Haphazardness, Haughtiness and Hopelessness

Naaleh_logo Shiur provided courtesy of Naaleh.com

Shira Smiles shiur 2021/5782

Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein

In the midst of the Torah’s tracing the origins of Bnei Yisroel beginning with our Patriarch Avraham, the Torah seems to introduce a tangential story of the daughter’s of Lot and their conceiving children from their father, naming one son Moav and the other Amon.

While the story of Lot, Avraham’s nephew, is important in showing us how Avraham cared for members of his family even at great risk in war, once Lot and Avraham Avinu separate with Lot settling in the evil Sodom, what relevance does his story have to us as Jews? Most importantly, why relate all the sordid details of the affair with his daughters?

It is important to note, writes Rav Bachya, that Lot’s daughters were righteous women. Thinking that all the world was destroyed, they felt it their duty to perpetuate the human race with the only male they thought was available, their father. It is within this context that we must study this episode and gain insight into their importance for Judaism, and especially for the Jewish monarchy who descended from them, beginning with David, a great grandson of Ruth the Moavite, continuing with Naamah, Solomon’s wife, descended from Amon, and culminating IY”H soon with the arrival of Moshiach.

Let us begin our discussion with the names Lot’s daughters’ gave their sons, Moav and Amon. Moav literally means from my father, while Amon means from my nation. Given that a person’s name influences a person and contains his essence, parents generally think deeply about the name they will give their child, whether to capture the traits of a loved one or the particular characteristics a name evokes. Other than the purely physical translation of the name Moav, what other characteristics can we ascribe to this name that could teach us important lessons and also give us insights into the character traits necessary for a Jewish monarch?

A medrash tells us that at one time this parsha of Lot and his daughters was read every Shabbat. While today we read it only once a year, the message is important. Before cohabiting with him, Lot’s daughters got him to a state of intoxication. Reading this passage should therefore serve as a graphic warning to guard ourselves against intoxication.

Letitcha Elyon cites an unusual occurrence chronicled by Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l. One of the men in his hometown came down with an unusual illness in which his tongue became very swollen. When Rav Moshe visited him, the man related a dream he had that explained his illness. He related that Lot’s daughters came to him in a dream and revealed that they had named their children such seemingly derogatory names for the honor of Heaven, lest people say there were no men around and they had conceived through immaculate conception, creating a new religion. Because this gentleman had slandered them and spoke of them in derogatory terms, he was punished through his tongue that spoke this loshon horo. After relating this dream to Rav Moshe, he turned his face to the wall and died.

How careful we must be when speaking of others, for we cannot know their true motivation. These names were not names of defiance and chutzpah, but names purely for the sake of Heaven. Do we need further proof of the pure motivation of these women than that the ruling dynasty for our nation is descended from them?

Nevertheless, the children experienced shame as a result of these names, writes Rabbi Matlin in Netivot Chaim. After all, there had in fact been other men in the world. The sons realized God had saved them not for their own merit but in the merit of Avraham. This shame was transformed into hatred for Avraham and his descendants. It manifested itself into an attempt to destroy the purity of Bnei Yisroel, most obviously when Balak, King of Moav hired the Prophet Bilaam to curse the Jews in the Plains of Moav, and continuing most severely after the attempt at cursing failed. Then the Moavites were willing to sacrifice their own women to lure Jewish men into depraved sexual acts, much as Lot himself was willing to sacrifice his daughters to the Sodomite horde surrounding his house. It was Ruth, under the mentorship of Naomi, who rectified this licentious streak, reclaimed the moral dignity, and erased the shame when she lay at the feet of Boaz on the threshing floor, for the sake of Heaven, awaiting a levirate marriage to this eighty year old man, writes Rabbi Yehoshua Bachrach in Mother of Royalty.

Royalty of Israel stems not only from Ruth but also from Tamar, whose liaison with Yehudah also appears questionable on its surface. The Ro”sh explains that effective royalty needs a touch of shame and humility to counteract the arrogance that royalty often fosters.

Let us return to the significance of the name Moav, from father. Shiure Harav delves into the character of Lot. Growing up in the household of his uncle Avraham, Lot learned the lessons of chesed and hospitality. What diverted him from a path of righteousness to a path of evil was his love of wealth. For Avraham Avinu, the motivation for his actions and the purpose of his wealth was creating and intensifying his relationship with Hashem. For Lot, his personal wealth and possessions were primary, and his relationship with God could not conflict with that primary goal. His eyes lured him to the fertile land of Sodom in spite of its evil reputation.

Lot does give to others. He hosted the angels/men at great risk. But his loving acts are unfettered. He does not put proper boundaries on his chesed. Lot’s criteria for chesed were did the action make him feel good, not if it was proper. His daughters wanted to continue the chesed legacy of their father, love without boundaries, free love.

The Torah itself uses the word chesed to mean not only loving kindness, but also disgrace. In describing incestuous relationships in Vayikra, the Torah calls these relationships chesed. As Radak explains, this disgrace is a result of overindulgence, of giving pleasure without discipline, the other side of the coin of love. Chesed must be tempered with gevurah/strength and discipline. Avraham Avinu controlled his chesed to serve Hashem, acting counter to that emotion when Hashem so instructed, whether it was to dismiss Hagar and Ishmael from his house or binding Isaac as a sacrifice. The key for Avraham Avinu was service to Hashem, not the feel good of giving (although one need not deny that feeling).

Here lies an important lesson in parenting. Parents always want to give to their children. But to constantly give without restraint begins to emulate Lot rather than Avraham. It is counterproductive, and produces spoiled, irresponsible children.

Ruth the Moavite refines that love from her ancestors. By placing boundaries around that love, she elevates it. Boaz acknowledges the greatness of Ruth. He tells her, “Your second chesed/kindness is greater than your first.” Ruth’s first chesed, explains the Nachalat Yosef, was Ruth’s conversion. While Yitro and Rachav converted because they recognized the greatness of Hakodosh Boruch Hu, Ruth converted in order to cling to Naomi, to become part of “your nation, your God…” In following Naomi, Ruth internalized the chesed that is the core of Torah. And this is the trait that will bring the final redemption through Moshiach, the descendant of Ruth when Hashem remembers the chesed of our Forefathers, as we recite daily in the first blessing of the Amidah.

Ruth’s second chesed was taking the love of Lot and refining it. Instead of running after the young men who may have wooed the beautiful Ruth, she chose to restrain that love and keep it for a Godly commanded levirate marriage. In contrast to Lot, she was not interested in wealth. She could have returned to Moav as a princess, as Orpah had done, instead of following Naomi.

Lot’s obsession with wealth can be deduced from the convoluted wording of the Torah, writes Rabbi Schwab. When Lot is taken hostage, the Torah writes, “And they captured Lot and his possessions, Avraham’s nephew…” By writing “possessions” between “Lot” and “Avraham’s nephew,” the Torah is telling us that Lot himself had a closer relationship to his possessions than he had to his Uncle Avraham.

Rabbi Schwab suggests that we metaphorically read this passage every week on Shabbat. Do we take the spirit of Shabbat with us as we make Havdalah, or do we immediately engross ourselves in the mundane, in business, in technology? If our mundane interests chase away our spiritual aura so quickly, may we not also be severing our connection to the faith of Avraham Avinu just as Lot did?

Seforno detects a different mindset in Lot’s daughters. It is not that there were no men who survived whom they could marry. Rather, they felt there was no Ish/Prominent Man alive who could be worthy of them and their social standing except their father. This they felt was the appropriate thing to do in spite of how people would talk. This kind of haughtiness is usually frowned upon in Judaism. However, some arrogance and backbone is necessary for a proper king; his position demands respects, writes the Shem Mi’shmuel. Indeed, timidity was the tragic flaw of our first king, Saul, who “hid among the vessels,” and who later deferred to the wishes of the people and let King Agag of Amalek live counter to Hashem’s implicit instructions.

Even haughtiness can be used positively when standing up for what is right, notes Rabbi Goldwicht. Lot, to his credit, although himself a judge, flouted the laws of Sodom to bring guests into his home. Ruth could have returned with Orpah to a life of ease in Moav. Instead, she chose to follow her mother in law Naomi, barefoot and penniless, into Israel.

We are all children of the King, reminds us rabbi Moshe Shapiro in Mimaamakim. We all need backbone to resist the fads of society and stand up for what is right, to stand against public pressure.. Often the norm in shul is to indulge in some conversation during davening. Those who refuse to be part of the dialogue are sometimes mocked as “Rebbetzins.” Nevertheless, as daughters of the King, we are meant to stand proud and firm against this peer pressure. We are meant to use this characteristic of Moav positively.

On the other hand, the flip side and negative characteristic of Moav was despair. Instead of hoping for a suitable match to present itself, Lot’s daughters immediately despaired and plotted to conceive from their father.

Earlier, the King of Moav despairs of surviving Israel’s approach and hires Bilaam to curse the Jews, even knowing that if Bilaam is unhappy, he is capable of cursing those who hired him. Because of their despair, they were willing to risk this possibility. Dovid, son of Ruth and Boaz, becomes the counter force to this despair, writes Be’er Hachaim. Ruth had lost everything, but retained hope as she follows Naomi. Boaz had lost his wife and all his children, but was ready to build anew with Ruth. Their great grandson, David, describes himself as Va’ani tefillah/I am hope, prayer. King Chizkiyahu was on his death bed, but did not give up hope. He prayed and lived another fifteen years. Even on the way to the gas chambers of Auschwitz, the Jews continued to sing Ani Ma’amin/I believe with full faith in the coming of Moshiach.

The name Moshiach itself conveys this message, continues Rabbi Steinwurzel.. We can easily change the vocalization of the word to read Mei-siach/from prayer; Moshiach will come through our prayers. Yei’ush/despair has the numerical equivalent of 317. How do we go one better? Through prayer, through Siach, with the numerical equivalent of 318. Avraham Avinu continued to pray for Sodom, even though the fate of the city had already been sealed. But through these prayers, Lot was saved, and through Lot and his daughters Moshiach will descend.

The worst thing a Jew can do is reconcile himself to his fate, writes the Netivot Shalom, citing the Maharam of Kubrin. A Jew must always long for and believe in salvation. A Jew must take the despair of Moav and transform it into tefillah and hope.

Our world is spiraling out of control. We are living in a world where the water of desire is seeping into our personal space and environment. How can we not despair? Bnei Yisroel was redeemed from Egypt because they did not succumb to the unbounded sexual mores of their environment. The waters of the Red Sea split because they, and especially Yosef, kept their physical desire in check. They walked on the yabashah/dry land within the Sea. Rabbi Schorr in Halekach Vehalebuv turns our attention to our morning berachot. We bless Hashem Who spreads out the earth over the water. The dry land beneath our feet, the yabashah, equaling 317 pushes back on the yei’ush, also 317. We ask Hashem to help us put boundaries against the unbridled desire of Moav to counter the despair that infuses Moav.

We further bless Hashem Who girds Yisroel with strength. It is a belt that separates the upper body from the immodesty of the lower body. The Torah tells us that when Avraham Avinu set out to save Lot, he took with him 318 men who had joined his household. Halekach Vehalebuv interprets this homiletically. He took only Eliezer with him; Eliezer numerically equals 318 one more than despair. But Eliezer also means God will help me. Avraham Avinu took his faith in the One with him, adding that to Eliezer, and prayed, and Hashem gave Avraham victory.

As Jews, we must always stand up with pride in our relationship with Hakodosh Boruch Hu. That faith will be the weapon we need against the despair that surrounds us and wants to pull us down. The pride and haughtiness of Moav can be used to serve Hashem.