Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Friday, 22 October 2010

Lot and the Angels

The story of the destruction of Sodom is always thrilling to read but close perusal of the narrative reveals some plot holes that must be filled if the true importance of the events is to be properly appreciated.
For example, we are told by Chazal in great detail about the selfishness of the culture of Sodom.  In one of its lighter veins, Chazal tell us a number of stories of Eliezer, Avraham's servant, visiting Sodom and outwitting the residents who wanted to torture and kill him.  We are told of laws designed to prevent any of the residents from providing even the slightest amount of charity and the final doom of the metropolitan area is said to have been sealed by the torment and death of a girl who had violated that rule.
Yet when the angels arrive in Sodom at the beginning of the story, there is no immediate problem that they encounter.  Look at the story again.  They arrive in the evening which means the city gates were still open.  this implies there were still people in the streets.  Lot, sitting out in the open by the city gate and therefore presumably in full view, walks over and invites them to his home.  No one protests his actions, no one seems to follow him as he takes a tortuous route back supposedly to throw off any pursuit, nothing at all happens until Lot and his guests are well into their meal.  If the Sodomites were so vigilant on keeping others out of their rich city state, why did a response to the angels' arrival take so long to materialize?  And why did they ask where Lot's guests were?  Wasn't it obvious they were in his house?
Finally, there is a midrash that tells us the reason the angels' presence was detected was because Lot's wife, a native Sodomite who hated the idea of hachnasas orchim, claimed to have no salt to serve the visitors and then went around from house to house asking all her neighbours for salt because she had guests for dinner.  Did she not realize there would be a violent response when the matter became known?  Surely she would have feared for her family's safety no matter how much she despised the idea of guests. 
The Alshich haKodesh brings a simple, yet fascinating answer to the question.  He begins by noting that angels interact with material creatures in ways that do not correspond to the laws of nature.  An angel appears only to those by whom he wishes to be seen.  In the case of the angels, they only wished to be seen by Lot.
Think about this and a lot of the plot holes in the story disappear.  According to the Alshich HaKodesh, no one saw the angels arrive in Sodom.  Lot was not seen walking away from the public area in front of the gate with two strangers and no one would have thought twice to see him wandering through the alleyways, although they might have wondered why he was talking to himself.  Further, on arrival home he would announced the presence of two guests to his bewildered wife.  Imagine her confusion as he began setting three places at the table and baked some matzos for the "guests".  Now we can see her statement to her neighbour in a sarcastic tone instead of the presumed hostile one before: My husband has gone insane.  He is so desperate for guests he's pretending we have some and demands salt for them to!
Finally, the Alshich HaKodesh notes that the rage of the mob could also be explained by his idea. Imagine the situation now: they've just arrived at Lot's house because he has forbidden guests, Lot comes out and through the open door they see... no one.  Was this a joke?  Was Lot playing with them?
Therefore the Alshich HaKodesh's idea explains many of the otherwise strange irregularities of the story of Sodom and its destruction and suggests an interesting idea: God and His actions in this world are generally invisible, unless we know where to look.  Perhaps if we spent more time looking for Him through good deeds, we would see more of His benificence, unlike the Sodomites who were mired in their selfishness and couldn't see His presence at all.


Michael Sedley said...

Interesting idea, thanks for sharing it - but if no one else could see the angels,why did Lot offer his daughters to the mob, why didn't he just say that there's no one here, come in and see for yourself.

Garnel Ironheart said...

My impression from reading the Alshich is that Lot didn't know that he was the only one that could see them. He figured that everyone could just like him.

E-Man said...

Nive idea. However, I thought Lot lived outside the city and that is why he was at the gate and he took them to his house from there, because it was evening and the gate was closed.

I thought I read that in a midrash, but it is possible I just saw it on one of those ridiculously funny 1980 movies about biblical events.

The Leader, Garnel Ironheart said...

I'd never heard that before but on the other hand, it makes sense because when the Torah describes him moving to Sodom in the first place he says he spread his tents until Sodom, not that he actually moved into the city.
On the other hand, that was before the Babylonian attack on the city. He may have moved inside the city walls after being rescued by Avraham Avinu.
What would work against the "outside" theory is that the narrative describes a door (to his house) and an opening (to his courtyard), neither of which he would have had outside the city.

Anonymous said...

i love songs about the bible,i mean
the old testament,therefore i like
the song "lot and the angels" of
mirna de-paz,it's a real nice song
in hebrew!!! menachem chohen.