“The First Matzo” Parashat Vayera 5778

Time has run out for Sodom and it is scheduled for destruction. Before this can happen, Avraham’s nephew, Lot, who happens to live in Sodom, must first be rescued. Two angels head to Sodom, one to destroy the place and the other to rescue Lot. The angels find Lot and he treats them like guests [Bereishit 19:3]: “[They] came into his house and he made them a feast; he baked matzot and they ate”. The matzo on the menu catches Rashi’s eye and he notes that “it was Pesach”. Excuse me? Lot was observing a holiday that celebrated an event that wouldn’t occur for another four hundred years. Why does Rashi, who always strives to give the simplest explanation, propose something so outlandish?

There are a number of ways to understand Rashi’s explanation. One way is to assume that Rashi meant what he said and that for some reason Lot and the angels were having a Pesach seder complete with matzo, marror, and impossible quantities of roast beef. This path opens a Pandora’s box of questions: Earlier in the day the same angels pay Avraham a visit and Avraham tells Sarah [Bereishit 18:6] “Quickly take [meal and] fine flour; knead it and make cakes.” If it was Pesach, why didn’t Avraham offer his guests matzo like Lot did? Perhaps the cakes were not chametz? Or, perhaps, the angels visited Avraham on erev Pesach, while it was still permissible to eat chametz? I even saw one explanation that asserts that the angels did not eat Sarah’s cakes precisely because she served them on Pesach[1].

Rav Yoel bin-Nun proposes a stunning way to understand Rashi. If the story of the angels in Sodom is compared to the story of the night of the redemption in Egypt, a large number of striking parallels become evident. While Rav bin-Nun enumerates twelve of these parallels, we’ll just show a few of them in a handy table:

Pesach in Sodom [Bereishit 19] Pesach in Egypt [Shemot 12]
Lot came out to them to the entrance, and he shut the door behind him [19:6] You shall not go out, any man from the entrance of his house until morning [12:22]
For we are destroying this place, because their cry has become great before Hashem, and Hashem has sent us to destroy it [19:13] Hashem will pass to smite the Egyptians… He will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses to smite you. [12:23]
Whomever you have in the city, take out of the place [19:12] Hashem took the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt with their legions [12:51]

It is impossible to read one episode and not to be reminded of the other episode. Rashi is not outlandish at all – he is bringing the simple meaning of the verse. Before we continue, it must be noted that Rav Yoel bin-Nun was one of the originators of a “new” and “modern” method for understanding the Torah by analysing an entire episode. Contrast this method with that of the medieval commentators who typically explain the Torah on a verse-by-verse basis. Rav bin-Nun’s method became the de facto method for the Modern Orthodox crowd, but was anathema to those with a more conservative outlook, and Rav bin-Nun has suffered all too many slings and arrows from their direction. In his essay discussing “Pesach in Sodom”[2], Rav bin-Nun lashes out at his detractors, asserting that Rashi cannot be truly understood without using his method of interpretation.

Rav bin-Nun suggests that the holiday of Pesach, whether in Sodom or in Egypt, is symbolic of a situation in which a large guilty community is being punished while a smaller, innocent group of people, living in close proximity to the larger group, is threatened by the fallout. “Pesach” is when these people are rescued by Hashem. With Pesach in Egypt the rescue occurred on a national level while Pesach in Sodom was on a more personal level.

Rav Yossef Tzvi Rimon builds on Rav bin-Nun’s explanation and uncovers another layer. Rav Rimon notes that Lot was commanded not to look back at the destruction of Sodom. Indeed, Lot’s wife looked back and was killed for it. Rav Rimon draws a parallel between this personal command to Lot and his family, and the national prohibition not to return to Egypt[3]. Using this parallel, Rav Rimon suggests that a prerequisite of any redemption is to jettison the past. If the break with the past is incomplete, then the redemption will be equally incomplete. A person must think independently in order to achieve independence.

I’d like to add a dimension of my own. While the explanations of Rav bin-Nun and of Rav Rimon are startling in their beauty and in their simplicity, we must be cognizant that their explanations compare two entire episodes, and that their comparisons are thematic. This type of comparison strips the episodes of their chronological flow, which can lead to certain problems. For example, while matzo is one of the key parameters of both the Pesach and Sodom redemptions, Lot bakes the matzo for his angelic guests before he learns that they have to come to rescue him from an apocalypse that he does not yet know about. In other words, Lot’s matzo seems to have nothing at all to do with his redemption.

We can put things into context if we recall why we eat matzo on Pesach. In an earlier shiur[4]  we showed how the prohibition of eating chametz taught the erstwhile slave the importance of time. In the words of Rav J.B. Soloveichik, “[Only] a slave who is capable of appreciating each day, of grasping its meaning and worth, of weaving every thread of time into a glorious fabric… is eligible for Torah. He has achieved freedom”. We concluded that “the prohibition of chametz is clear proof that time matters. While the dough might look and taste exactly the same after eighteen minutes as it does after thirty minutes, the dough is prohibited after eighteen minutes. If you eat that dough on Pesach, you will be cut off from the rest of the nation. Because for better for worse, time matters.” Why did Lot give his guests matzo instead of bread? Rav David Kimchi asserts that Lot was acutely aware of time: as baking matzo takes far less time than baking bread, matzo was the right food for his starving guests. Lot’s attitude reflected the importance of hospitality that he learned while living with Avraham and Sarah. I suggest that Lot had an entirely different reason for the haste with which he fed his guests. When he first meets the angels, he tells them [Bereishit 19:2] “Behold now my lords, please turn to your servant’s house and stay overnight and wash your feet, and you shall arise early and go on your way”. Lot knew that the inhabitants of Sodom frowned upon hospitality. Eat, drink, be merry, and then get out of here. In fact, Lot didn’t serve his guests quickly enough. The locals discover Lot’s guests, they surround Lot’s house, they demand that he hand over his guests, and only a miracle saves them. The point we are making is that Lot’s time-awareness was not a positive attribute – it was a seemingly negative attribute. Avraham would have baked his guests a fluffy loaf of bread while Lot gave them a piece of cardboard matzo as he pushed them out the door. And yet, for better or worse, Lot still possesses a basic awareness of time. Moreover, I suggest that it is this rudimentary awareness of time that enabled Lot to be redeemed.

A person does not need to be righteous in order to be redeemed. What is required is something to build on: to be redeemed a person must possess the potential to be righteous. It’s all right if there are a couple of scratches or dents. After the redemption there will be plenty of time for repairs.

ere’s

Shabbat Shalom,

Ari Sacher, Moreshet, 5778

Please daven for a Refu’a Shelema for Yechiel ben Shprintza and Tzvi ben Freida.

[1] The author of this explanation will remain nameless because he uses an outlandish midrash in order to accuse Avraham of offering his guests chametz on Pesach.

[2] http://files8.webydo.com/92/9266067/UploadedFiles/C885729B-9E59-7D0D-75AF-30B890E3024B.pdf

[3] The Torah forbids returning to the Land of Egypt, see Devarim [17:16].

[4] Pesach 5777

About the Author
Ari Sacher is a Rocket Scientist, and has worked in the design and development of missiles for over twenty-five years. He has briefed hundreds of US Congressmen on Israeli Missile Defense, including three briefings on Capitol Hill at the invitation of House Majority Leader. Ari is a highly requested speaker, enabling even the layman to understand the "rocket science". Ari has also been a scholar in residence in numerous synagogues in the USA, Canada, UK, South Africa, and Australia. He is a riveting speaker, using his experience in the defense industry to explain the Torah in a way that is simultaneously enlightening and entertaining. Ari came on aliya from the USA in 1982. He studied at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, and then spent seven years studying at the Technion. Since 2001 he has published a weekly parasha shiur that is read around the world. Ari lives in Moreshet in the Western Galil along with his wife and eight children.
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