In last week’s parasha, Lot left his uncle Avraham for the fertile Jordan valley and set up his tents near Sodom. Sodom’s inhabitants are described as wicked. We might be excused for asking why the Torah is mentioning Sodom’s inhabitants. Lot is living in tents, peacefully grazing his sheep in an idyllic nomad lifestyle in the countryside. How could the evil of the nearby city affect him?
This week we see that Lot is continuing the generous hospitality of his uncle Avraham. The evil of Sodom has seemingly not affected him. And yet… something seems wrong here. Lot is no longer a nomad – he has a house, in the city of Sodom! According to our Sages, he is now a judge, very much a part of Sodom society. Let’s delve further.
The angels tell him that Sodom is to be destroyed for its wickedness. Lot indeed sees that wickedness, as the entire town attacks his house in an attempt to rape his guests. Time is running out and Lot needs to leave. Yet he cannot bear to leave Sodom and needs to be physically removed by the angels. He leaves his married daughters in Sodom– they do not believe him. Even his wife cannot follow the command of the angels not to look back and becomes a pillar of salt. She cannot separate herself emotionally from Sodom.
This story of Lot reminds me of a famous saying. Sir Winston Churchill said that anyone who is eighteen and is not a socialist has no heart. Anyone who is twenty-one and is a socialist has no brain. (Churchill was a Conservative politician at a time when twenty-one was the minimum age for voting)
The idea behind the saying is that the young, if they have a heart, challenge the morals of society. However, as they grow up and become part of society, they adopt its morals out of necessity.
The same can be said about Lot. He begins as the idealistic tent-dweller, separate from the evil town-dwellers. He ends up as one of them.
I have a nightmare that I will settle down in a community, raise my children, and then one day wake up and look at myself. I will see that I don’t pay people on time, that I drive through red lights, that I cheat on income tax, that I ignore the plight of the homeless in my town etc. etc. And I will know that I did all these things because the people around me did them too. I will know that I can reform myself. I will also know that for my children it’s probably too late. Where did my ideals go, why couldn’t I pass them on, I will berate myself.
Lot and Winston Churchill teach us one and the same thing. It is not enough to stand up for your ideals. You also need to choose the right society to live in.
Rabbi Sammy Jackman