Genesis 19:16 – 19:38

19:16 The angels could wait no longer. God had contained His wrath for the fifty-two years of Sodom’s existence. Now its measure of iniquity was full and its doom was sealed. Although the angels had told Lot to gather his possessions (v12), he had squandered the precious moments allowed him. They could not wait merely to allow Lot to gather his material wealth.

“..the men grasped him…” – Here the angels are once again called ‘men’ because they acted like mortals by grasping the hands of and tugging along those who were being saved.

Rashi explains that the angels are referred to in plural because one was there to save Lot and the other to destroy the city. Since the destruction could not start until Lot and his immediate family were safely out of the city, the acts of removal are described in plural because both angels participated in getting Lot out. This joint participation in the removal of Lot does not constitute a second mission for the destroyer; otherwise this would run counter to the rule that one angel does not perform two missions.

Hirsch explains that Lot did not truly deserve to be saved for he had allowed greed to draw him to Sodom, keep him there, and even allow his children to become so degraded that they laughed at his requests that they escape the impending destruction. His life was saved but he did not go unpunished. His entire ill-gotten fortune was left behind in the destruction of Sodom.

19:17 “..that one said..” – The previous acts, having been performed by both angels in order to expedite Lot’s departure, are described in plural. Now It says ‘one said’ because no longer are both angels assisting Lot. Now that Lot has been removed from the impending holocaust, Gabriel, the angel of destruction, was free to begin his mission, and he returned to perform his task. Therefore, the angel whose mission it was to save Lot (Raphael or Michael) now performed his mission and directed Lot to flee for his life implying ‘Be satisfied with saving your lives; do not think about saving your wealth also.”

“Do not look behind you..” ‘ You are as wicked as they are and you are being saved only because of Abraham. It is not proper for you to look upon their punishment while you yourself are being spared. (Rashi)

According to Rashbam ~ one is not to gaze unnecessarily upon angels performing their tasks as Manoach said after he realized he had seen an angel (Judges 13:22): “We shall surely die because we have seen God”; and Jacob’s exclamation (32:30): “For I have seen God face to face and yet my life was preserved.”

Kli Yakar interprets this as a directive not to look back in regret for the wealth they left behind. Lot’s wife, however, could not make peace with the loss of possessions. Had she been concerned with having money with which to help others she would have been spared. But her punishment revealed her true intention. She was converted to salt, a corrosive substance that eats away the substance of coins. So, too, Lot’s wife. In her hands, money was corrosive, a tool of greed rather than goodness, for it was only Lot who provided hospitality for guests. When his wife turned around it was in selfish grief and fear that when her husband died penniless, none would provide for her. Therefore, the Torah says that she looked ‘behind him’ (verse 26) ~ her concern was for the time when he would be gone.

Ramban comments that no punishment would be inflicted for violation of the angel’s command not to look backward. Rather the angel was warning them of dire consequences that would be a natural result of such a glance, for the mire sight of the atmosphere of destruction and all contagious diseases has a very harmful effect. Furthermore, the destroying angel stood between earth and heaven enveloped in fire as did the angel seen by David (I Chronicles 21:16). It is for this reason he was prohibited from gazing.

The Zohar explains that the Shechinah was about to descend and one such as Lot may not gaze in the Presence of the Shechinah ‘for man may not see Hashem and live.’ (Exodus 33:20)

“..flee to the mountains..” – indicated that Lot should flee to Abraham who was dwelling in the mountain, for as shown by 12:8 and 13:13, he still resided in his tent on the mountain where he originally lived when he came to Canaan. Although Abraham had many tents which extended as far as Hebron (13:18), his primary home did not change. (Rashi)

19:18 The Sages interpret that the word Adonai, My Lord, in this case is sacred and refers to God. The reason for not rendering it as an address to the angel is because Lot continues in the next verse to say that he was speaking to the One Who showed mercy ‘in keeping me alive’. Therefore, this entire phrase – beginning with the introductory My Lord – must refer to Him in Whose power it is to put to death and to keep alive ~ The Holy One Blessed be He. (Shev.35b; Rashi)

19:19 Rashi, based on the Midrash, continues his interpretation of verse 17 that Lot was ordered to flee to the mountain where Abraham resided: Lot pleaded, ‘Please do not ask me to go to the mountain to my uncle Abraham. When I dwelt among the Sodomites, God compared my righteousness to theirs and in comparison to them, I deserved to be saved. But if I go to the righteous one (Abraham), I will be considered wicked by comparison.

18:20 ‘..this city is near..’ – Rashi explains ‘near’ is not referring to distance but to nearness in time: it was populated recently and so its measure of sin is not yet full. This interpretation is based on Shabbos 10b: ‘A man should always seek to dwell in a city which was recently populated, for since it was, it’s sins are few ~ as it is said, ‘Behold, please, this city is near and small.’

“..and it is small;” – Because Lot had been forbidden to even look back, he understood that he was meant to be left with no possessions ~ nothing but his life. Now he argued that the poverty of living in insignificant Zoar would be equivalent to being left with only his life.

Lot gave two reasons for his request that Zoar be spared. 1) It was but a small city and it is natural for a village to be less steeped in immorality than a big city. Therefore, Zoar had not descended to Sodom’s level of wickedness. 2) ‘So I may live’ – spare it so I can survive.

The difference between the two reasons is that according to the former, the city should be spared entirely, while according to the latter, its destruction should be postponed until such time as Lot departs from it.

19:21 “And he replied..” – The angel replied in God’s Name, for Lot was not worthy of direct communication with God.

“I have granted you consideration even regarding this,..” – i.e. not only will you be saved, but I will also save the entire city of Zoar for your sake. (Rashi)

Radak derives from this that angels, as intelligent beings, are granted the authorization from God to modify their instructions according to their own judgment and assessment of particular circumstances. Ramban (v 12), however, perceives no suggestion of independence in the angel’s sudden concession; rather the angel was acquainted with the intentions of God Who had granted Lot’s request.

“..that I not overthrow the city..” – According to the Midrash, the city itself was not overthrown but its residents were ultimately destroyed. Perhaps this is why Lot ‘was afraid to remain in Zoar’ (v30), filled as it was with corpses. In the literal sense, however, the commentators maintain that Zoar was spared intact with its citizens.

19:22 This refers to the upheavel which had to wait for Lot’s safe arrival in Zoar; the sulfur and fire from God, however, had begun descending with dawn.

Note: The sulfur and fire had already begun raining down from the moment the morning broke, referring to verse 15: ‘just as dawn broke’, the time when the moon is in the sky together with the sun.

Because some of the Sodomites worshipped the sun and others the moon, God said, “If I punish them by day, the moon worshippers may say, ‘Had it taken place at night when the moon holds sway, we would not have been destroyed.’ However if I punished them by night, then sun worshippers might say, ‘Had it taken place by day when the sun holds sway, we would not have been destroyed.’”

Therefore, it is written ‘just as dawn broke’, for He punished them at a time when both the moon and the sun are in the sky.

Thus, according to Rashi, the descent of the sulfur and the fire does not sequentially follow Lot’s entry into Zoar when the sun had already risen upon the earth (v23) but preceded it and began at dawn. This is why the angels urged him on ‘lest he be swept away’ and it is thus that Abraham upon waking up early in the morning (v27-28) was already able to see the smoke rising. The angel’s remark: ‘I cannot do anything until you arrive there’ (v22), referred only to the overthrowing of the cities; the sulfur and fire from God, however, had already begun descending since dawn.

Be’er Yitzchak adds that the best proof that the Destruction described in these verses began before Lot entered Zoar lies in the narrative itself for in verse 25, Lot’s wife is described at having peered behind her (during their flight to Zoar) and having been turned into a pillar of salt from witnessing the Destruction which had obviously already begun.

“..for I cannot do a thing..” – This forced admission by the angel of his powerlessness was his punishment for having boosted (v13) ‘we are about to destroy this place’, implying an independent initiative. Now the matter could not be concluded until they were compelled to make this admission that they were powerless. (Rashi)

19:23 This refers to sunrise, at which time the sun becomes visible on the horizon. It is later than dawn mentioned in verse 15 when Lot departed from Sodom on his hurried escape. Thus the entire journey is estimated in the Midrash as having taken as long as the lapse of time between dawn and sunrise.

19:24 “..caused to rain sulfur and fire” – the term rain is used because it descended first as rain. Nothing evil descends directly from heaven. First, it descended as rain, only when it approached earth did it turn to sulfur and fire.

19:25 “He overturned these cities..” – Some read this as ‘He reversed these cities’ ~ what had previously been a fertile region ~ “Well watered… the garden of Hashem’ (13:10) He now turned it into barren desolation; its stones had been the place of sapphires; it had dust of gold; earth out of which comes bread, was overturned as if it were fire (Job 28:5-6). He rained down sulfur and fire upon it and utterly devastated it, from man to beast to vegetation. (Radak; Abarbanel).

The Midrash says: ‘To this very day, if one collects rain from the atmosphere of Sodom and pours it into a furrow, it will not promote growth.’

19:26 According to Ramban, Lot’s wife Edis (Iris) was filled with compassion for her two married daughters who had been left behind in Sodom and she turned to see if they were following her. She saw the Shechinah and became a pillar of salt.

She sinned through salt and was therefore punished through salt. When Lot asked her to bring salt for guests, she replied, “Do you wish to institute this evil custom of hospitality, also, into our city?”

Ralbag explains that by her very act of showing compassion upon ‘the hatred of God’ who did not believe enough to join in saving themselves, she thereby also sinned. Thus, when her compassion caused her thoughts to cleave to them and she turned around, the punishment overtook her as well.

The Midrash notes, had Lot’s wife been righteous, she would not have come to harm ~ certainly not in this manner.

Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer (Rabbi Eliezer lived 80-118C.E.): She beheld the Shechinah and became a pillar of salt, which still stands (at the time that Midrash was redacted. Oxen lick it every day until it dwindles down to the toes of her feet; by the morning it has risen up again.

19:27 Abraham arose early and went to the place to which he had accompanied the angels (18:16, 22, 23) for it was there that ‘the Hand of Hashem’ had come upon him. Having failed to find earned merit in their behalf, he now came to plead for their mercy but it was too late. Destruction had already begun, as Abraham was soon to witness.

19:28 He looked toward Sodom and saw the fusion of the heavenly sulfur and fire which had scorchingly rained down since the crack of dawn and had by now created a column of smoke so thick that it resembled the smoke rising from a kiln.

19:29 The Torah, in its usual style now proceeds to summarize that to which it had earlier alluded: That Lot had been spared was due entirely to his uncle, Abraham.

“..God remembered Abraham..” – What bearing does God’s remembering of Abraham have to do with the rescue of Lot? He remembered that Lot compassionately kept silent and did not betray Abraham when he told Pharaoh that Sarah was his sister; therefore, God now had compassion upon Lot. (Rashi)

Note: The primary factor determining reward and punishment is a person’s own deeds. When someone is saved for the sake of a tzaddik, it is not just because the person is righteous. Rather it is because someone who considers bound up with the life of a righteous person deserves to survive on his account. Lot still felt an attachment to Abraham. He had endured hardship for Abraham’s sake, had accompanied him, learned from him and as history testifies, was to become part of Abraham’s destiny because Ruth and Naamah descended from him. Ishmael’s descendants, however, who severed their ties with Abraham, received no divine favor on his account.

The Torah emphasizes that he was not taken away before the upheavel began for this would not have been such an obvious miracle; rather Lot was plucked away ‘from the midst’ of the upheavel which had already begun. Had he left Sodom earlier, when the angel wanted him to, his own merit would have sufficed to save him. But because he waited until the destruction began, this verse makes clear that he was saved only because God remembered Abraham.

19:30 Moab and Ammon, Lot’s daughters ~ the roots of Jewish Monarchy

Lot’s daughters were modest, righteous women whose actions were motivated for the sake of heaven. Therefore, they did not ask their father to mate with them and the Torah does not lavel their actions as adulterous. They sincerely thought there was no other way to insure the propagation of the species. Because their intentions were pure, they merited that Ruth, ancestress of David, and Naanah, queen of Solomon and mother of Rechavam, should descent from them.

Lot became afraid to stay in Zoar. Now that he lived among them and witnessed their wickedness, he feared that as soon as their measure of iniquity was full, they too would be doomed. (Radak)

According to the Midrash, however, the residents of Zoar were annihilated, and this is why Lot was afraid to stay there.

Hoffman remarks: Having seen Abraham’s concern for Lot and that Lot’s life had been saved for the second time thanks to Abraham, we would have expected Lot to return gratefully to his loving uncle. But it was not to be. Instead, an act occurred that caused the final break between them. From Lot were born two nations conceived in impurity. Abraham no longer cared to associate with Lot, who was never again mentioned in the Torah.

19:31 “..there is no man..” – According to Rashi, they thought that the whole world had been destroyed as it was during the Flood. And again, the Midrash does cite that all the inhabitants of Zoar were killed as part of the upheavel, therefore, the fear of Lot’s daughters is easily understandable.

Rav Yosef Kara suggests that the motivation behind Lot’s daughters scheme was prompted rather by their observation that their father was old and it was futile to expect him to take a new wife, while at the same time they would not find a husband, for they would not find a man willing to marry them since they had lived among people who had deserved such a disaster. They, therefore, devised their scheme to assure continuity of their father’s line.

19:32 Perhaps Lot’s daughters were motivated by a sense of sincere duty (being under the impression that the destruction was universal) to take whatever steps they could to give birth to a son and a daughter through whom the earth could be rebuilt, and thereby demonstrate it was not in vain that God had saved them. (Ramban)

19:33 Where did the wine come from? According to the first view in the Midrash, wine was available in the cave because owing to the abundance of wine in the area, the Sodomites used to store wine in caves.

“..he was unaware..” – Rav Shimon says, “and he was not aware” means that it was God’s purpose to raise from her King David, King Solomon, all the other kings, and ultimately King Messiah. (Zohar)

19:34 The older daughter planned and orchestrated the entire episode. In naming the sons, she was the more brazen of the two. Indeed, we find that of the descendants, the Moabites were more immoral than her sisters Ammonite nation as in Numbers 25:1. (Hoffman)

19:36 We are told that they conceived from the intimacy of that night, for there was never any further contact between them, their only purpose being to ‘give life to offspring’. (Radak)

Additionally, the phrase ‘their father’ is included to accentuate Lot’s shame. He was lustful and allowed himself to be caught in such a situation. Therefore, he deserved to have his shame inscribed in the Torah for all future generations to know, and for all to hear when this portion is read in the Synagogues.

Note: When the Holy One, Blessed by He, came to give the Torah to Israel, He revealed Himself not to Israel alone, but to all the peoples… He went to the peoples of Ammon and Moab and asked them, ‘Will you accept the Torah?’ They asked, ‘What is written in it?’ He replied, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ (Exodus 20:13) They answered, ‘Sovereign of the Universe! How can we accept the Torah? We epitomize immorality for our very existence orginated through incest!’

19:37 Moab (i.e. ‘from father’) – This daughter who was immodest openly proclaimed his origin as being ‘from the father’, (thus publicizing her indecent act) but the younger daughter delicately veiled the name by naming him Ben-Ami which means ‘a son of my people’. She was rewarded for this in the time of Moses, who was commanded regarding the Ammonites (Deuteronomy 2:19): ‘Do not contend with them’ – in any manner; it was even forbidden to annoy them.

Regarding the Moabites, however, it was forbidden to wage war against them (Deuteronomy 2:9); annoying them, however was permitted. (Rashi)

Although the Sages proclaimed (Bava Kamma 38b): ‘Let a man do a good deed at the earliest opportunity, for on account of the one night whereby the elder preceded the younger, she merited to precede the younger by four generations in Israel: Obed, Jesse, David, Solomon who were ascended from Ruth the Moabitess, whereas the younger had to wait until Rehaboam, son of Na-amah the Ammonitess through Solomon. Nevertheless, she is criticized for having disgraced her father’s honor for all eternity by giving the child that indecent name. (Tur)

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