Shabbos Parashas Vayeira

1. The Torah relates that when Lot brought guests (angels in the guise of men) into his home, the people of Sodom surrounded Lot’s house and demanded that he hand the guests over to them and allow them to abuse them. Lot urged the people not to act wickedly. The people denounced Lot, saying (Bereishis 19:9): “This one came to sojourn, and he is judging as a judge?” The Maggid analyzes the phrase “judging as a judge.” He quotes a Midrash in Bereishis Rabbah 50:5 that relates a discussion between the angels and Lot about Sodom. The angels asked Lot: “The men of this city, what are they like?” Lot replied: “Every place has its good men and its bad ones, but here the masses are bad.” The Maggid explains that the Sages are describing how the people of Sodom were much more wicked than the typical sinner. Hashem despises all sinners and views them with contempt, but He judged the men of Sodom with special harshness, viewing them as utterly abominable. Sinners come in different types. Some people sin only occasionally, when struck with a momentary attack of intense desire. Afterward they repent, regret what they did, and resolve not to do it again. A worse type of sinner is the habitual sinner: someone who is perpetually caught in the grip of desire, and continues to sin even though he knows he is sinning. The men of Sodom were worse still: They did not even see that they were sinning. Of men like these, Yeshayah declares (verse 5:20): “Woe to those who say that good is bad and bad is good.”
The men of Sodom considered their ways proper, and took steps to ensure that they would maintain them. As Shlomo HaMelech says (Mishlei 21:10): “The soul of a wicked person desires evil.” They appointed judges to enforce their evil code of conduct. The names of their five chief judges, which the Midrash in Bereishis Rabbah 50:3 records, reflects the way they judged: Keitz Sheker (Captain of Falsehood), Rav Sheker (Chief of Falsehood), Rav Mastidin (Chief of Perverted Justice), Rav Naval (Chief of Depravity), and Kla Pandeir (Kidnapper). It is to this institutionalized wickedness that Lot referred when he told the angels that the masses of Sodom are evil.
Now, on the very day that the angels came to Sodom, Lot had been appointed as a judge. He was expected to enforce Sodom’s evil code of conduct just like the other judges of Sodom. Afterward, the angels came, and Lot brought them into his house. The townspeople then came on the scene, seeking to abuse these visitors, in accord with Sodom’s code of conduct. But Lot kept them from doing so. The townspeople exclaimed: “This one came to sojourn, and he is judging as a judge? He wants to replace our established laws with new ones, based on what people in other places consider just. How dare he act as a judge of our system of justice!”
2. When the angels rescued Lot and his family from the destruction of Sodom, they told them not to look back. Lot’s wife disobeyed this instruction and was turned into a pillar of salt. The Maggid explains this matter as follows. The order to Lot and his family not to look back as they left Sodom had a distinct purpose: It gave them the chance to earn the merit that would enable them to escape to safety. The angels had come and told Lot that Sodom, a physically magnificent city, was going to be gutted on the next day and turned into a pile of rubble. To believe this message required great faith. Indeed, as the Torah states, Lot’s sons-in-law ridiculed the message and ignored it. The Midrash in Bereishis Rabbah 50:9 elaborates, recording what they said: “The city is full of music and rejoicing; it is not going to be suddenly destroyed.” Thus, the fact that Lot believed the message was a great merit for him. Yet, it was not certain that he believed the message with complete conviction; perhaps he had doubts, and was heeding the angels’ instructions only to be on the safe side, just in case the prediction was true. He therefore was tested by being ordered not to look back as he left, so he could not check whether Sodom had really been destroyed. Lot’s wife, in fact, doubted the angels’ prediction, and it was only to be on the safe side that she joined Lot as he left the city. She therefore constantly looked back to see whether the prediction had come true. Due to her lack of faith, she did not deserve to escape to safety, and so she was turned into a pillar of salt.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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