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by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler
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And the two angels came to Sedom in the evening, and Lot was sitting at the gate of Sedom, and when Lot saw them he rose up to meet them, and he bowed down with his face to the ground.
When the son-in-law of the Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi Aharon Ha-cohen, was young, he looked for a rabbinic position for himself. When such a position opened up in a small town, Rabbi Aharon tried very hard to obtain it but was unsuccessful. This caused him a great deal of anguish.
The Chofetz Chaim saw his anguish and said to him, "Don't worry. If you did not get the position you desired, it is a sign from Heaven that you do not need to serve as a rabbi. When I was young," added the Chofetz Chaim, "I myself served as a rabbi in a town, and I resigned. Let me tell you the reason.
"In that town," began the Chofetz Chaim, "one of the butchers was caught selling treif meat. I called the butcher and reprimanded him, and forbade him to continue working as a butcher.
"A few days later, his wife and family came to me, and they cried before me, claiming that the butcher had repented of his past actions and had made a solemn promise that he would not repeat what he had done, and therefore they were requesting of me to allow him to return to his job as a butcher. I summoned him to come to me, and I saw that he did indeed regret his actions, so I fined him, in order that people would see what happens if you do such a thing, and then I allowed him to continue working as a butcher, as it is allowed according to the Shulchan Aruch.
"A few years passed and the butcher died," continued the Chofetz Chaim. "Shortly afterwards, I was sitting in the vacant women's section of the shul learning Torah, and I fell asleep. I dreamt that three people, whose faces shone like the sun, appeared before me. I was terribly frightened, but they told me not to be afraid.
"They said, 'We have come from heaven, and we would like to ask you a question. At the time you fined the butcher, what was your motive? Did you do so in order that the butcher would gain heavenly forgiveness, or did you do it without that intention, fining him simply because it is customary to do so in such circumstances?'
"I tried to recollect," continued the Chofetz Chaim, "And I said to them that I had simply done what the Shulchan Aruch says to do, but that I had no intention of causing the butcher to gain forgiveness for his sin. When I finished speaking to them, they disappeared.
"A few minutes later, the butcher appeared in my dream, and he was as black as the night. He cried and pulled out his hair and said to me, 'What do you want from me? They sent me to the seventh and lowest level of gehinnom. When I was brought to judgement, they accused me of selling treifos. I claimed that I had obtained forgiveness, proven by the fact that Rabbi Yisroel Meir Ha-cohen fined me, and allowed me to return to my position. But the prosecutor claimed that the fine was simply a fine, and was not imposed in order for me to obtain forgiveness. The court of heaven decided that it was necessary to ask the rabbi himself what was the reasoning behind the fine, and they came to you. If you would have said that the fine was for forgiveness, then they would not have sent me to the lowest level of gehinnom.'
"I awoke from my dream," concluded the Chofetz Chaim, "and then I resigned from my position as rabbi. There were other reasons, but this was the main one. If I was the cause of a soul going down to the lowest level of gehinnom, why did I need to be the town's rabbi?"
Then the Chofetz Chaim turned to his son-in-law and said, "Now do you understand? You should not worry that you did not get the rabbinical position you desired."
The Chofetz Chaim had no enthusiasm for rabbinical positions due to the grave responsibilities involved, and that is why he discouraged his son-in-law. If he had felt his son-in-law's aspirations were important, he would have shown enthusiasm and tried to encourage him to apply for another such position. The same is true regarding our children. We must show them enthusiasm for important things such as mitzvos and console them for disappointments which are not so critical.
This is the meaning of the verse, "He who walks with wise people shall become wise, but a companion of fools shall suffer."(1)
Why, in the parable of the perfume factory, is it mentioned that the person had not bought nor had he sold, since most people enter for business purposes? Why did Avraham give people food and drink, when it seems that his real purpose was to make them believe in G-d? Why do our Sages tell us that Lot took in guests by night? How did Lot's hospitality towards the angels provide him with the merit he needed to be saved from Sedom? Why were Lot and his family not allowed to look at the Holy Presence, which subsequently prevented them from seeing the destruction of Sedom? Why was Idit, the wife of Lot, punished, when she looked back only out of compassion for her daughters? Why was her punishment that she became a pillar of salt, which was so unlike the punishment of Sedom? How did this correspond to her sin?
"He who walks with wise people," to whom is he compared? To a man [who] enters a perfume factory. Even though he has not bought perfume, nor has he sold, yet he still leaves the premises with a pleasant odor upon him.
The parable of the perfume factory specifically states that the person did not buy or sell to teach us that Lot did not come to Avraham for the purpose of learning from him and being his disciple; rather he was with him simply because Avraham was his uncle. Avraham had something to "sell," that is, his belief in G-d and all the Torah that he knew, but Lot was not interested in any of that. Even so, his very association with Avraham influenced him, since he could not avoid observing Avraham's actions and eventually copying them later on when he was on his own, since he had become accustomed to that way of life.
Avraham gave people food and drink even though his real purpose was to get them to believe in G-d, because Avraham was the paragon of chesed, as the verse says, "You shall give chesed unto Avraham."(5) But the chesed that Avraham performed was on a higher level than physical chesed. He wanted people to gain the greatest possible benefit from his deeds. The greatest benefit one can gain is to believe in the one true G-d. Food and drink were trivial compared to the change in their lives that belief in G-d could bring. But Avraham knew that "the way to the heart is through the stomach." He could not merely preach to people, since they were not on such a level that they would listen to him. The only way to reach them was by feeding them. Thus, they would receive material benefit, and that would lead them to the more important spiritual benefit which Avraham really wanted to bestow on them.
...He was afraid to do such a thing by day, so he did it by night... And just as he supported them, so did they support him.
Our Sages tell us that Lot invited guests by night to teach us how deeply ingrained was Lot's practice of hospitality. He knew quite well that the people of Sedom meant business when they warned that they would burn anyone who took in a guest, but he was so accustomed to taking in guests due to his growing up in Avraham's house that he could not change his ways, in spite of the great danger that it involved.
This teaches us the importance of associating with righteous people, since inevitably their actions will influence us, as we see that Avraham influenced even Lot.
Although Lot took in guests, G-d knew that in all other ways he had been influenced by the people of Sedom. The fact that his daughters had married the men of Sedom(6) demonstrates his strong connection to these people. If he had felt that they were despicable, how could he have let his daughters marry such people? He differed from them solely in the matter of offering hospitality to guests, which had become ingrained in him from the time he had lived with Avraham. Therefore the sole merit he had was his devotion to this mitzvah. Thus the hospitality he showed towards the angels was that which provided Lot with the merit he needed to be saved from the destruction of Sedom.
Lot and his family were not allowed to look at the Holy Presence, nor at the destruction of Sedom. To look upon the Holy Presence one must be on a very high spiritual level indeed, for otherwise such an action constitutes a desecration of the Holy Presence. Lot and his family were not on that level. They were entangled within the evils of Sedom and had been saved only because of their custom of taking in guests. Therefore they were not allowed to look at the Holy Presence.
Idit, the wife of Lot, pitied her married daughters in Sedom, and looked back to see whether they were coming with her or not. She saw the Holy Presence and she became a pillar of salt.
Although Idit, the wife of Lot, did not try to look at the Holy Presence, but rather was concerned with the welfare of her daughters who were being burned alive in Sedom, she was punished since she felt pity for them and did not acknowledge that they deserved the punishment they were receiving. If she would have agreed with their being killed, since they were evil, there would have been no looking back. Looking back shows regret, and there is no regret for the destruction of evil people.
Her punishment was that she became a pillar of salt. Salt is never the main course of a meal, but is used only as a flavoring for food. If someone wishes with all his heart to take in guests, he will not diminish the salt on the table, since it is the added flavor that makes it pleasant for the guest to eat, and makes the mitzvah complete. Idit was reluctant to agree with the idea of the burning of Sedom. She felt pity for her daughters and could not agree with the Creator's actions. Thus, it was as if she was not agreeing to perform G-d's mitzvah completely. Her sin was shown to her through the fact that she became a pillar of salt. Her whole merit was her taking in of guests, and that is what saved her from the destruction of Sedom; but her action of looking back showed that she was lacking, which is similar to neglecting to give salt to one's guests.
Another explanation is that, although she did help her husband with the mitzvah of taking in guests, yet she did not do it with all her heart. Thus she would serve them without salt. When Lot would complain, she would respond, "Are you trying to institute this bad custom in our house?" Since she sinned with salt, she was also punished with salt. This is the explanation of Rashi.(7) This teaches us that it is not enough simply to do a mitzvah, but you must do it with all your heart. Although she held back only salt, which is not essential to a meal but is only for flavor, this blemished the mitzvah, and therefore she lost its merit.
Just as Lot's wife was lacking eagerness and enthusiasm in the mitzvah of taking in guests, so must we be careful that our children not lack these important ingredients in doing mitzvos. If they do not feel enthusiasm, then there is great peril that they will stop performing mitzvos altogether, G-d forbid.
To ensure that our children possess this enthusiasm, we must be enthusiastic ourselves. When a poor man comes to ask for a donation, tell your children, "How wonderful it is that we now have the opportunity to give tzedakah." When you are going to pray, say to them, "Now we have the privilege of speaking to G-d!" When Shabbos is about to end, say, "What a pity that our wonderful Shabbos will soon be over."
If you perform the mitzvos routinely, without any feeling or enthusiasm, then how will your children find any taste in them? But if you perform them with warmth and joy, your children will want to emulate your actions.
The Chofetz Chaim illustrated this point with the following story. Once he went to the mikveh to immerse himself. When he arrived, he asked the caretaker, "Did you warm up the water?"
The caretaker assured him that he had done so.
Upon hearing that, the Chofetz Chaim undressed and entered the water. He found that it was freezing cold. "Are you sure you warmed up this water? It is freezing cold," said the Chofetz Chaim.
"Of course, I did," said the caretaker. "I told you that I did."
"Let me see how you warmed the mikveh," demanded the Chofetz Chaim.
The caretaker showed the Chofetz Chaim the kettle that he had used to pour the hot water into the mikveh. The Chofetz Chaim put his finger into the kettle and found it lukewarm.
"I have found the solution," concluded the Chofetz Chaim. "When the kettle is boiling hot, then the mikveh will be lukewarm. But if the kettle is only lukewarm, then the mikveh will be freezing cold!"
The same is true for us. If we are "boiling hot" with enthusiasm when we do the mitzvos, then at least our children will be "lukewarm." But if we are only "lukewarm" when we do mitzvos, then our children will be "freezing cold."
Take time to explain to your children what you are doing before you start to do a mitzvah. It is very frustrating for the child if he does not understand what is going on.
For instance, if you are buying an esrog, show your child what you are looking for. If you are taking cholent out of the pot on Shabbos, tell your child what you are careful not to do so that you will not desecrate the Shabbos. If you are buying in the supermarket, tell your child why you cannot buy certain foods, and what is the problem with them. By explaining everything, you will be teaching the child what he is doing and he will be more eager to do the mitzvos with enthusiasm and real interest, instead of simply performing them out of habit, like a robot.
Make your child a partner in your decisions. Before you give a donation, "confer" with him regarding how much you should give. Ask him how he thinks the family could honor the Shabbos more. Tell him about a question you have in the Chumash or the Gemara, and ask him if he has a solution. This way he will feel important, and see that he is needed in performing the mitzvos, for he is not just a person standing on the side, but a real participant.
On the other hand, be careful not to give him a reward every time he does a mitzvah well. Otherwise he will get the impression that only if it pays does he have to be careful about the mitzvos. Emphasize that we do mitzvos because G-d told us to, and not to receive rewards. You can give him a reward sometimes, but do not let that become his main motivation. Train him to feel that we do mitzvos for G-d's sake, not for the sake of reward.
1. Mishlei 13:20
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network