Overturning S’dom and its Brooding Insecurity

The Hebrew word for men /aNaShim (אנשים), from the noun /eNoSh (אנוש), evolved from the root /aNaH (אנה) meaning to impose or apply oneself. Allegorically, it represents a person’s acts of applying oneself in experience. For reason’s explained in the footnotes, the name Avraham means a person’s spreading out so as to take notice of and willingly give forth of oneself to things stirred up in experience.1 As such, he is particularly interested in what opportunities, or ways for him to apply himself in experience, may be dangling before him. The three men, to whom Avraham runs from the opening of his tent, represent these opportunities defiantly-standing about him so as to challenge him to act. In Arabic, the root cognate with the Hebrew word for tent (/oHaeL – אהל) also means to be familiar. In Avraham’s becoming familiar with the options before him, he entreats them to linger that he might sample and investigate the ways that he might apply himself in experience.

Avraham offers the men water and food. Each of the items of food spoken of represent different aspects of engaging experience. As a person seeking to give forth to the things stirred up in experience, Avraham asks that a bit of water (maYiM – מים) be taken for the men, for the acts of applying oneself. From the word YaM (ים) which evolved from the verb HaMaH (to stir up – המה), water represents what is stirred up in experience. Then Avraham states: “I shall move toward taking up a morsel of bread (פת לחם).” The word for bread (LeHheM – לחם) represents Avraham’s ability to engage something in experience. It comes from the same root as the word for a battle or engagement (miLHhaMah – מלחמה) both of which derive from the root LWHh (לוח) meaning to cling to or join to something. Later Avraham takes up butter representing what is churned in experience, milk representing what is captivating, and the calf (son of the cattle – בן הבקר) representing an act of investigation.2

After eating, the men inquired of Sarah’s whereabouts. Allegorically, Sarah represents our ability to focus on a particular thing in experience.3 But Sarah was still in the tent, still becoming familiar with what was available in experience. This holding back indicated that the two of them – the spreading out so as to take notice of and willingly give forth to things stirred up in experience and the ability to focus – were not quite ready to engage. Instead, haShem indicated that He would return ka\aeT HhaYaH (כעת חיה) “in accord with a time of liveliness,” and at such time she would have a son. In the allegory, a child is a behavior that results from the activities of both parents. Sarah’s barrenness, like her absence (her remaining in the tent), was symbolic of her inability to adequately focus on something in experience. In response to haShem’s promise of a son (a behavior with which to engage), Sarah laughs. The verb TsaHhaQ (צחק) to laugh can also mean to play around. In this case, her laughing symbolized her playing around (regarding her ability to focus). This inability to deal with the situation seriously was due to the fact that she was afraid.

Immediately following, the men representing the ways of apply oneself, get up from there and focus their attention on S’DoM. In the peshat, this appears to be a non-sequitur. But given that S’DoM means brooding uncertainty,4 it is a further indication of the failure to act. Nevertheless, haShem lauds Avraham, and the potential that he represents, acknowledging that he will become a great and mighty nation and that through him all of the nations of the Earth will be blessed. The word for nation, Goy (גוי), literally means those who are drawn inward, but taking the Arabic cognate into consideration, the allegory means “one who is passionately stirred to draw inward into experience.” The text continues: “For I know him, for the sake that he shall command his children and his house after him that they will observe the way of haShem to do what is right and what is ordained, for the sake that haShem brings upon Avraham that which he speaks, upon him.” The text turns back to S’DoM and \aMoRah and their great sin. But allegorically, the sins of brooding uncertainty (S’DoM) and of feeling overwhelmed (\aMoRah)5 belong to Avraham, for they are the reason’s for his failure to act. Since he is an archetype, they are also what undermine our abilities to act. The men, the ways of applying oneself in experience, turn from there so that they can go to S’DoM and confront our brooding uncertainty.

Avraham remains with haShem to argue our case. Afterall, brooding uncertainty is merely an impediment to taking action. He asks: what if along with our wickedness-defectiveness, there might be found our righteousness-sincerity as well – would you still cut us off? After much negotiation, haShem relents: “I would not undermine on account of the ten (העשרה).” The metaphor for the number ten in Hebrew means “one’s bearing down or driving directly forward.”6 If only a person, despite their brooding uncertainty and their feeling overwhelmed, would make the effort to drive directly forward into experience, G-d would not undermine our efforts. And as a consequence, Avraham, our spreading out so as to take notice of and willingly give forth to things stirred in experience returned to his place, to his ability to stand firmly upright.7

However, this reassurance did not last. The narrative moves to Lot, our holding back while cursing,8 and toward our brooding uncertainty. The text says “The two angels-messengers were coming in toward S’dom in the evening.” The word MaL/aKh (מלאך) comes from the root La/Kh (לאך) which in Syriac and Ugaritic means to send a messenger. Metaphorically, it implies the sending of messages or information about experience. The word for evening (\eRaBh – ערב) literally means the time of mixing (of day and night) from a verb that means to mix and to confuse. So our holding back while cursing about experience emerges when repetitively imposing (Sh’Nae – שני) messages come into us from experience, leading to our confusion and moving us toward brooding uncertainty. Nevertheless Lot, our holding back while cursing, makes the effort to welcome them, albeit half heartedly, as evidenced by his prostrating himself twice, or with two faces-presentations (אפים), and their censure “No, because in the street we shall lodge.” In Arabic, the root associated with the word for street (RaHhoBh – רחוב) also means wide, welcoming, and broad-minded.

In what follows, there are now two sets of men (/aNaShim – אנשים), or ways of applying oneself. One set represent the opportunities sent by G-d. The other, the men of the city, the men of S’dom, represent other ways for him to apply himself that result from his brooding uncertainty. In surrounding Lot’s house, they position themselves to undermine his ability to act. In going out to them through the opening, he is opening himself up to them, but then he closes the door. The word for door (DeLeT – דלת) comes from the root DaLaL (דלל) meaning to dangle and hang loosely. The door symbolizes his vacillating about experience. This image is utilized three times. First, the door is closed behind Lot, when he goes outside to placate the men of S’dom. This symbolizes his efforts to mollify the other potential ways for him to apply himself, so that he might instead apply himself to the activities that G-d had sent to him. Second, the men of S’dom try to break down the door; this symbolizes his brooding uncertainty attempting to reassert itself and thus return him to a place of vacillation. Finally, the men sent by G-d, symbolizing the activities that G-d intends for him to engage, close the door after bringing Lot into the house, into the coming in (בא > [באת] > בית) of experience.

(Before venturing into the horror of Lot’s offering of his daughters (BaNot – בנות) to the men of S’dom, it is important to recognize that the Torah does not shy away from disgusting narrative, be it this or his daughters’ sexual assault of him or the rape of Dinah or of Tamar or the rape and dismemberment of the concubine found in the book of Judges. I am no apologist for the Torah. But, since the allegorical translation utilizes words as metaphor, and thus completely sanitizes this and other horrors, I am compelled to say that it is not my intention to merely gloss over it as metaphor.) The Hebrew word for daughters (BaNot – בנות) is the feminine plural of the word for son, Ben (בן). It is derived from the root BooN (בון) meaning to squeeze through, making ben (בן) to literally mean “one squeezed through.” Sometimes the word is used to mean “worthy or deserving of.” It can also be used to describe a characteristic of a person or indicate belonging, such as in the phrase describing one’s age. This can be seen further in phrases such as ben laylah (belonging to the night), ben hakot (worthy of being struck down) and ben rega\ (immeditely, at once). Allegorically, ben (בן) means a person’s characteristic activities or behaviors. Similarly, the word for daughters, banot (בנות), allegorically means “one’s acts of endeavoring (squeezing through) into experience.” When Lot offers his two daughters who have not known man, allegorically he is saying, “To me are the starts (שתי) of acts of endeavoring into experience that have not known persistence (איש).”9 Simply put, he is telling the men of S’DoM, the potential ways for a person to apply oneself as a result of brooding uncertainty, that although he might consider engaging behaviors not sent to him by haShem, they are not worthy of his full attention, his persistence.

Lot follows with: “Only to these men, preclude from doing a thing (DaBhaR – דבר).” The word for thing, DaBhaR (דבר), literally means “what drives directly forward.” A simple vowel change gives DeBheR, meaning “a driving forward of devastation.” So he is warning the alternative ways for him to apply himself resulting from his brooding uncertainty, not to disrupt those sent by G-d by driving over them with devastating results. Furthermore, for “these men” the text uses La/aNaShim ha/aeL (לאנשים האל) instead of La/aNaShim ha/aeLeH (לאנשים האלה) as expected. The word for “these” /aeLeH (אלה) literally means “those of advancing forward.” The phrase ha/aeL (האל), meaning “the one of advancing forward with initiative,” emphasizes that the men sent by G-d represent the behaviors with which he intends to engage experience by applying himself to them. In other words, Lot is telling those ways of applying oneself in experience resulting from his brooding uncertainty, if you must I will make a minimal effort for you, one without mental persistence. But you mustn’t barrel over and devastate the activities sent to me by G-d, for they are the ways for me to apply myself with initiative. Therefore, in the end, these men (ways of applying oneself resulting from his brooding uncertainty) were exhaustively laboring in an attempt to find an opening (in his behavior).

Despite this brief demonstration of determination by Lot, our holding back in cursing about experience reappears with recalcitrant hesitance. Evidence for its recurrence is peppered throughout the story. Lot is told that haShem intends to destroy the city, the men say “Get up, take your wife (your setting out with initiative) and your two daughters (the starts of your acts of endeavoring)….lest you shall be cut off…” The text utilizes the Hebrew yitMaHMaaH (יתמהמה) from the root MaaHaH (מהה to dissolve into tatters), to tell us that Lot falls apart. Through G-d’s compassion, the men place him outside the city and he is told not to remain in the plain, but rather to escape to the mountain. The word for plain KiKaR (ככר) was formed from a doubling of the root KuR (כור), meaning to wind around. It represents his being lost in a maze of confusion and reluctance. The word for mountain (HaR – הר) is related to the roots HaRaH (הרה – to conceive) and its doubling HaRHaeR (הרהר – to conceive in mind). It literally means “the place of bringing things to light,” the height to which a person ascends to see what is coming, more clearly. But Lot demures in his diffidence. His uncertainty and insecurity do not allow him to go to the mountain, where in seeing what is, he would be confronted by reality. Instead he beseeches to allow him to flee to Tsoar (צוער), meaning “a place of feeling discouraged, in feeling small, in being narrowed in by experience.”

Against S’dom (his brooding uncertainty) and \amorah (his feeling overwhelmed), haShem rains down brimstone (gaphrit – גפרית) and fire (/aeSh – אש). The word utilized here for rain (hiMTiR – המטיר) is related to the word matarah (מטרה) meaning target or goal. The Akkadian cognate for brimstone (gaphrit – גפרית) means “to contend with,” while fire (/aeSh – אש), literally meaning persistent existence, represents one’s showing persistence. HaShem overturns our brooding uncertainty and our feeling overwhelmed by setting targets for us and empowering us to contend with these goals by being persistent. But Lot’s wife, his metaphorical ability to set out with initiative, turns to a pillar salt, representing a rigidity that crumbles.10 On the other hand, when Avraham (our spreading out so as to take notice of and willingly give forth to things stirred in experience) looks out upon the destruction, he sees: עלה קיטר הארץ כקיטר הכבשן “the smoke of the land ascending, as the smoke of a furnace.” The word here for smoke (QiTuR – קיטר), comes from the word for incense. Since it technically means what shrivels down, it is related to the verb QaTaR (קטר – to bind) with a metaphorical meaning of “to engage (experience).” The word for earth (/ereTs – ארץ) is analogous to the related word /aRTsuT (ארצות), meaning one’s disposition or way of disposing oneself to experience. Lastly, the furnace (KaBhShaN – כבשן) represents one’s being compelled by an inordinate amount of pressure being applied by experience. So from the perspective of one who does not fall apart and crumble, he saw: “the ascending of the engaging of one’s ability to dispose oneself to experience, as an engaging of experience resulting from one’s being compelled.”

Like Lot, any of us may choose in any given situation to refrain from engaging an activity. The text wishes to show us the means by which we can be coaxed away from our recalcitrance and encouraged to engage. Eventually Lot (our holding back in cursing about experience) does settle into the mountain, the place of bringing experience to light, because he is afraid to settle down in Tsoar, the place of feeling discouraged, in feeling small, in being narrowed in by experience. Nevertheless, he settles in a cave (M’/aRaH – מערה). This word evolved from the word \oR (עור) which literally means to poke, but it is commonly used to mean to blind, stir and arouse. For Lot (our holding back in cursing about experience) forever remains blinded by experience and must be poked and prodded to be stirred into action.

His daughters, or his ways of endeavoring into experience, are described as the older (haB’KhiRah – הבכירה) allegorically meaning “the one who wells forth” and the younger (haTs’\iRah – הצעירה) meaning “the one narrowed in and restrained.” As archetypes, they respectively represent his willingness and his recalcitrance with regard to his way of ultimately engaging experience. He, appropriately so, is described as their father, his willingness to give forth of himself to experience (from aBhaH, אבה). Utilizing wine (ייו – what overwhelms in experience),11 they are able to channel (שקה – ShaQaH) their willingness to give forth to experience (their father) and thus engender behaviors (בנים – sons). The older (haB’KhiRah – הבכירה), “the one who wells forth” generates Moab. From the verb Ya/aBh (יאב), it means “one’s yearning to give forth to experience.” The younger (haTs’\iRah – הצעירה), “the one narrowed in and restrained by experience” generates Ben-Ami (בן עמי). From the verb \aMaM (עמם – to be crowded in upon), it means “a behavior resulting from one’s being crowded in upon by experience.”

Although the struggle with Lot, our holding back while cursing, ceases to be mentioned in the remainder of the Torah, Moab and Amon represent our continued resistance to the desired goal of actively and purposely engaging with experience as expressed by the names Avram (one’s heightened willingness to give forth to experience) and Avraham (one’s spreading out so as to take notice of and willingly give forth to things stirred in experience). These are the experiences brought forth to us by G-d as El (the initiator, advancing forward experience), as YHWH (G-d’s bringing forth of existence) and Elohim (G-d’s guidance being presented in experience).11

1 – Avraham (אברהם) a person spreading out into experience so as to take notice of and willingly give forth of oneself to what is stirred up in experience, from /aBhaR or /eBaeR (אבר – to extend outward, spread wings, take flight) + HaMoN (המון), those that are stirred up, from HaMaH (המה – to stir up) Also father /aBh (אב) derives from /aBhaH (אבה) which in Hebrew means “to be willing to give forth of oneself,” whereas in Arabic it means “to take notice of.” All together Avraham means “one’s spreading out so as to take notice of and willingly give forth of oneself to things stirred up.
2 – LeHhEM (לחם – bread) is related to the word MiLHhaMah (מלחמה – to engage in battle); CheM/aH (חמאה – butter) from HaMaH (המה – to stir up) > HhaMaH (חמה – to stir, heat, churn); HhaLaBh (חלב – milk) from the Arabic root (חלב = ChaLaB – to seize with claws, cajole, coax, beguile, fascinate, captivate; gripping, captivating, attractive, tempting); BaQaR (cattle – to seek, investigate).
3 – The verb Sarah (שרה), from which comes the name Yisrael (ישראל), does not exactly mean to wrestle, nor does its associated noun exactly mean princess. It means to fix on something either visually or physically. When to fix on something physically, it could be used to mean wrestle. When to fix on something visually, its male counterpart, Sar (שר), means an overseer, a member of the court.
4 – Sodom (סדם), brooding uncertainty. Based on allegorical context, DoM (דום) be still and silent, and SDM (סדם) in Arabic meaning affliction, sorrow, sadness, grief, nebula, and nebulous.
5 – Gamorah (עמורה), feeling overwhelmed. Based on allegorical context and Arabic copious, abundant, overflow, lavish, heap up, and to overwhelm emotionally.
6 – ten (עשרה – \aSaRaH) metaphorically means “what bears down (upon a person).” This Semitic root consists of two etymologically unrelated homonyms. The number ten evolved from the root that means “to be well supported.” But the other homonym means to urge, force, compel, bear down, plight, and predicament in Arabic; and to put pressure on, demand, exact payment, constrict, enclose, and confine in Akkadian.
7 – MaQoM (מקום) from the verb QuM (קום) meaning to be fixed in place > to stand / arise / establish. See Samuel I 4:15 to be fix in place / stand in place (one’s eyes).
8 – Lot (לוט) in Hebrew = to curse; in Akkadian = to keep in check, confine, wrap around, encircle, bind up.
9 – Sh’Tai (שתי), meaning two, comes from Sh’NaTayim (שנתים) > Sh’Tayim (שתים). However, the allegory comes from the verb ShaTaT (שתת) meaning “to set up / out to do something, to start something or lay the foundation for.” Likewise, although /aeSheT (אשת) meaning “wife of” comes from /eeShah (אשה), its allegory also comes from ShaTaT (שתת). The word for husband (one who persists) > man איש (and possibly אשה) is related to /aeSh (אש – persistent existence).
10 – MeLaHh – salt (מלח), evolved from the word MaLaH (fraying) literally meaning that which crumbles. Note מלחים withered, frayed garments (Jr38:11,12); as opposed to MaLaHh (מלח) – sailor / to sail which evolved from LWHh (לוח) to join > be well joined > committed > friendly > kind > graceful > balanced > balance > counter-balance.
11 – YaYin (יין), wine, an overbearing substance. Is related to YWN (יון) to mean overbearing (mud). According to Jastro, the root YNH (ינה) means to be undecided / waver. However, the root evolved from אנה which means “to impose or apply oneself,” so it means “one who asserts himself in a way that is wavering.” YaYin (יין), wine, is a substance that is overbearing and makes a person undecided with wavering assertiveness.
11 – Most derive Eloah (אלוה) / Elohim (אלהים) from אל. I believe that the word evolved from LaWaH (לוה) meaning to escort and guide. Hence, initially the word Elohim (אלהים) referred to the pantheon of gods, whose purported purpose was to guide and escort humanity. With the advent of monotheism, the word was used with a singular verb to represent G-d, but continued to be used to represent the pantheons of others, a council of judges and people of similar purpose.

A.F.L Beeston, M.A. Ghul, W.W. Muller, J. Ryckmans ()1982) Sabaic Dictionary. Publication of the University of Sanaa, Yar

Ernest Klein (1987) A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language for Readers of English. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company

Hans Wehr. Ed by J Milton Cowan (1979) Hans Wehr A Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic. Ithaca, NY: Published in the United States by Spoken Languages Services, Inc with permission of Otto Harrassowitz

Jeremy Black, Andrew George, Nicholas Postgate, eds., A Concise Dictionary ofAkkadian, 2nd corrected printing (Santag Arbeiten und Untersuchungen Zur Keilschriftkunde, 5; Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2000)

Marcus Jastrow (1996) A Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli and Yerushlami, and the Midrashic Literature.New York: The Judaica Press

J. Payne Smith’s (1999) A Compendious Syriac Dictionary. Published by Wipf and Stock

David Kantrowitz (1991 – 2009) Judaic Classics version 3.4. Institute for Computers in Jewish Life, Davka Corp., and/or Judaica Press, Inc.

G. del Olmo Lete & J. Sanmartin (2003) A Dictionary of the Ugaritic Language in the Alphabetic Tradition. Leiden: Brill. Translated by Wilfred G.E. Watson

Wolf Leslau (1976) Concise Amharic Dictionary. University of California Press. Berkeley and Los Angeles.

About the Author
David Kolinsky is a retired physician born and raised in Monsey, New York. While living in Monterey California, David initially lived as a secular, agnostic Jew. However, in his spare time, he delved into twenty years of daily study of Hebrew etymology and Torah study culminating in the writing of an etymological dictionary of Biblical Hebrew and a metaphorical translation of Torah. Abandoning his agnostic views, David was simultaneously a spiritual leader of the world's smallest conservative synagogue, a teacher in his local reform synagogue, and a gabbai at Chabad. He is currently sheltering in place with his family in his new home in Plano, Texas.
Related Topics
Related Posts