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Published by Mark Greenspan
Studying the role of Lot in comparison with Abraham
Studying the role of Lot in comparison with Abraham

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: Mark Greenspan on Nov 13, 2011
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Torah Table Talk – 
 A New PaRDeS 
Lot: A Study in Mediocrity
 Parshat Vayerah,
Genesis, 18:1 – 22:24
This Torah Table Talk is dedicated by Kal and Flora Flomenhaftin celebration of the Bar Mitzvah of their grandson, Adam Cooper 
Abraham's nephew, Lot, as he is described in Genesis, might be thought of as Abraham's Salieri. In their highlyacclaimed movie
,Peter ShaffeandMilos Formandepict the eighteenth century composer and musician, Antonio Saleiri, (unfairly) as a study in mediocrity when compared with his better knowncontemporary, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Like the two musicians, there are many parallels between the lives of Abraham and Lot. Lot accompanies his uncle to the Promised Land. Like him, he is a herder of flocks. He settlesin the land of Canaan and is remembered for his hospitality. He is even considered a potential inheritor of hisuncle's covenant. But when we look more closely at these two characters, we see Lot as a pale reflection of Abraham's greatness. This is particularly true when we compare the way each one deals with wayfarers, Abrahamin his pastoral settlement and Lot, in the city of Sodom. Like his uncle, Lot is also destined to become the father of two great nations, but the circumstances of his fame are quite different!
Genesis 18:1-8
Adonai appeared to him by the Terebinths of Mamre; he was sitting at the entrance of the tent as the day grew hot. Looking up, he saw three men near him. As soon as he saw them he ranfrom the entrance of his tent to greet them, and bowing low, he said: My lords, if it please you do not goon past your servant. Let a little water be brought; bathe your feet and recline under the tree. And letme fetch a morsel of bread that you may refresh yourselves; then go on - seeing you have come your servants way. They said, "Do as you have said." Abraham hastened to the tent of Sarah and said,"Quick, three seahs of choice flour! Knead and make cakes!" Then Abraham ran to the herd, took acalf, tender and choice, and gave it to the servant boy who hastened to prepare it… he set thesebefore them; he waited on them under the tree.
Genesis 19:1-3
The two angels arrived in Sodom in the evening, as Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to greet them and bowing low with his face to the ground, he said:"Please, my lords, turn aside to your servants house to spend the night and bathe your feet; then youmay be on your way early." But they said, "No, we will spend the night in the square." But he urgedthem strongly, so they turned his way and entered his house. He prepared a feast for them and bakedunleavened bread and they ate.
 – Understanding the plain sense meaning of the text
Arrived in Sodom in the evening; Lot was sitting in the gate.
The whole episode is framed in an elegant seriesof parallels and antitheses to Abraham's hospitality at the beginning of chapter 18. Both men are sitting at anentrance - the identical participial clause with the same verb - when the visitors appear. Lot's entrance at the citygate: he can sit in it because Canaanite cities had what amounted to a large chamber at the gate way; here peoplegathered to gossip, to do business, and above all to conduct justice; the gate would have given on the town square,the area referred to by the messengers in verse 2. There is an antipodal thematic distance from the tent flap to thecity gate, as the narrative quickly makes clear, Abraham's visitors, moreover, arrive at midday, whereas Lotsvisitors come as darkness falls - a time when it is as dangerous to be out in the streets as in those of any moderninner city.
(Robert Alter, The Five Books of Moses, a Translation with Commentary)
My Commentary
: We find two acts of hospitality at the beginning of Genesis; one is set in a more pastoral settingand the other in the city. Abraham is sitting in his tent when he sees wayfarers passing by; he immediately rushesout to greet them. Lot is sitting in the ‘city gate;’ when two wayfarers wander into the city, he stands up andgreets them. There is passion in Abraham’s acts of hospitality to the stranger unlike Lot’s actions which appear to be all about performing that which is socially acceptable. Abraham rushes about making sure that his guestsreceive the best of everything while Lot offers to serve them unleavened bread. Lot is hospitable but somewhat blasé about the way he fulfills this righteous act. Of course, he is in the city of Sodom, not known for its
hospitality, so Lot’s caution may grow out of his fear as appearing to welcoming to the strangers. We see later onthat his judgment was right on target; the people of Sodom show up that evening demanding that the wayfarers beturned over to him. Even then his hospitality is ridiculous and exaggerated. Lot offers his daughters to the men of Sodom in order to save his guests from harm. His behavior is misdirected: giving the guests too little to eat andtrying overly hard to protect them from the menacing crowd. Lot seems to mimic his uncle’s hospitality but hedoesn’t seem to be aware of how to perform true acts of hospitality.
 – Allusions: Finding meanings hidden in the text
Shammai said: Make your Torah study a fixed practice; say little and do much; and greet all people with acheerful countenance.
(Pirke Avot 1:15)
Say little and do much:
What is that? This teaches that the righteous saylittle and do much but the wicked say much but do little.How do we know that the righteous say little and domuch? For thus we learn from Abraham, our father, who said to the angels: “You shall eat bread with me today,”as it said, “And let me fetch a morsel of bread that you may refresh yourselves,” (Gen 18:5) But in the end we seewhat Abraham did for the ministering angels: for he went and prepared for them three oxen and nine measures of fine meal. And how do we know that he prepared for them nine measures of fine meal? For it said: “AndAbraham hasted into the tent to Sarah and said: Make ready quickly three measures of fine meal.” (Gen 18:6)‘Three’ literally. ‘Meal’ makes six. ‘Fine’ makes nine. And how do we know that he prepared three oxen? AndAbraham ran to the herd and fetched a calf, tender and good. The herd – one; acalf  – two; tender -three. And some add: Good – four! “And he gave it to his servant.” (Gen. 18:7) Abraham gave it to Ishmael his son to trainhim in pious works. 
(Avot D’Rebbe Natan 13)
But his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt (Genesis 19:26)--because, R. Isaacsaid, she sinned through salt. On the night that the angels visited Lot, Lot said to his wife, "Give these guests a bitof salt." But she replied, "Besides entertaining guests, do you wish to introduce into Sodom another vile custom[that of seasoning their food]?" What did she do? She went around among all her neighbors, saying to each, "Giveme salt--we have guests," intending thereby to have the townspeople become aware of the presence of guests inher home [and penalize Lot for it]. Hence, "she herself became a pillar of salt."
(Genesis Rabbah 51:5)
My Commentary
: The statement from
 Avot D’Rebbe Natan
is based on a well known aphorism attributed to thesage, Shammai: “Say little and do much.” The measure of righteousness, we learn, is based not what we say buton we do. When the wayfarers arrive in Abraham’s came he offers to wash their feet (a common Middle Eastern practice), to bring them a little water to drink and a ‘morsel’ to eat. But that is hardly what our forefather does inthe continuing narrative: he rushes about finding the best ingredients for the meal he is about to personally serveand he involves his entire family in preparing it (even Ishmael, according to the Midrash). In other words,Abraham gives them more than he leads them to expect – this is the sign of true righteousness. In the Sodom storywe do not hear much about Lot’s family (other than the fact that he is prepared to turn his daughters over to thecrowd). That is the beauty of the passage from Genesis Rabbah. Sarah silently becomes involved in preparing for the guests in her house while Mrs. Lot complains about her husband’s generosity. The punishment fits the crime:she is turned into a pillar of salt after complaining about her husband’s willingness to salt their food!
 – Law: Applying the text to life
One may clear away even four or five baskets of straw or produce ‘on Shabbat’ to make room for guests or on account of the neglect of the house of study.
“To make room for guest…” Rabbi Johanan said: Hospitality to wayfarers
is as ‘great’ as earlyattendance at the house of study, since the sage states, ‘To make room for guests or on account of neglect of theBeit Midrash.’ Rabbi Dimi of Nehardea said: It is ‘greater’ than early attendance at the house of study, because hestates, ‘To make room for guests,’ and then, “on account of neglect of the Beit Midrash.’ Rav Judah said in thename of Rav: Hospitality to wayfarers is greater than welcoming the presence of the Shechinah, for it is written,“And he said, ‘My lord, if now I have found favor in Your sight, pass not away…’” (Gen. 18:3)
Rabbi Eleazar said: Come and observe how the conduct of the Holy One, blessed be He, is not like that of mortals. The conduct of mortals is such that an inferior person cannot say to a greater man,” Wait for me until Icome to you;” whereas in the case of the Holy One, blessed be He, it is written, “and Abraham said, ‘My Lord, if now I have found...’”

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