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Weekly Chizuk

Parshas Vayeira

Lot: Tzaddik or Rosha?

Adapted from a shmuez by Moreinu v'Rabbeinu HaGaon HaTzaddik Rav Zeidel Epstein, zt"l.

In last week's parsha we were introduced to Avraham's nephew Lot. Upon arriving in Eretz Yisroel, Avraham was confronted with a severe famine and was forced to travel to Mitzrayim. Pharoah took Sarah and was smitten with a terrible plague. He then sought to amend his ways by bestowing wealth and gifts upon Avraham and his household. As a result Lot also was elevated to new found wealth. This went to his head and he could no longer live together with his uncle and rebbe Avraham. "And Lot lifted up his eyes and saw the whole fertile Jordan Valley" (Breishis 13:10). He saw an opportunity to expand his wealth and strike it rich in business. After at least 23 years of being one of Avraham's prime talmidim, Lot chose to leave Yeshiva and go to live in the Valley near the city of S'dom.

Lot was aware of the dangers. "And the people of S'dom were exceedingly evil and sinful to Hashem" (13:13). Originally he didn't move into S'dom. It wasn't a place for a nice wholesome Jewish family. Instead he built his home in the suburbs. Only his business bordered on the city of S'dom (possuk 12).

Lot felt that he could retain his righteousness in spite of the spiritual dangers. He baked Matzos (19:3). He put his life in danger to practice hachnosas orchim. When the malachim came he told them to come into his house through a back alley. He offered them lodgings on condition that they sleep in their dirty travel clothes and wash up and leave before dawn (Rashi 19:2). If the neighbors got wind of his hospitality he was liable to get burned alive (Targum Yonason 12:1).

Lot invested in the chinuch of his children. He taught them to be moser nefesh for hachnosas orchim. Lot had a daughter. She went down to the river to draw water where she saw a pauper starving to death (feeding a pauper in S'dom was a capital crime). But Lot had succeeded in his chinuch. His daughter was no S'dom'niker. She had rachmanus on the pauper and gave him something to eat. Every day when she went to the river she brought a sandwich and just happened to forget it there. After a few days the people realized that the pauper was still alive, so they started investigating. When they found out that Lot's daughter had fed him they sentenced her to death. According to Pirkei d'Rebbi Eliezer she was burned alive. But according to the Midrash (Rashi and Sifsei Chachomim 18:21) they smeared her with honey and left her to be devoured by the bees, a gruesome and extremely painful death.

But Lot insisted on staying in S'dom. Lot was probably in S'dom close to 24 years. (Avraham was 75 when he came to Eretz Yisroel and 99 when he performed bris milah and the malachim came to visit him and destroy S'dom).

There is a principle in the Torah. Hashem is the merciful father, even to roshoim. When a Malach was sent to stop Bila'am from cursing the Yidden, Hashem sent a Malach Hashem, not a Malach Elokim (see Rashi: it was a malach of rachamim). Hakadosh Baruch Hu, even when He is angry with a rosha, still He has compassion and sends him warning signs. Maybe he'll do teshuvah. So Lot was sent warnings. The Torah goes out of its way and discusses at length the 1st world war between the kings (parshas Lech Lecha). Why do we have to know all the nitty gritty details, when the Torah is so terse about other more basic issues? Perhaps it is to tell us that Hashem will make a world war between the mightiest alliances just for the sake of saving one person: Lot. The possuk tells us, "They took all of the possessions of S'dom and Amorah and went. And they took Lot and his possessions and went" (14:11-12). This possuk is redundant, repeating the word, "and went." It implies that first they raided the city and walked off with the booty. Lot was being warned; don't think that your wealth is safe. But he didn't get the hint. So he needed a stronger warning. He was carried away by the enemy. He had lost everything. He thought he was going to get rich quick. Instead he was now a prisoner of war.

But Hashem had rachmanus on him and Avraham came to his rescue. He should have thrown himself at his uncle's feet and begged forgiveness and permission to rejoin the beis midrash. Instead he returned to S'dom. Hashem must love me. He performed a miracle and saved me! Look how lucky I am.

Finally after many years living in S'dom, they finally recognized his importance and he was appointed to the Supreme Court (19:1). What an honor. That occurred the very day the malachim came to rescue him. He couldn't believe it. S'dom is going to be destroyed!? The whole night he followed in the footsteps of his revered uncle and prayed to save S'dom (Midrash Raba 26). But when the entire town encircled his home demanding the 2 guests be brought out to them for the terrible aveira of mishkav zachor, the malachim informed him to find anyone else who was worth saving and leave. He was only able to save his wife and 2 daughters.

In spite of all his righteousness and mesiras nefesh for the Torah of his rebbe Avraham, Lot had forsaken Hashem for a little gelt and worldly lust. When his uncle and rebbe gave him the option of splitting off and starting off on his own, he should have pleaded with him, "But uncle, rebbe, how can I leave you. Everything I have, Olam Hazeh, Olam Haba, is because of you. We'll have to find a way to get together. I can't leave!" Instead he lifted up his eyes and saw the big city with all its glamour and GELT! The Chazal understood this as if he had said, "I don't want Avraham and I don't want his G-d!" In spite of all his mesiras nefesh, he was severely chastised for his choice. So Hakadosh Baruch Hu had to teach him a lesson. Stay with your rebbe and you'll have Olam Hazeh and Olam Habo. But you can't have Olam Hazeh by leaving your rebbe. And you'll eventually lose your Olam Haba as well.

A person can be moser nefesh for Torah and yet is called a rosha. The possuk in Yeshayah praises "A person who closes his eyes to not look at bad things. The gemora in Bava Basra 57b explains it with a case of a person passing by the women washing clothes by the river." When the women wash clothes they have to lift their sleeves up a bit in order not to get wet. They get hot and open their collars a bit. It's not tznius. A person passing by must close his eyes. The gemora explains that we are talking about a person who has no alternative path. So when he passes by he should force himself to look away. Then he is praiseworthy. However, if there is a different way, and he chose this path, he's a rosha. Rashi says he is a rosha even if he closed his eyes! He should not have brought himself close to the vicinity of a nisayon in the first place. A person must distance himself from ugly situations. And even though he passed through successfully and didn't look, he is still a rosha!

Tel Aviv or Bnei Brak

From a recorded lecture by Rav Moshe Mordechai Shulzinger.

Many years ago, a certain talmid chachom, now a venerable grandfather, used to live in Tel Aviv. Understandably, he found proper child-rearing extremely difficult there. The Tel Aviv of the beginning of the State of Israel was the model of a secular city. Tel Aviv - the first Hebrew city, where every day thousands of Jewish children were ripped away from their Jewish heritage and educated to heresy.

So this fellow found his children's education very problematic. He lived in a house surrounded by a high wall. The gate to the yard was kept closed with lock and chain. He escorted them back and forth to school to protect them from hearing or seeing something improper. Finally he began contemplating moving to Bnei Brak. There he would be free from all these problems. He would live a good life in a city with a pious atmosphere, surrounded by holiness and purity.

His neighbors and friends, members of the small religious community in Tel Aviv, soon found out about his plans. They were aghast. They came running to him to try and convince him out of it. They argued that he was a very respected and prominent member of the small religious community. He was a talmid chachom and educator of note. If he leaves, what will happen to Tel Aviv? Every member of the community is crucial. The loss of even one member of the community would be a tragic loss for the little Yiddishkeit that then existed in Tel Aviv. Every member of the community counted.

He listened to them intently. "True. Everything you're saying is correct. But what about the chinuch of my children? The hope of every Jewish father and mother is the proper chinuch of his children. How can I continue to educate my children in such a secular and treif atmosphere." Both sides argued their case and came to the understanding that it was a "shver sha'alah," a very difficult problem. Both sides had valid points that had to be addressed. They couldn't come to the proper conclusion.

Our friend, the talmid chachom, said to them. "This problem is specifically addressed in a possuk in the Torah. "If there arises a matter too hard for you in judgment… matters of controversy inside your gates; then shall you arise, and go to the place which the Lord your G-d shall choose; And you shall come to… the judge who shall be in those days, and inquire; and they shall declare to you the sentence of judgment; And you shall do according to the sentence… of the Torah which they shall teach you, and according to the judgment which they shall tell you, you shall do…." (Devorim 17:8-11) The Torah tells us that when you have a disagreement between two parties that cannot be resolved, you get up and go to Yerushalayim to the Halachic authority of those days. Let's go to Yerushalayim to ask the Brisker Rav our sha'ala. His neighbors agreed.

So this fellow left Tel Aviv and traveled the (then) long journey to Yerushalayim and procured an audience with the Brisker Rav. He explained that he lived in Tel Aviv with 8 children in a private house with a private yard and a locked gate. And that he accompanied his children wherever they went. Finally, he related, he and his wife had come to the conclusion this is not the way to raise children. Living in Tel Aviv is detrimental to the chinuch of his children. Therefore he had decided to move to Bnei Brak. However, his neighbors countered that he cannot leave them; he will be weakening the fabric of the small religious community in Tel Aviv and dishearten those remaining behind.

It is very hard to anticipate what the gedolim are going to answer. We weigh issues and come to our own conclusions that seem so correct and straightforward. But when we approach the gedolim, we are taken aback by their totally unexpected answers. Upon contemplation, however, their answers are so simple and right, it is mind-boggling how we didn't think of it ourselves. (We are not relating this for anyone to take as a psak halacha. Whoever has his personal sha'ala must go to the contemporary poskim.)

Let's capsulize what the shaala was: chinuch of his children. And the chinuch of his children could not continue in the secular capital of Israel, Tel Aviv.

This was the Brisker Rav's teshuva: "People babble on thinking that they have to leave Tel Aviv because of their children's chinuch. They have to leave Tel Aviv for their own sakes."

Wishing everyone a Gut Shabbos!

© Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
4 Panim Meirot, Jerusalem 94423 Israel
Tel: 732-858-1257
Rabbi Parkoff is author of "Chizuk!" and "Trust Me!" (Feldheim Publishers), and "Mission Possible!" (Israel Book Shop Lakewood).
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