At the beginning of Chapter 19, when the angels leave Avraham, and travel to S’dom to save Lot and destroy the city, Lot is found sitting at the gate of the city, ready to provide hospitality to passersby like Avraham. After pleading with them following their initial refusal, Lot brings the ‘guests’ home and the verse tells us that he baked matzot. Rashi on the spot adds two words by way of explanation: פסח היה, it was Pesach.
Naturally, this is perplexing. Pesach and the Jewish People leaving Egypt was not going to happen for centuries. Furthermore, it is generally the way of Rashi do report the plain meaning of the Torah. On the occasions that he quotes more exegetical sources, he will preface the comment with the simple meaning and follow it up with the phrase u’midrasho – the more esoteric explanation is thus. Rashi’s brevity seems to indicate that he sees that the episode of Lot leaving S’dom is the template on which Yetziat Mitzrayim is built as clear from the text itself.
The word Pesach indicates the meaning to skip over. In the context, we are talking about the ultimate destructive power being unleashed on a geographic area. No living thing will remain. Prior to the Plague of the Firstborn, the Jewish People are enjoined to slaughter a lamb and paint its blood on the lintel and doorposts. That remains their exclusive protection.
When the entire city of S’dom descends on Lot’s house, and tangentially, the Torah could not be clearer that every citizen has gathered (cf. 19:4) at the house. Normative morality has degenerated to the extent that what we consider deviant was the mainstream in their society. Every interaction, that occurs between Lot and the mob is either prefaced or succeeded by a reference to the door, roof, or house. The house remains a refuge from the endemic corruption and cruelty of the city. But that safety is only temporary.
After having delayed more than advised (19:17), the angels finally persuade Lot to leave with the remainder of his family, and direct him to flee to the mountain for safety. Despite his misgivings, Lot finally arrives at the mountain, but only succeeds into stumbling into a cave. Why is he so reluctant, in the midst of the destruction of S’dom, to flee to the mountain, and what significance does the incident of the cave have?
Careful reading in the previous chapter shows that Avraham was surveilling the area while he pleaded with Hashem to save the city. Lot, despite the destruction going on around him, felt too ashamed to go back to Avraham and see the gap between where he had previously occupied and the spiritual position he was now.
All too often we find that we have drifted from the original principles that we wish to live by and represent. Often, we just shrug and carry on. Sometimes, events conspire to force us to make improvements in our own lives. Lot’s delay shows that even in the midst of destruction and with the prospect of shame and disgrace, human nature is predicated on not being dynamic and energetic. That moment between action and sloth is the difference between matza and chametz, between Pesach and the rest of the year. The first Pesach was by no means a success, but identifying the key ideas will help us triumph in the future.