Sodom and Gomorrah #10 (Genesis 19:3)
Lot insists on inviting the messengers (or angels, as we have seen in a previous post). They accept and, not to be seen by the people of Sodom, they take the round route to Lot’s house. He offers them hospitality. Can we learn anything from the meal he prepares?
What is Sodom’s mortal sin?
The two messengers / angels (מַּלְאָכִים), having initially refused Lot’s invitation, finally accept. They understand that in a city in which inviting guests is unacceptable, Lot is putting himself and his family in grave danger. So, they go to his house the round way, the way in which they cannot be seen.
Did the angels refuse Lot’s original invitation because they did not want to put him and his family at risk?
We do not know. But I still want to believe that it was a test, a test if he still follows the sacred obligation of hospitality. If he does, risking his life, regardless of what type of man he might be otherwise, they should save him.
This, naturally, leads us to the question: what was Sodom’s mortal sin? We will look into it later in the chapter. But if taking in guests and treating them is enough to save Lot, could disallowing hospitality be the sin of Sodom?
What can we learn from the feast?
Some scholars like to compare the way Abraham receives his guests (Genesis 18) and the way Lot does. They point out that while Abraham asks Sarah to help with the cooking, and then he serves them cakes, veal, butter and milk, Lot seems to offer a humble meal and prepare it by himself. They also conclude that Lot’s wife did not help in the house. This they say, probably indicates that she is closer to the people of Sodom in her attitude. This helps them justify the horrendous, out of proportion, punishment she receives for looking back. (I do not think it was a punishment, but this too in a later post)
While this interpretation is legitimate, I want to point out a couple of points:
First, when Lot prepares the meal for them (וַיַּעַשׂ לָהֶם מִשְׁתֶּה) we do not know how much he does with his own hands, and how much did his wife and daughters (and maybe servants, too). Just like in modern Hebrew and English, when we say ‘I prepared a feast’ does not mean that I did it with my very hands without help. I might have done nothing but being in charge. We can see an example in the story of Joseph. King Pharaoh is preparing a מִשְׁתֶּה (feast) for his servants (Genesis 40:20):
Second, why does Abraham prepare so much: cakes, veal, butter and milk, while Lot gives only drinks and unleavened bread (matzo)?
In Hebrew the word מִשְׁתֶּה comes from the root ש.ת.ה, which means to drink. However, the meaning of the word has been extended to include food, or even to describe a feast or a banquet (as we saw in the example of Pharaoh above). So, from the text alone it is not clear if Lot offers drinks and matzo alone, or a whole meal.
But even if he only gives drinks and bread, can we blame him?
Abraham is at the comfort of his tent, surrounded by his family and servants. He is not under threat and has no time-pressure. This is very different to Lot’s situation. Lot is in grave danger. He is well aware what may happen if his neighbours discovers that he has guests. He is doing everything at stealth. Preparing unleavened bread, he does not need to wait for the bread to rise, and the freshly made matzo does not produce the waft that fresh bread does, aroma that will warn the neighbours that something unusual is happening. After all, nobody bakes bread early in the evening.
So even if unleavened bread and water is all that Lot gives the angels, can we even start to compare the magnitude of his sacrifice to that of Abraham? He might not have been as great a person as Abraham. He might have been a sinner in many ways. But by the way he gave shelter and hospitality he is rightly deserves saving. After all, he is risking more than Abraham has ever given, that is, until Abraham was called to sacrifice his son.