Riding Uphill

“…so He sent Lot from amidst the upheaval when He overturned the cities in which Lot lived.” (Ber. 19:29)

When Lot separated from his uncle Avraham, he settled in the wicked environs of Sedom. Hashem could not tolerate the evil perpetrated daily by the denizens of Sedom and Amorah and decreed that the two cities would be annihilated. Before having His angels carry out the punishment, He sent two of the angels who visited Avraham to rescue Lot from the destruction. Rashi explains the merit Lot had from a past incident that merited his salvation: “Lot was aware that Sarah was Avraham’s wife, and he heard Avraham say in Egypt regarding Sarah that she was his sister, but he did not reveal the matter, for Lot had pity on him [Avraham]; therefore, the Holy One Blessed Be He, had pity on him [Lot]” (Rashi 19:29). This explanation is quite puzzling for several reasons. Why must one search back so many years to find a merit for Lot? He just risked his life to do the mitzvah of hachnasat orchim — hosting guests! Besides, on a one-to-one basis, isn’t hosting guests, even without any danger, a greater act than keeping a secret?

Harav Shelomoh Bussu explains that Hashem’s way of gauging worth is quite different from ours. To us, working to serve guests, especially at risk of life and limb, is a great deed hard to surpass. But in Hashem’s calculations, although it is remarkable — especially considering the values held by his neighbors — considering that he grew up in the home of Avraham Avinu, it is second nature and not at all difficult to do. However, Lot had a desire for money and honor. That trait was demonstrated by his ability to leave Avraham to live in the lush city of Sedom. When Lot heard Avraham say that Sarah was his sister, he probably saw the potential for great reward and even prestige that would result if he revealed the truth. Instead, he demonstrated the strength of one who overcame his base instincts to do the “right thing.” Keeping silent exhibited mesirut nefesh — self-sacrifice — which was much greater than the knee-jerk reaction that resulted in “illegally” hosting travelers. In the laser-beam “eyes” of Hashem, this great sacrifice merited a miraculous salvation.

Similarly, Chazal teach (Bava Metzia 86b) that in the merit of Avraham’s sterling performance of the mitzvah of hachnasat orchim, his offspring merited miraculous treatment for 40 years in the desert after the Exodus from Egypt. However, whatever Avraham did himself was rewarded with direct benefit from Hashem. He brought the meat and Hashem served meat (quail) to the generation of the desert. He served bread and Hashem provided “bread” from Heaven in the form of manna. However, in the case of water, which was served through a messenger, Yishmael, Hashem provided this staple through Moshe, who hit the rock. Consider how many hundreds of times Avraham must have personally brought water to guests and one must wonder why we were only supplied with H2O via a messenger. The answer is that to receive such an amazing reward for his descendants, the deed had to be extraordinary! On the third day after circumcision at a ripe old age, Avraham ignored his personal situation to help others. This is an act that Heaven weighs as ultra-important and super-valuable!

People tend to look for the easy way out. Spiritually powerful individuals understand that when the going gets tough, it pays to get going. One can compare life to riding a bike. If it’s difficult, one is climbing uphill. On the other hand, if it’s easy, one must be going downhill. In Pirkei Avot we learn l’fum tzaara agra — according to the difficulty is the reward! A mitzvah done with difficulty and/or sacrifice is worth 100 times more than one performed easily. Hashem loves us and wants us to maximize our “earnings” in our relatively brief sojourn in this world. If one is confronted by hardship, it is no doubt for one’s benefit. If one accepts that truth, then difficulties, trials and tribulations become easier to bear and possible to overcome.

Shabbat shalom.