The Cause of Lot’s Downfall

Vayikchu es Lot v’es rechusho ben achi Avraham (Bereishis 14:12)

In Parashas Lech Lecha, four kings banded together and fought a war against five other kings. During the ensuing battles, the Torah records that the armies of the four kings “captured Lot and his possessions, the nephew of Avraham.” Rav Shimon Schwab points out that the order of the verse seems highly unusual. Typically, the Torah gives all the relevant information regarding a person’s identity and then appends any other germane details. Thus, we would have expected to read that “they captured Lot the nephew of Avraham, and his possessions.” Why does the Torah interrupt the description of Lot’s identity with the seemingly tangential fact that his possessions were also seized?

Rav Schwab suggests that to understand the reason for this anomaly, we must first analyze what happened to Lot. Rashi writes (13:14) that as long as the wicked Lot was with Avraham, Hashem did not speak to him, yet Hashem did speak with Avraham before they traveled to Egypt (12:7), which proves that Lot was not yet wicked at that time. What caused Lot’s subsequent spiritual downfall, as evidenced by his permitting his shepherds to graze his sheep in other people’s fields, and by his decision to settle in the wicked Sedom when he and Avraham parted from one another?

Rav Schwab explains that Lot’s pivotal transformation was caused by the fact that while in Egypt, he became wealthy in the merit of traveling with Avraham (Rashi 13:5). Now that Lot was rich, even though his assets only came because of Avraham, his affluence went to his head and changed him. From this point onward, he viewed himself as a gvir (rich man) and identified himself with his wealth. With this insight, we now understand that when the Torah pauses its account of Lot’s identity to tell us that his possessions were also captured, it is not an interruption. This is the Torah’s way of conveying to us that what separated Lot from his uncle Avraham was his belongings, which became an even more central part of his self-image than his status as Avraham’s nephew.

Shlomo writes in Mishlei (18:1), “He who separates himself to seek lust will be exposed in all sound wisdom.” The Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 51:9) applies this verse to Lot, explaining that as a result of his materialistic desires, he became separated from his righteous uncle Avraham. The Midrash adds that the section of Lot’s disgrace is read every single Shabbos, which is difficult to understand, for we seemingly do not read about or discuss Lot every Shabbos. Rav Schwab suggests that when the sanctity of Shabbos comes to an end on Saturday night and we bolt from the holiness of Shabbos as we rush to pursue our business interests and other mundane affairs, we are, in fact, emulating the ways of Lot.

Lot was connected to kedushah (sanctity) in the form of his pious uncle Avraham, but he fled at the first opportunity once he had his own resources. Similarly, each Shabbos we are connected to the source of all blessing, yet as the day passes, many of us find ourselves “reading the parashah of Lot” by counting down the hours until we are able to leave its holiness behind by going to the earliest, fastest minyan for Maariv (evening prayer services) so that we can immediately check our phones and change out of our special Shabbos clothing to complete our return to the mundane physical world that our “rebbi” Lot pursued and incorporated into his very definition of self.

Q: When would one recite a blessing ending “asher kideshanu b’mitzvosav v’tzivanu b’mitzvos v’chukim shel Avraham Avinu” — thanking Hashem for sanctifying us with His mitzvos, and commanding us in the mitzvos and statutes of Avraham Avinu?

Q: In Parashas Lech Lecha (17:12), Hashem gives Avraham the mitzvah of bris milah (circumcision). When somebody is making a bris, it is customary not to directly invite people, but merely to notify them, lest they be punished if they do not attend a seudas mitzvah (festive meal in honor of a mitzvah) to which they were invited. Why do we not have the custom to refrain from inviting people to a wedding for the same reason?

A: Worried that the evil king of Sedom would take credit for making him rich, Avraham refused to accept any gifts from him, emphasizing that he would not even take a string or shoelace (14:23). The Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 43:9) teaches that in the merit of refusing to accept these two items, Avraham’s descendants merited receiving two mitzvos: the mitzvah of tzitzis, which is performed with strings; and the mitzvah of chalitzah, which is performed with a shoe. Accordingly, the Shulchan Aruch rules that when the officiating Rabbi begins the chalitzah ceremony, he recites a blessing thanking Hashem for commanding us in the mitzvos and statutes of Avraham Avinu, as it was in his merit that we received this mitzvah. Nevertheless, because this blessing is not mentioned in the Gemara, it should be recited without mentioning Shem Umalchus — Hashem’s Name and Kingship.

A: Harav Moshe Sternbuch, zt”l, posits that the Gemara’s (Pesachim 113b) threat of punishment for not attending a seudas mitzvah only applies to somebody who refuses to attend because he feels that it is beneath his dignity and pride. However, if he is concerned about spending time there that could otherwise be utilized to learn Torah, he need not attend. Consequently, a bris, which is relatively short, should be attended, and it is therefore customary not to directly invite people, lest they be punished if they decline the invitation. A wedding, on the other hand, involves much more time, and because there are legitimate grounds not to participate, there is no issue with inviting people.


Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.