Thursday, October 18, 2007

the personality of Lot and Avraham's efforts at kiruv

I am a bit confused by the relationship between Avraham and Lot. We view Avraham as the paradigm of kiruv, yet for all his efforts, it seems that Lot remained somewhat estranged. Taking his leave of Avraham, Lot heads to Sdom, a city soon to be destroyed because of its immorality, perhaps indicating his total rebellion against the ways of Avraham. Yet, despite fleeing from Avraham, there is much apparently which Lot did absorb, as we see from his welcoming guests to his home, mimicking Avraham’s behavior (albeit to a lesser degree). Is Lot a rasha fleeing religiosity, a glutton looking no further than the satisfaction of his own desires, or a lost soul in need of more kiruv than even Avraham could provide?

In the prophetic revelation to Avraham at the end of ch 13 the Torah stresses that Hashem’s appearance occurred “acharei hipared Lot mey’imo”, only after Lot’s departure. Rashi writes that as long as “the rasha”, i.e. Lot, remained with Avraham, G-d did not appear to Avraham. I think this harsh condemnation of Lot also highlights Avraham’s extraordinary kiruv efforts. It could not have escaped Avraham’s notice that G-d had ceased to communicate with him while he was in contact with Lot. Yet, Avraham never acted to drive Lot away because of that. Only when Lot’s became a menace to others by engaging in theft did Avraham feel a need to part ways.

Not all the meforshim agree with Rashi’s approach. The Seforno writes that this prophecy occurred to Avraham only after Lot’s departure because the reiteration of the promise of all of Eretz Yisrael to Avraham would only embolden Lot to seize more of their neighbor’s land for himself. Lot is a man with a specific problem that cannot be fed or encouraged, an “addict” to a wrong philosophy, but that does not necessarily mean all prophecy from G-d had ceased because of his presence.


  1. In the chumash itself do we find that Lot really was a bad man? (not including midrashim)

  2. Tal Benschar9:44 PM


    The Chumash says quite plainly that Sodom was especially wicked. Lot chose to be a part of that society. That certainly does not speak well of him.

    While we are in the topic, I once heard a vort from R. Aharon Soloveichik zt"l in the name of his father. Chazal, as brought down by Rashi, say that Lot was appointed a judge in Sdom on the very day that the angels came to destroy it. Now Lot, while no great tsaddik, certainly learned something from Avraham Avinu -- hahchnasos orchim, matzoh. So one would think that appointing someone like Lot as a judge would be an improvement -- yet davka on that day Sdom was destroyed. Why?

    R. Moshe Soloveichik said that it was like the difference between Russia under the Czars and Russia under the Communists. Both had oppressive laws. But under the Czars the judges too were corrupt -- a nice fat bribe and a person could often get out of trouble. Under the Communists, this was not so -- they were true believers who ruthlessly enforced their oppressive laws.

    Sdom was an oppressive society with oppressive laws. Lot was an honest judge. There is nothing worse than an honest judge enforcing oppressive laws -- then there is no escape from the oppression.

  3. Tal,
    I am aware of that. However, it also clearly indicates that Lot was very different than the people of Sodom with the hachnasas orchim episode. Also, you don't really see in the chumash that he chose to live in Sodom because they were evil. The chumash makes it sound like he just chose that area because he thought he could do well financially there.

  4. Lot is a mystery figure in the chumash - why did he accompany Avraham to begin with? Doesn't that says something of his character?

    I am not convinced that choosing to live in Sdom itself is a black mark because there was an ulterior motive - the land in that area was good for grazing (reiterating elamdan's point). Aside from the Ramban, most meforshim do not criticize Avraham from going to Mitzrayim, a land of shtufei zimah, when faced with a famine. I don't mean to equate a famine with the desire for better pasture, but the point is that you need to take motive into account.

  5. I agree with Tal -- choosing to live somewhere because there are better financial opportunities when you are surrounded by a wicked society does not speak well of a person. None of us would move to Wyoming (le-mashal) -- even if in theory we were to receive a financial opportunity there -- because we would not be able to live a Torah lifestyle (shuls, schools, chevra, etc.) So Lot choosing Sdom -- not to save his life from famine -- but to make more money does speak to his values.
    (A vort that I think I heard in the name of R'Kook -- trying to be be-shem omro -- that we wave the lulav on Ana Hashem Hoshia na but not for hatlizcha -- because for a yeshua we should go wherever we need but for hatzlacha, we need to stay where we should be -- I don't recall if the point was to stay in EY or in a makom Torah, but the concept is the same)

    I agree that there seemed to be a good piece of him that internalized Avraham's values but that seemed to be lower down the priority list than the money.