Parashas Vayeira

One of the events described in this week’s parashah is the destruction of Sodom and the rescue of Avraham’s nephew Lot. Two angels came to Sodom, each charged with one of the two above-mentioned tasks. The Torah relates (Bereishis 19:1-3):
The two angels came to Sodom in the evening, while Lot was sitting at the gate of Sodom; Lot noticed, and he arose to greet them, and he bowed, face to the ground. And he said: “Now, my masters, turn aside, please, to your servant’s house, and spend the night, and wash your feet; then rise early, and go on your way.” And they said: “No—instead we will spend the night in the square.” And he urged them exceedingly, so they turned toward him and came into his house.
The Midrash comments (Bereishis Rabbah 50:4): “And he urged them (וַיִּפְצַר בָּם) – he injected into them agitation and distress (אף וצרה).” The Maggid sets out to explain this baffling remark. Let us consider, he says, why Hashem sent the angels to Lot in the guise of men, so that they would spend the night in his house. In what way was this façade necessary for the angels to carry out their mission? We can explain as follows. Dovid HaMelech writes (Tehillim 7:10): “Let the evil of the wicked destroy them, while You put the righteous one on a firm footing.” On occasion, Hashem, in His ingenuity, will bring about the downfall of a wicked man and the salvation of the righteous in a single stroke. When He sees that a wicked man is approaching his quota of sin, He creates a situation in which the wicked man has the opportunity to chase after a righteous man. If he takes the opportunity, he reaches his quota and becomes fit to be destroyed. At the very same time, as the righteous man is subjected to the wicked man’s pursuit, he is struck with terror that infuses him with intensified fear of Hashem, stronger devotion to serving Him, and greater reliance on His providence. This spiritual rise produces the merit through which the righteous man is saved from the troubles besetting him.
The angels’ activity in Sodom was along similar lines. Hashem sent them to achieve two goals: to pave the way for the people of Sodom to reach their quota of sin and to provide Lot with a way to gain the merit he needed to be saved. The angels appeared to Lot in the guise of men, and when Lot invited them into his house, he gained the merit he needed. Afterward, the people of Sodom surrounded Lot’s house and demanded that he give his guests over into their hands, so that they could abuse them in their usual way. The Midrash in Bereishis Rabbah 50:5 remarks that, after this despicable act committed by the entire city of Sodom, it was no longer possible to put forward any arguments in their defense. They had reached their quota of sin. Lot’s merit and the Sodomites’ wickedness were especially prominent because of the contrast betweeen them. Lot’s persistent urging of the angels to come into his house brought out the Sodomites’ wickedness all the more. Thus, the Midrash expounds: “And he urged them (וַיִּפְצַר בָּם) – he injected into them agitation and distress (אף וצרה).” We can read the second “them” as referring to the people of Sodom: Through his urging of the angels, Lot generated added agitation, distress, and anger toward Sodom, causing their fate to be sealed.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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