In Genesis 19:8 Lot offers his daughter to the men of Sodom instead of his two visitors (the angels). This had always bothered me. I can’t imagine throwing my daughter out of my house to be raped. Can you explain this mindset to me?
To put it simply: No, we cannot explain this mindset to you. And, if we may say so, that may not be the best question. The Bible isn’t literature where we look at character development to better understand the story. We look at character development in the Bible, among many other things, in order to better understand the world and ourselves.
Perhaps in a number of hours of study, we could look at each word, indeed each letter, in this section of the Bible and begin to get a comprehensive picture, but in the limitations of an Ask the Rabbi column, we can’t begin to do this justice.
However, we get so many more questions than we can answer and we decided not to just put yours to the side because of one point it gives us the opportunity to share.
Lot is a fascinating person. Brought up in the home of Abraham and Sarah, he had an unparalleled bird’s-eye-view of a Godly home. He chooses to leave this blessed home. He picks the most immoral city in the area in which to live, but at the same time he continues the traditions he saw in his youthful home and welcomes guests. This is an action punishable by death in his society. Ruth is a descendant of his, yet out of very strange circumstances brought about by his daughters – those same girls he offered to the men of Sodom. Lot isn’t seen as a wicked person but neither is he righteous.
There is a lot going on here and you can see why we can’t possibly understand Lot in a few hundred words. What we would like to raise as the start of a thought process, is whether Lot represents the mistakes made by a good person when he decides to rely on his own moral judgments rather than clinging to an external, immutable code.
Lot absorbed from Abraham and Sarah the importance of welcoming guests. What he didn’t absorb is that this is part of an entire tapestry of conduct. Taken in isolation it becomes warped. He reacts to circumstances based on situational, personal ethics. He does what seems right to him at the time without considering that there might be an objective best action.
We want to relate a well-known account. Early in the 20th century lived an outstanding rabbi who was awakened one night by sounds of an intruder. Going downstairs he interrupted a burglar packing the family’s silver goblets, menorahs and other religious memorabilia. The burglar dashed out of the front door with his swag. The rabbi ran after him yelling all the way down the main road, “You can have it all. It’s a gift. Keep it; I’m gifting it all to you!”
Now, before dismissing the rabbi as a demented or troubled soul, give it a moment’s reflection. The rabbi knew that his chances of ever receiving back his family’s possessions were small to non-existent. So at this point, he was no longer thinking of himself, rather he was thinking of the world. He decided that the world was worse off with one more burglar. As a result, he yelled after the miscreant that he was converting him from a burglar to the recipient of a gift. Now, perhaps, the world had one less person who thought of himself as an outlaw.
To Lot, all was lost. There was no good outcome from the mayhem being unleashed by this sinister mob. Believing that homosexual rape was a bigger sin than heterosexual rape, he made what he considered the best of a bad situation. It is rather hard to rely on yourself as the source of all knowledge.
Continue to be bothered and questioning,
Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin
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