In Parshat Vayeira, the angels/messengers tell Lot to flee Sodom because Sodom and Gomorrah are going to be destroyed. Despite this information Lot has a difficult time leaving, so much so, that the angels must grab hold of his hand and pull him out of the city. While he drags his feet, the angels tell him to escape to the mountain. He pleads that they save the small city, Zoar, and he will reside there instead. He argues that if he had to flee to the mountain, “the evil would attach itself to him and surely he will die”. The angels acquiesce and urge him to get there quickly. Oddly enough, Lot on his own, decides a few verses later to ascend the mountain and hide in a cave for he feared staying in Zoar.
What is this “evil” that Lot thought would “attach” to him and cause his death?
Lot ended up in Sodom due to ethical disputes between his shepherds and those of Avraham. The Biblical Commentators tell us that Lot’s shepherds allowed their flocks to graze in fields that belonged to others while Avraham’s men took issue with it. Avraham saw that coexistence was not going to work and told Lot to choose a direction and Avraham would go the opposite way. Due to fertile nature of Sodom, Lot chose to settle there, believing he’d be set for life, while Avraham went the other way depending on G-d alone.
Lot was sick and tired of Avraham and his morals, he didn’t want to be judged anymore. He wanted to be the dispenser of justice and so he moved to the city where he could be a leader and judge.
He enjoyed a prominent position in Sodom. He was settled and accomplished and he did not want to budge. Yet, he was astute enough to recognize the importance of his illegal secret guests and the veracity of their words. He knew the people of Sodom were twisted and he believed the foretelling of the destruction was imminent but he was so attached to living the good life that even though he knew he could not stay he did not want to leave. He begs the angel to at least save one small city so he can continue living the life he is accustomed to. He claims if he goes to the mountain he will surely die – for “the evil will attach itself to him”.
Lot wants a second chance to affect change and calculated that the small city of Zoar was a possible candidate for salvation. Perhaps he thought he can instruct the inhabitants there in the proper ways that he learned from Avraham. This would be a corrective measure for his failure in Sodom, where he only practiced righteous deeds in private, like taking guests in overnight and feeding them secretly. He wanted this chance to get it right and try to influence the small city to be ethical and moral. But things escalated quickly and his wife turned into a pillar of salt by looking back as the mass destruction of Sodom began. Fear struck his heart and he fled to the mountain, leaving behind his grandiose ideas, looking out for #1 as the others perished. Here again, he fails to have learned from Avraham, who returned to save Lot during the war of the kings, despite the mortal danger.
Lot acknowledges that by residing in the mountain he would be forced to experience solitude and that would be the death of him. He knows he cannot simply leave the evil behind with those that were destroyed. He realizes his culpability and that would follow him and stick to him like glue and forever haunt him. The onus of the evil of the dead would remain with him adding immeasurably to the pain of his survivor’s guilt. In the aftermath of death and destruction of the mass populace, he’d be finished spiritually, left alone to face the iniquity of his failure.
When he ends up in the cave, he is so miserable that he allows himself to be plied with wine, leaving him in a drunken stupor, night after night, only to be taken advantage of by his very own daughters. They both conceive, giving birth to Ammon and Moav. We are taught that Moshiach will spring forth from David Hamelech, who descended from Ruth the Moavite.
It is unfortunate and sad that it had to happen this way. Had he stepped up to the plate earlier and done things differently perhaps we could be saying, “Lot, the man who turned Sodom around merited the Moshiach to come from him”.
At the end of the day, G-d’s Will always prevails, but our honor and legacy can only be determined by ourselves.