parasha

Vayera – 5778

The Reward for a “Becoming Expression”
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites

In this week’s parasha of Vayera we read the story of the sinful city of Sodom, where its residents enacted laws forbidding hosting guests or helping the needy and “
were very evil and sinful against the Lord.”  God tested them when he sent angels disguised as humans who came to the city toward evening and were hosted by the only resident who did not obey these evil laws – Lot, the nephew of Abraham.  When the city’s residents found out, they gathered around Lot’s house and demanded he send his guests out of his house where they could lynch them.

The residents of Sodom failed God’s test.  There weren’t even ten righteous people who could save the town.  The punishment: the city of Sodom was destroyed when God rained fire and brimstone from the sky.  The city became a symbol of destruction and desolation.  The city’s residents sinned, but Lot did not, so he was taken out of the city along with his wife and two daughters to the city of Tzo’ar – an adjacent, small city that was not destroyed. However, the trauma of the destruction greatly affected Lot; he was afraid that Tzo’ar would be destroyed as well and wanted to escape.  Lot and his two daughters – his wife died already on the way to Tzo’ar – escaped and hid in one of the caves in the area.  And here is where the story gets unpleasant…
Lot’s daughters sat in the cave and thought, mistakenly, that the destruction was total.  They were sure that it was not only Sodom that was destroyed, but the entire world.  They thought they’d have no one to marry.  Their concern was not only for their own personal wellbeing;  they felt that the responsibility for the continuation of the human race was on their shoulders.  If they would not bear children, there would be no other woman on earth to do so.  But how could they bear children if all of humanity had just been obliterated?  So, they did a terrible thing.  They thought that the only man left with whom they could procreate was their own father.  So that night, they got their father drunk, raped him without his knowledge, and got pregnant.
Parenthetically, in every era and place there are people who suffer from “Lot’s Daughters’ Syndrome”.  These are people who are convinced that they, and only they, can save the world, and are willing to do anything – moral or immoral – to make sure they save the world.  Sometimes it is not easy to differentiate between those fighting for justice and those suffering from this syndrome.  The way to distinguish between them is simple – Does the person set moral boundaries to his deeds, or does he think that in order to “save the world” he can do anything and everything, including acts that are immoral or even evil?
But let’s get back to those two girls sitting in a cave, trying to save the world through a serious sin of incest with their father.  After nine months, they gave birth and named their sons.  The oldest called hers Moab – meaning “from the father.”  The younger named her son Ben Ami – meaning “the son of my nation” – hinting at his provenance more subtly.
The story seemingly ends here.  We read no more about either Lot or his daughters in the Torah.  But these two babies grow up, get married, and their families develop into two nations: Moab and Amon.  Centuries later, these two nations will encounter the descendants of Abraham – the Jewish nation.  When the Children of Israel left Egypt on their way to Canaan, the Land of Israel, two nations stood in their way.  These are the two nations whose birth we just read about.  Moses was commanded not to fight them, but to circumvent them and continue on the way to the Promised Land.
But there was a slight difference in the attitude toward these nations.  Regarding Amon, Moses was commanded not to provoke them or distress them at all, but regarding Moab, he was only commanded not to fight them.  This small distinction, say the sages of the Talmud, is the “reward for becoming expression”, the reward for the subtlety of the mother who was more delicate in naming her son.
This is an amazing concept.  Even after the horrible act of Lot’s daughters, the small difference in their characters was expressed in the way these nations were later treated.  The older one was less ashamed than her sister and called her son a name that clearly points to her father. Her younger sister, however, was a bit more careful.  Even in this distorted reality, the value of being subtle and of using “becoming expressions” was maintained for generations.

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