters that are here; lest thou be swept away in the iniquity of the city.’ (16) But he lingered; and the men laid hold upon his hand, and upon the hand of his wife, and upon the hand of his two daughters; HaShem being merciful unto him. And they brought him forth, and set him without the city.
Night is the time for preparation for the Exodus, but the departure from Sodom occurs only at the break of dawn, which symbolizes the beginning of the Geula.
Lot is incapable of recognizing his role in the Messianic process. He delays his departure because he is not personally inclined to advance forward; it is necessary to “take him by the hand,” to lead him out by force.
As long as the night lasted, Lot could remain in Sodom. But when the dawn (that is, Geula) began, delaying departure could lead to death.
“Lest thou be swept away in the iniquity of the city”—he who does not distance himself from Sodom dies with it, even if he personally is not guilty of anything.
The angels led Lot because “HaShem being merciful unto him.” Lot himself was not worthy of salvation, and was led out of Sodom only because otherwise, the future David would not be able to be born.
“And set him without the city”—in order to encourage him to continue advancing on his own.
7.9 Why Lot does not escape to the Mountain
(17) And it came to pass, when they had brought them forth abroad, that he said: ‘Escape for thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the Plain; escape to the mountain, lest thou be swept away.’ (18) And Lot said unto them: ‘Oh, not so, my lord; (19) Behold now, thy servant hath found grace in thy sight, and thou hast magnified thy mercy, which thou hast shown unto me in saving my life; and I cannot escape to the mountain, lest the evil overtake me, and I die.
The angels lead Lot out of the city, but do not take him to a safe haven. They only explain how he must further act on his own: “look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the Plain; escape to the mountain.”
This is a test for Lot, because if now, already outside of Sodom, he is unable to continue alone, then he will not be able to be rescued. It is impossible to rescue a person by force. One must act on one’s own—once Lot has been led out, he must move onward as far from there as possible on his own. Lot is capable of this (although with difficulty), while his wife is not, and so she turns back.
The angel suggests that Lot should escape “to the mountain.” We have already noted the unique geography of this region. Sodom is the lowest point in the world both geographically (420 m below sea level), and morally. Abraham lives in Hebron next to Sodom, on a fairly high mountain (920 m above sea level). The geographical incline symbolizes a moral incline as well. Thus, when the angel suggests to Lot to escape to the “geographical” mountain, this means that a moral advancement towards Abraham is required of Lot.
But Lot is afraid of this advancement: “I cannot escape to the mountain, lest the evil overtake me, and I die.” Lot wants to avoid being Abraham’s neighbor. Lot knows his own moral level: although against the backdrop of Sodom he is a righteous man, in comparison to Abraham he might be classified with the evildoers. Abraham’s moral level is an indictment of Lot. This is why it is common in life that righteous men of Lot’s type (who appear worthy against the backdrop of Sodom) try to steer clear of righteous men of Abraham’s type.
7.10 Zoar–the Border City
(20) Behold now, this city is near to flee unto, and it is a little one; oh, let me escape thither–is it not a little one?–and my soul shall live.’ (21) And he said unto him: See, I have accepted thee concerning this thing also, that I will not overthrow the city of which thou hast spoken. (22) Hasten thou, escape thither; for I cannot do any thing till thou be come thither.’—Therefore the name of the city was called Zoar.—
Lot aims to find himself a place separate both from Sodom and Abraham. For this, he needs a small town on the border of “Sodomite influence.” It is geographically and morally located somewhat above Sodom, but is not too remote from the city. Like Lot, Zoar is a borderline city both geographically and spiritually.
Lot feels that although he was unable to influence the large city of Sodom, he may be able to influence the small city of Zoar, and asks to be given this opportunity. Lot is incapable of rising from the Sodomite lowlands directly to the top of the mountain. He needs an “intermediate stage,” which becomes Zoar (the next such station will be the cave in the center of the mountain). This advancement shows that Lot has some positive moral dynamic, for which he is saved, strictly speaking. And the angel agrees to give him this opportunity.
7.11 Do not look back
(23) The sun was risen upon the earth when Lot came unto Zoar. (24) Then HaShem caused to rain upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from HaShem out of heaven; (25) and He overthrow those cities, and all the Plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground. (26) But his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt.
If a person is half righteous and half wicked, then he does not have the right to observe evildoers die from the side, acting as if he has no connection to them. For it is entirely possible that he deserved a similar punishment, but is saved for some reasons unknown to him. Therefore, if such a moderate righteous man looks upon the punishment of evildoers, he will be lost alongside them. Only completely righteous men can watch the death of evildoers without harming themselves.
Having turned around, Lot’s wife showed she was more connected to Sodom than to the future Messianic process, and so Divine kindness did not extend to her. It is possible that God did not punish her “in an individual manner”; it is more likely that her natural status as a citizen of the doomed Sodom was returned to her.
7.12 Abraham watches Sodom’s Destruction
(27) And Abraham got up early in the morning to the place where he stood before HaShem: (28) And he looked out toward Sodom and Gomorrah, and toward all the land of the Plain, and beheld, and, lo, the smoke of the land went up as the smoke of a furnace. (29) And it came to pass, when God destroyed the cities of the Plain, that God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when He overthrew the cities in which Lot dwelt.
Once again the Torah notes, “And… God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow.” On his own Lot did not deserve salvation, but he is necessary for the future development of the world.
The words “early in the morning” are always related to the category of hesed, characteristic of Abraham. But now he returns to the “place where he stood before HaShem,” the mountain from where he can see the entire plain of Sodom and to which he now returns—that is, to the place of gevura, where he had his argument with God about the fate of Sodom. Abraham now feels hesed alone is insufficient–he is ready to complement hesed with gevura, and observe the unfolding of events in Sodom from this newfound perspective.
Abraham, unlike Lot, can look at Sodom’s destruction. Moreover, it is necessary for him to do so to understand the ways of Divine rule of the world. He sees “smoke of the country…as the smoke of a furnace.” A furnace is a place where nothing is left, where everything is completely annihilated. After Lot’s exodus from Sodom, nothing is left there, and so there is no hope for reconstruction. The incident with Sodom became a reproach for Abraham for unrealized opportunities and the downfall of hopes.
And so a little later we read that Abraham left Hebron for Gerar. The Midrash says that Abraham left Hebron because after the destruction of Sodom, people stopped walking through Hebron so Abraham had no one to influence there. Strikingly, it was due to Sodom, the city of evildoers, that Hebron, the city of the righteous Abraham, had the opportunity to influence the world. The destruction of Sodom undermined the point of Abraham’s life in Hebron.
7.13 Lot’s Daughters decide to bear Children from him
(30) And Lot went up out of Zoar, and dwelt in the mountain, and his two daughters with him; for he feared to dwell in Zoar: and he dwelt in a cave, he and his two daughters. (31) And the first-born said unto the younger: ‘Our father is old, and there is not a man in the earth to come in unto us after the manner of all the earth.
During the demolition of Sodom, Zoar evaded destruction, but the catastrophe itself affected Lot so strongly that he decided to distance himself from everything related to Sodom in any way. So Lot leaves Zoar and begins to live “in the mountain”—not on the mountain and not below the mountain, but in the middle of the mountain, in a cave, separate from everyone, between the top of the mountain, Abraham, and the bottom of the Earth, Sodom, at the midpoint between good and evil.
However, after this effort, Lot is incapable of moving further. His potential has been entirely depleted. His daughters notice this when they say that “our father is old”—that is, it is not worth waiting for him to solve the problem; they must take action on their own.
The words “there is not a man in the earth” are puzzling. Lot’s daughters can’t think that literally there are no people left on earth. They knew that Zoar for example was not destroyed. The wording of the phrase “to come in unto us” is also irregular. Usually to denote a sexual relationship, the Torah uses the phrase “lavo el,” to come to; but here another expression is used, “lavo al.” This expression is used only one other in time, in the book of Deuteronomy (25:5) when the Torah describes a levirate marriage (“If brethren dwell together, and one of them die, and have no child, the wife of the dead shall not be married abroad unto one not of his kin; her husband’s brother shall go in unto her (lavo al), and take her to him to wife.”) The preposition “al” is usually understood as an addition, “in addition to the passed away husband.”
Lot’s daughters can talk about a levirate marriage only if they see themselves as “widows of the passed away Sodom” and their relationship with their father as an opportunity to reenact “the seed of Sodom.”
Because their father is “old,” Sodom cannot come alive again on its own. But the hope for extracting Divine sparks must exist because otherwise the future King David will not be born. The messiah needs to originate from Sodom and their father carries the necessary spark and therefore can continue the Messianic process.
Had Lot had more energy, he easily could have taken a new wife for himself, had children with her, and found husbands for his daughters. Then the Messianic process would have advanced in the right direction. But Lot was no longer capable of doing anything himself. His daughters’ words, “there is not a man in the earth” mean only that besides Lot, there is no one left for a levirate marriage with them and there is no one else capable of retrieving the Divine spark from Sodom.
We have already noted that while residing in Sodom, Lot loses his natural moral instinct, causing him to come up with the wild idea of giving his daughters to the Sodomite crowd. In the simple sense, this action was never realized, but on a deeper level, Lot “married off his daughters to Sodom,” and now, after the death of the city, they are its widows. This is why they consider themselves morally obligated to revive it. Lot’s daughters are so strongly attached to Sodom that they are ready to restore it even by having relations with their father—the last remaining Sodomite.
A true idealistic Sodomite is not only a criminal, a greedy and soulless inhabitant of the city, but one who considers the majority of Sodom’s ideas to be a prototype for the future; one who despite the destruction of the city, believes in its potential Messianic ability. Lot’s daughters need precisely this kind of person for the continuation of the human race.
Of course, at first glance, this seems horrific. However, from a formal point of view, what Lot’s daughters did was not a huge crime because in the culture of the time liaisons between daughters and their fathers were, while undesirable, not strictly forbidden. And, furthermore, a levirate marriage at that time could be conducted not only by the brother of the husband, but by any family member (for example, Tamar seduces her father-in-law Judah in order to bind him to her through a levirate marriage). After the gift of the Torah, such types of liaisons because forbidden, but at the time of the Patriarchs, this was still permissible.
Paradoxically, Lot’s daughters want to do hesed for Sodom, the city which did not recognize hesed. Thus hesed occurs once they are outside Sodom, in the midst of the mountain, at the point midway to Abraham. The positive spark contained in Sodom could not be extracted from the city until Sodom was destroyed.
7.14 Lot is given Wine to Drink
(32) Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, that we may preserve seed of our father.’ (33) And they made their father drink wine that night. And the first-born went in, and lay with her father; and he knew not when she lay down, nor when she arose. (34) And it came to pass on the morrow, that the first-born said unto the younger: ‘Behold, I lay yesternight with my father. Let us make him drink wine this night also; and go thou in, and lie with him, that we may preserve seed of our father.’ (35) And they made their father drink wine that night also. And the younger arose, and lay with him; and he knew not when she lay down, nor when she arose.
Wine is a necessary element for the implementation of this plan. Lot is incapable of doing anything while sober. His potential has run out. Besides, he would not have agreed to a liaison with his daughters, since he adheres to a moral standard. However, he is unstable, and it is easy to get him drunk.
The Midrash tells us something incredible: the wine which Lot’s daughters used to get him drunk was brought to this cave from the Garden of Eden and was prepared even from the time of the Creation of the World, specifically for this occasion. It was intended for Lot’s daughters to be able to get their father drunk and bear his children because, as bad as this story may seem, it is a part of the Messianic process. This means that although their behavior was their personal sin, on a deeper level it realized necessary paths of the universe.
We are once again faced with the principle that the Messianic process often looks abnormal, not as it is “supposed to be,” and it always occurs on the border of the permissible. If Lot had behaved properly, this borderline of the permissible would not have passed through him, but rather though Zoar (whose citizens were close to Sodom and, to a certain extent “Sodomites”), and husbands for Lot’s daughters would have been found there. But Lot lost his will to advance. He did not think that as a father he was obligated to put effort into marrying off his daughters; for this reason the essential process occurred through him personally.
7.15 Moab and Ammon, the Sons of Lot’s Daughters
(36) Thus were both the daughters of Lot with child by their father. (37) And the first-born bore a son, and called his name Moab–the same is the father of the Moabites unto this day. (38) And the younger, she also bore a son, and called his name Ben-ammi–the same is the father of the children of Ammon unto this day.
Moab (Moav in Hebrew) literally means “me-av,” (from the father). The oldest daughter considers her relationship with her father as a levirate marriage, although it is not entirely ordinary, and is not shy about announcing this to the world at large. But Lot’s youngest daughter is shyer. She conceived and gave birth not as a result of her own decision, but because she was told to do so by her older sister. Therefore she gives her son a neutral name, Ben-Ami (the son of my people).
Subsequently, the peoples who come from Lot’s daughters settled not far from Cannan: Moab on the western shore of the Dead Sea and Ammon further north, on the western shore of the Jordan River (the capital of the Ammonites, Rabat Ammon (see II Samuel 11:1) is known today as Amman, and is the capital of Jordan).
Lot’s daughters acted with hesed towards Sodom that embodied the complete opposite of hesed. Therefore the two nations who came from them catastrophically lack hesed, although there are cases when women of super-hesed descend from them, and contribute to the birth of the Messiah.
The Midrash tell us that the older daughter’s merit was greater than that of the younger one, since the older one was the initiator of the liaison with their father and was embarrassed by it. Because of the oldest daughter’s merit, her descendant Ruth the Moabite, the great-grandmother of David, would contribute to the creation of the Jewish kingdom earlier than the descendant of the younger daughter, Solomon’s wife Naamah the Ammonite.
Our Sages viewed the behavior of Lot’s daughters in their favor because they sought Redemption and the arrival of the Messiah. Their decision to bear from their own father in order to revive the spark of Sodom was, from their point of view, a sacrifice for the sake of an ideal rather than a crime.
However, this does not mean that Jewish tradition feels favorably about the descendants of Lot’s daughters, the Moabites and the Ammonites. On the contrary, these are very problematic nations, and only some of their representatives merit to participate in the birth of the Messiah.
7.16 Moabites and Ammonites, Peoples with a Catastrophic Lack of Hesed
The peculiarity of their origin made the Moabites and Ammonites two “abnormal” nations, bordering between Abraham’s righteousness and Sodom’s wickedness.
The desire of Lot’s daughters to revive their people and city is positive, because it is right to aim to protect that which is dear to you. Their desire is entirely selfless and idealistic: they want the rectification of Sodom, and so allow themselves to bear children from their father. In of itself the concept of “allowing” refers to the category of hesed. But still, the decision to do something of this nature is a manifestation of “impure hesed.”
We already know that hesed, as any other spiritual category, can be pure and impure, and its excess can lead to evil. It is unlikely that Lot was twice so drunk that he truly “did not notice” what his daughters were doing with him. It is not that he purposely went for a liaison with them, but he allowed himself to do so. This is also a manifestation of excess, impure hesed. Lot has a particular type of hesed which is excessive for Abraham and the entire Jewish people (and this is why Lot is separated from Abraham)—although a certain spark hidden within him is needed for the creation of the kingdom in the future people of Israel. And it is thanks to this spark that the proper hesed of Ruth the Moabite and Naamah the Ammonite will be able to be manifested in the future.
Lot’s daughters unite Abraham’s hesed with Sodom’s anti-hesed. But these things are contradictory and incompatible and as a result the Moabites and the Ammonites cannot exist “in the middle” and are faced with a difficult choice—either to approach Abraham or go in the direction of Sodom. Other peoples can live an intermediate existence—being neither as righteous as Abraham nor as evil as Sodom. But for the Moabites and Ammonites this is impossible: they can either rise up high or fall down low.
Finally, the Ammonites and Moabites went in the direction of Sodom and did not show even elementary compassion towards the Jewish people—they did not give the Jews even bread and water upon their arrival in the desert.
And since the Sodomite inclination prevails within them, the Torah says about them that “An Ammonite or a Moabite shall not enter into the assembly of HaShem; even to the tenth generation shall none of them enter into the assembly of HaShem for ever. Because they met you not with bread and water in the way when ye came forth out of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 23:3-4).
Why is it so terribly that “they met you not… with bread and water” (Deuteronomy 23:4)? There were other nations who fought against the Jews, but it is not forbidden to accept converts from them. It is apparent that the Egyptians felt incomparably worse about the Jews than the Ammonites and Moabites, yet the Egyptians could become Jews after going through a conversion process. Although Edom threatened the Jews with war, it says about Edom “the children of the third generation that are born unto them may enter into the assembly of HaShem” (Deuteronomy 23:9).
The Ammonites and Moabites did not make wars, but their sin consists of displaying total indifference. It is precisely for this that they were forever denied the opportunity to enter the Jewish community. Such a seemingly disproportionate punishment is imposed upon them because the Ammonites and Moabites have only two extreme options: to be either like Abraham or like Sodom. If they deny hospitality, that is, do not behave like Abraham, it means that they have chosen Sodom. Total indifference to those around them was a characteristic Sodomite quality, the result of their presumptuous self-containment and disdain for others, a manifestation of the prototypical “anti-hesed.” And so, not only will they not “enter into the assembly of HaShem,” but they await an even worse fate: “Moab shall be as Sodom…Ammon as Gomorrah” (Zephania 2:9).
However, unlike the Ammonite and Moabite men, the women of these nations are allowed to undergo conversion. The ban does not extend to women because welcoming travelers was the men’s prerogative, not befitting women. So the Ammonite and Moabite women were not guilty of the sin of inhospitality and indifference towards to the Jews and therefore have permission to join the Jewish people.