Lot And The Concept Of Dugmah Isheet
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Lot and the Concept of Dugmah Isheet:
When reading the story of Lot’s life and times in S’dom we are faced with many confusing contradictions in Lot’s behavior. On one hand, we start off reading the perek with a bias against Lot, as it seems pretty clear from previous pesukim (Breishit 13, 10-13), that Lot settled in the area of S’dom, despite knowing that the people there were “raim v’chataim l’Hashem me’od”. It seems from here that Lot has made the choice to part both from Avraham and from Avraham’s moral ways (as Rashi says - moving away from Avraham and from Avraham’s G-d).
However once Lot gets to S’dom, it seems that on the contrary, Lot actually engages in behavior very much in parallel to the typical acts of his old uncle Avraham. In perek 19, we see that when two melachim come to S’dom, Lot risks his life to go against the law in S’dom forbidding hachnasat orchim, and invites the melachim to take shelter in his house overnight. The entire 1st half of the perek is full of textual parallels to Avraham’s hachnasat orchim to the other three melachim back in perek 18. Both Avraham and Lot get up to greet the guests, they both bow down to them, they offer to wash their guests feet, and there is an emphasis placed on hurrying and zrizut to fulfill the mitzvah in both cases as well.
R’ Hirsch and Rashi both pick up on this and explain that this was Lot showing off what he had learned in Avraham’s house. He was pointing out to the melachim, “See? There is still a nephew of Avraham in this city!”
But wait… at a second glance it seems that there are a few differences between Avraham and Lot’s hachnasat orchim. The Ohr Chaim picks up that in washing the guests feet Lot does the opposite of Avraham and invites the guests in before asking them to wash their feet (linah before rechitza). Or Chaim says that this is because Lot wasn’t as makpid as Avraham was on avoiding avodah zara.
But the most glaring difference is that when the mob attacks Lot’s house demanding the guests – he offers the mob his 2 daughters in place of the guests! (This is almost a direct parallel to the Pilegesh B’Giva’ah story at the end of Sefer Shoftim). What kind of misguided hachnasat orchim is this? It’s hachnasat orchim that results in the murder of two innocent people!
I think that the best way to clarify Lot’s seemingly contradictory behavior here, is to explain it in light of two of the most important words (if you have ever attended a Bnei Akiva camp) in the Hebrew language: Dugmah Isheet, or personal example. This is something that is extremely important for us not only as an Am (in being an Ohr Lagoyim) but also on the individual level.
Lot grew up as a ben bayit in the house of Avraham. He was almost the adopted son, and must have learned the importance of hachnasat orchim from the main role model he was exposed to at that time- the dugmah isheet of Avraham. The dugmah isheet of Avraham affected him to the extent that even when he “went off the derech” to S’dom, he still tried to keep some “halachot” or ethical customs of the house of Avraham. But because he is no longer is exposed to the dugmah isheet of Avraham, and because he now lives in a town where there is NO dugmah isheet to be found at all, his values (as we see from him offering his daughters to the mob) have become mixed up and warped.
Lot it seems is not even capable of being a dugmah isheet himself to his family! R’ Hirsch notes the difference between Avraham’s house and Lot’s house during the mitzvah of hachnasat orchim. In Lot’s house there is “bleak isolation” with just him preparing food. Avraham’s house however is full of “cheerful bustle” since Avraham has succeeded in teaching his household about the values of chesed.
We see here a few points. First is that we should never underestimate the influence we can have on others. Even when Lot left and it looked like he was a lost cause, we see that he had been influenced by Avraham and saw value in hachnasat orchim.
However, we also see how crucial it is to always have a dugmah isheet for us to look up to, wherever we may be. (I am not advocating this in the sense of someone to tell us how to act in every way, but just someone that we look up too, and that we can use as a moral paradigm). Someone that we can look to and say, “This is the person that I want to strive to be”, whether it be in that person’s religious level, community activism, or just sense of yashrut, of being an ethical person.
Sometimes in life (or in Stern) we get so caught up in being the dugmah isheet for others that we forget that we also need a dugmah isheet to look up to. Hopefully we will all learn from Lot’s mistake and search out the many Avraham role models that we are zocheh to have here in our environment for us to look up to. Shabbat Shalom!!
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