G-d did not give Abraham an easy life. The Talmud says Abraham underwent 10 divine tests, several of which are stated in the Torah. But one of his most difficult challenges was his nephew Lot.
For years, the patriarch took Lot with him wherever he went. And the young orphan shared in Abraham’s wealth — amassing a huge flock of sheep and goats. That changed Lot from a follower to a wannabee — as in “I want to be important.” Lot left his uncle for Sodom, a wicked city in the fertile plains of Jordan.
Soon, war erupted and Lot was abducted by Nimrod, the emperor who sought revenge against Abraham. Abraham recruited a little army, defeated Nimrod and rescued Lot. This could have marked a second chance for Lot, an opportunity to return to Abraham and the faithful. Instead, Lot went back to the same wicked city.
With his riches restored by Abraham, Lot became a prominent member of society. He was appointed the chief judge of Sodom. His office was at the edge of the city where he would meet and greet the VIPs. It was a good match. The king of Sodom wanted legitimacy and who better than the nephew of the world’s most righteous man?
What did being a judge in Sodom entail? It meant that Lot had to enforce all of the wicked decrees of the king. The dictatorships of the last century might have found the decrees familiar. They revolved around the need to stop outsiders. Sodom was extremely rich and didn’t want more people, even those passing through.
Here were some of the laws:
1. Citizens of Sodom were forbidden to invite or consort with foreigners.
2. Citizens were forbidden to take in strangers.
3. Visitors would be subject to torture and death. A tall stranger would have his legs reduced to fit a short bed. A short person would be stretched on the rack to fit a long bed. This was a big hit with the many sadists in the city-state.
4. Sodomy was a national sport. Visitors, unprotected by law, were the easiest target.
5. Rape was legal. If you liked what you saw, you simply grabbed.
Sodom’s fate was sealed when a young girl saw a hungry stranger and gave him a piece of bread. That was also illegal. The girl was prosecuted and sentenced to death in the most brutal fashion. The elders in the city decided to tie her to a stake on a rooftop and pour honey over her. The bees did the rest.
And the Lord said, “Since the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah has become great, and since their sin has become very grave, I will descend now and see, whether according to her cry, which has come to Me, they have done; [I will wreak] destruction [upon them]; and if not, I will know.”
Abraham pleaded with G-d to save the righteous in Sodom. Perhaps, there were 50 left, maybe 40, 30, 20, or even 10. It soon dawned on Abraham that there were no righteous men in the city, or at least those daring to protest They had either been killed or fled. Lot was certainly not among the righteous. He was a tool, meant to provide the legal cover for torture, brutality and sadism.
Abraham did not ask that Lot be saved. Still, G-d sent two angels to extricate Lot and his family before the destruction of Sodom and its sister city Gomorrah. Lot, ravaged by depravity, didn’t want to leave. In Sodom, he was important — a judge, a righteous man. If he returned to Abraham, he would be seen as simply wicked. He would also leave Sodom penniless.
And the Lord caused to rain down upon Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire, from the Lord, from heaven. And He turned over these cities and the entire plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and the vegetation of the ground.
Lot’s wife wanted to witness the divine wrath. She was turned into a pillar of stone. Lot and his daughters — their husbands refusing to join them — kept running. They thought this was the end of the world, although Lot knew from Abraham that G-d would never do that.
But it was the end of Lot’s world. He had lost everything — his position, his wealth, his wife and self-respect. His daughters got Lot drunk with wine found in a cave and decided that they needed to conceive.
And the elder said to the younger, “Our father is old, and there is no man on earth to come upon us, as is the custom of all the earth. Come, let us give our father wine to drink, and let us lie with him, and let us bring to life seed from our father.”
Both daughters became pregnant and gave birth. News of the incest spread throughout the land. Abraham was humiliated and moved his family south where the Philistines lived.
The eldest daughter had a boy and defiantly named him Moab, meaning “from my father.” The younger daughter was more discreet and named her son Ben Ami, or “the son of my people.”
And Lot was never heard from again. But his children eventually played a huge role in Jewish history. The commentators say that was the reason Lot was rescued and why he committed incest. Hundreds of years later, a daughter would be born in Moab and named Ruth. She would convert and become the great grandmother of David, the eternal king of Israel.
Ruth would correct the actions of Lot. While a prosperous Lot strayed from the righteous Abraham to the evil of Sodom, a poor and widowed Ruth would leave her depraved homeland of Moab for the descendants of Abraham.
As David put it in Psalms, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is from the Lord and it is marvelous in our eyes.”