Genesis – Chapter 19

There is a surface similarity between the behavior of the Sodomites in regards to Lot’s visitors, and that of the Benjaminites in the notorious episode of the Concubine of Gibeah. (Judges 19)

Ramban points out the basic differences:

In Sodom, cruelty to visitors was an ‘established policy with the Sanction of law and custom.’  It’s purpose was to avoid sharing the generosity of Sodom’s lush prosperity with the needy.

Gibeah had no such law, it’s inhabitants tended to be ungenerous and inhospitable, but there was no sanctioned policy to achieve exclusion of outsiders.  The perpetrators of the atrocity in Gibeah were a powerful hoodlum element; whereas in Sodom the entire population came to torment the visitors.  The Gebeanites did not commit a capitol crime and there was no intention to kill the concubine who had previously committed adultery.  The entire nation of Israel, by rising up in war against the sinful city, demonstrated conclusively that the atrocity was an unprecedented departure from the norm ~ while in Sodom there had never been a protest against the prevailing behavior.

19:1  “..two angels came..”  – one to destroy Sodom and the other, Raphael, who healed Abraham, to save Lot.

Rashi notes that here they are referred to as angels while previously (18:2) they were referred to as men.  When the Divine Presence was with them ~ as it was during their visit to Abraham ~ they were described as men.  In relation to God’s Presence, their superior status as angels faded to insignificance and, relatively, they were like mere mortals.  But now that the Divine Presence had ascended, they resumed their full status as angels.  Alternatively, in connection with Abraham to whom visiting angels was not uncommon, they were referred to simply as men, but Lot was overawed by their presence in his house, and the Torah therefore call them angels. 

“  in the evening..”  – It certainly did not take the angels so long to travel to Sodom.  According to the Midrash, they left Abraham in the mid-afternoon, and since angels move with ‘the swiftness of lightening’, what took so long from the time they left Abraham until they entered the city?  They were angels of Mercy and so they waited until Abraham finished his pleading on the chance that Abraham would succeed in his intercession for the place.  When they saw that he did not succeed, they entered the city to perform their mission. 

Note: It must be re-emphasized that the Torah is not merely a history book and would not tell us that they arrived ‘in the evening’ unless a message was to be derived from the fact.

According to Or HaChaim, they enter ‘in the evening’ to provide Lot the opportunity of offering them hospitality and thereby justify his being saved.  For though it was said that he was saved in Abraham’s merit, nevertheless, some personal merit had to be found.  Furthermore, had they arrived by day, the citizens might have prevented them from entering the city altogether.

When Lot came to Sodom, he emulated Abraham and practiced hospitality.  When the decree was made known in Sodom: ‘Whoever supports the poor with food shall be burned by fire’, he was afraid and did not venture to be hospitable by day but did it at night.  That is why Lot was sitting at the gate of Sodom in the evening.  He was looking for night-travelers to whom he could secretly show hospitality.

“..sitting at the gate..”  – The gates of a city were not a gathering place for idlers, but for the assembly of the dignitaries of the land.  So we find throughout Scriptures that the elders, and judges, stationed themselves at the gate of the cities.  Boaz who was a judge sat at the gate (Ruth 4:1); as did Mordechai who stationed himself at the gate of the king (Esther 2:19).  Solomon praises the woman of valor whose ‘husband is known at the gate, where he sits among the elders of the land’ (Proverbs 31:23).  Commercial transactions took place and disputes were settled at the gate of a city.

19:2  “..my lords..”  – is not sacred.  It is a humble reference to the two gentlemen.

“..turn about to your servants house;..”  Were it still daytime, however, he might now have risked the consequences of so bold an offer; instead he might have simply brought them refreshments without inviting them into his home.  It should be noted, however, that according to the Midrashim, guests were not unusual in Lot’s house; perhaps the idea of harboring two at one time involved more than the usual risk.  These events should also be viewed in the light of the Midrashim which explain that the young girl who was smeared with honey and left to her painful death for feeding strangers was none other than Lot’s daughter.  One can only imagine the deadly fear under which Lot must have made his offer.  Nevertheless, his upbringing in Abraham’s house, in which he was exposed to constant hospitality, had its effects on Lot throughout his life ~ even while a resident of Sodom.

He dared invite them only under cover of dark and even then he had to use every manner of precaution bidding the angels to follow him in devious ways ~ ‘take a turnabout route to my house so you can enter unnoticed.”

“..spend the night and wash your feet..”  – Surely he should have first washed their feet as Abraham did (18:4) and then invited them to spend the night.  However, Lot feared that if the visitors washed their feet first and were then discovered in his house, the Sodomites would have accused him of having harbored them for several days without reporting it.  He, therefore, reasoned that it would be better that their feet remain unwashed, so it would appear that they had just arrived (Rashi); therefore, he asked them not to wash their feet until after they left his house in the morning.

Note: How were the guests discovered after Lot had taken such precautions?  According to Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer, a young boy saw the guests and summoned the others.

The more familiar version (which does not necessarily exclude the above), is the Midrash records that Lot’s wife was not anxious to entertain her husband’s guests, and accordingly did not permit them in her portion of the house.  [That is what Lot implied in describing them as guests who have come under the shadow of my rafters (verse 8).]

As a result an argument ensued which is alluded to Midrashically by the word matzos (verse 3) which can also be translated quarrel (See Exodus 2:13, 21:22, Leviticus 24:10).

When Lot requested that a little salt be given his guests, his wife retorted: ‘Is it not bad enough that you invite these people into the house?  Do you wish to introduce the evil practice of giving salt also?’

So she betrayed him.  She went to a neighbor to borrow some salt.  When asked why she could not have prepared salt during the day, she replied: ‘We had enough salt.  But we need more for some guests.’

In this way, news of the visitors spread through the city.

“And they said, ‘No..”  – They declined Lot’s invitation but they accepted Abraham’s invitation immediately, saying (18:5) “Do as you have said.”  We therefore, infer that one may decline as invitation of an inferior, but not that of a superior (Midrash, Rashi)

19:3  Lot’s urgings were sincere and to his merit.  The angels declined at first in order to increase his merit by having him insist further.  Finally, they consented and took a roundabout route towards his house.

In the literal sense, this verse portrays Lot as preparing the meal, and even baking the matzos himself.  What a sad contrast with the cheerful spirit of hospitality that prevailed in Abraham’s entire household.  Here, neither wife nor child shared the mitzah of the father and husband.  Even in his own home he stood alone.

Nevertheless, Lot did not hesitate to maintain the teachings of Abraham even though he faced the opposition not only of his adopted city but of his own family, and rendered personal service to his guests.

19:4  The Midrashic interpretation of this verse is: Before they had laid down, the angels questioned Lot about the character of the townspeople, and Lot replied that they were wicked.  While the discussion ensued, the Sodomites, from every quarter of the city, surrounded the house.  There was not one righteous person among them to protect.

The most striking and illustrative feature of this public degeneracy was that it united every shade of the population.  Young people were given to sexual excess, but they tend to sympathize with the persecuted.  Older people tend to be callous of suffering, but intolerant of public licentiousness.  The powerful and wealthy are accustomed to treading upon the unfortunate, but they put a stop to public scandal.  But not he Sodomites!  In that corrupt city, all joined in their perverse inhumanity.  (Hirsch)

This graphically emphasizes how even the ten righteous ones on whose behalf Abraham had interceded could not be found in the city and therefore justified God’s decree against them.

The vise of Sodom was well known among the prophets:  Isaiah 1:10, 3:9, 13:19; Jeremiah 49:18; Ezekiel 16:46-57; Amos 4:11, Lamentations 4:6.

19:5  Lot had been praying for mercy on behalf of Sodom that entire night, and the angels were inclined to hear his petition.  (Note: Angels were sent to Sodom as God’s emissaries to make a final determination of the Sodomites guilt as explained in 18:21.  The Sodomites fate had not yet been firmly sealed.)  When all the people of the city converged upon the house with degenerate intent however, the angels warded off his prayers saying: ‘Until now you could intercede on their behalf, but after such morally wrong demands, have you still a mouth to plead for them?  Plead no further.”  (Midrash)

“..that we may know them.”  – know them carnally – The same expression is used in connection with the men of Gibeah (Judges 19:22).  (Rashi)

Ramban’s opinion is that their purpose – in so mistreating strangers – was to prevent the entry of strangers in their land.  Because their fertile land was as excellent as ‘the garden of Hashem (13:10), they imagined that their territory would attract many poor ‘fortune seekers’, and they refused to share their bounty with the less fortunate.  Although they were notorious for every kind of wickedness, their fate was sealed because of their persistent selfishness in not supporting the poor and the needy (Ezekiel 16:49), and because no other nation could be compared to the cruelty of Sodom.

19:7  Lot refers to them as ‘my brothers’.  Perhaps he hoped to appease them, or it may well be that even this gross injustice did not inspire him to reevaluate his relationship to the wicked Sodomites.

19:8  The narrative up to this point related Lot’s hospitality; now it relates his wickedness.  He made every effort to protect the guests because they had come into his home, but he shows himself ready to appease the Sodomites by offering his daughters for immorality, which was apparently not offensive to him, nor did he feel he was doing a great injustice to his daughters.  It is for this reason that the Sages have said: Usually a man will fight to the death for the honor of his wife or daughters, to slay or be slain, yet this man offers his daughters to be dishonored.   Said the Holy One, Blessed by He to him: ‘By your life!  It is for yourself that you keep them!’  The Midrash also adds: ‘for eventually school children will read (v36) that Lot’s daughters came to be with child by their father.’

“come under the shelter of my roof.”  – The Midrash notes that Lot’s expression ‘my roof’ implies that his wife had protested their presence and Lot sheltered them in his portion of the house.

19:9  To Lot’s offer of his daughters, the Sodomites calmly answered “Stand Back!” but to his attempt to be protective of the strangers – in defiance of every Sodomite law against hospitality – they responded ‘This fellow came to stay temporarily…”  (Rashi)

Based on the Midrash interpretation: ‘You wish to destroy the judgments of your predecessors who forbade hospitality?’  Therefore saying ‘…and he would re-judge the judgments…’ ~ condemning them and introducing new ones.  For the Sodomites made an agreement among themselves that whenever a stranger visited them, they should force them to submit to sodomy and rob him of his money.

“..upon the man, upon Lot,”  –  the undertone of ‘man’, one whom they themselves had proclaimed a magistrate over them, nevertheless, they pressed exceedingly upon him, and approached to break the door.

19:10  “The men stretched out their hand..”  – This was measure for measure.  When Lot had invited them into his home, he extended his hand to them and provided for their safety.  Now they reciprocated by extending a hand to protect him.  (Midrash)

“..closed the door.”  – So that in trying continuously to find the entrance until they exhausted themselves (v11), the Sodomites would demonstrate how utterly dedicated they were to wickedness.

19:11  “..both small and great..’  the small (the young) had initiated the wrongdoing, as it is said in verse 4 ‘from young to old’.  Therefore, they are mentioned here first – they are the first to be punished.  (Midrash; Rashi)

Though stricken with blindness, they still did not redirect their efforts and cease their evil plan.  Though blind they stilled sought the door, vainly trying to gain entrance.

19:12  The wickedness of the Sodomites had become irreversible and their doom is announced to Lot.  (Hoffman)

Rashi explains that Lot had four daughters: two of whom were engaged and still lived in his home and two who were married and no longer lived with him.  It is apparently necessary to so interpret because in verse 8, Lot describes his daughters who ‘have never known a man,’ while here sons-in-law are mentioned.  Apparently then there were sons-in-law who married to other daughters and ‘betrothed suitors’ to the two who were with Lot at home.

19:13  Ramban’s explanation in verse 5 was that although there were other very wicked nations on earth, they were not as severely punished as Sodom.  This is because Sodom was part of Eretz Yisrael which, as God’s heritage could not tolerate such a abominations in its midst… and it was also God’s purpose to make it an example to the children of Israel who were to inherit it as it says (Deuteronomy 29:17-24) “Lest there be among you….whose heart turns from Hashem our God… Hashem will not spare him… and shall blot his name from under the heaven… The land shall be brimstone and salt and burning… like the overthrown Sodom and Amorrah, Admah, and Zaboiim which Hashem overthrew in His anger. (Tur)

“..because we are about..”  – The Midrash comments that for revealing God’s secret and intimating that they were going to destroy the place, the ministering angels were banished from their abode in the Divine presence for a period of 138 years (until they re-ascended at Beer Sheba in Jacob’s dream.  These were the angels who Jacob saw ascending the ladder to return to their sacred precincts.)

The calculation is as follows:  The overthrow of Sodom took place when Abraham was 99 years old.  He lived until 175, leaving 76 years until his death.  Jacob was 77 when he saw the dream, making a total of 153.  Deduct the 15 years that Jacob lived during Abraham’s lifetime (Jacob was born when Abraham was 160) and that leaves a total of 138 years from the overthrow of Sodom until Jacob’s dream.

“..Hashem has therefore sent us..”  – Having initially intimated that they were going to destroy the city – thus ascribing the act to themselves – they were now required to admit that the matter was not I their control but in Hashem’s, and that they were but His emissaries.  Therefore, they restated the fact and said ‘Hashem has sent us to destroy it.”

It is significant that in the whole story God is called Hashem – the Name signifying His Attribute of Mercy and His care for the future of mankind.  It was in His Attribute of Mercy that He decreed the destruction of Sodom.  To such depravity, complete annihilation itself is an act of merciful love [for Mankind].  (Hirsch)

19:14  Lot’s initiative to his sons-in-law rather than to his daughters does not indicate an indifference to them.  In the Middle East more than anywhere else, a woman becomes totally subservient to her husband from the time of her marriage.  By the nature of the relationship, Lot could only speak to the husbands.

But Lot’s sons-in-law laughed at him and their dialogue apparently continued until dawn when the angels rushed him and permitted him to take only those who were at hand.  However, Lot’s merit would have been sufficient – had they not laughed and run out of time – to save his entire family.

Lot referred to God destroying the city by His name ‘Hashem’ – which indicates His Attribute of Mercy.  They therefore did not take Lot seriously because, they reasoned, ‘shall Hashem in His Mercy destroy a city?’  But indeed it is so, for ‘the wicked turn the Attribute of Mercy into the Attribute of strict Justice.

Note:  Lot did not attribute the impending destruction to angels but to God Himself.  His sons-in-law laughed because unlike an angelic Destroyer who does not distinguish between the good and the wicked, God does distinguish.  Therefore, they reasoned that if God Himself was the destroyer, any attempt to escape would be futile for He would find them wherever they might flee, while if He wished to spare them, they would remain in the midst of the city and no harm would befall them.  Therefore, they looked at him as foolish to suggest that they flee.

They did not realize however that the target of destruction was the city as an organized society that has selfishness and cruelty at the base of its social order.  Therefore, those who escaped before the destruction would not be overtaken but would be judged on their own merit.  Furthermore, while the Attribute of Mercy decreed the destruction, the execution of the decree was through an angel.

19:15  According to the Midrash, the angels waited until dawn when the Sodomites began to awake so Lot could depart in full view of them all.

Now that their true mission has been revealed, they are referred to as ‘angels’ for the first time since their arrival.  (Ralbag)

The salvation of Lot’s immediate family was perhaps in reward for his hospitality as it is befitting for messengers to save their host and all his belongings, just as the messengers of Joshua similarly saved all the families of their hostess, Rehab (Joshua 6:23).  As the Midrash notes: ‘Because Lot honored the angel by offering him hospitality, he accordingly befriended Lot.

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…..like 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*:  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.  *Rabbi Eliezer lived 80-118C.E.

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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