The twisted morality of misplaced compassion: Midrash Tanchuma Vayera
It’s no accident that the English word sodomy comes from Sodom. (See edenics.org) There are many Midrashim which dramatize how the city ordinances of Sodom made kindness a crime punishable by death. But you don’t have to look that far. The Parsha provides a concrete example of how the morals of Sodom affected Lot. He extended hospitality to the two men (angels in disguise) that came to visit him. After all, Lot grew up in Abraham’s household and absorbed Abraham’s principles of “Chessed” (loving kindness) and hospitality. Yet Lot’s idea of extending hospitality devolved into a loathsome offer. To assuage the lust of the angry mob intent on sexually assaulting his male guests, Lot offered them his own daughters.
Midrash Tanchuma labels Lot’s behavior as crossing all moral boundaries in terms of a father’s normal instincts to protect his daughters. His twisted sense of hospitality ended in a bizarre twist of fate. Lot ended up having relations with these very same daughters.*
בְּנֹהַג שֶׁבָּעוֹלָם אָדָם מוֹסֵר עַצְמוֹ לֵהָרֵג עַל בְּנוֹתָיו וְעַל אִשְׁתּוֹ וְהוֹרֵג אוֹ נֶהֱרָג, וְזֶה מוֹסֵר בְּנוֹתָיו לְהִתְעוֹלֵל בָּהֶן. אָמַר לוֹ הַקָּבָּ”ה, חַיֶּיךָ, לְעַצְמְךָ אַתְּ מְשַׁמְּרָן.
”Normally, a man would die to protect his daughter or his wife; indeed he would willingly kill or be killed for their sake, but this man was willing to allow his daughters to be abused. The Holy One, Blessed Be He, said to him: ‘By your life, you are protecting them (to have relations) with you. (Midrash Tanchuma 12:1!)'”
The depravity of Sodom partially reenacted in the Book of Judges
The Ramban (Nachmonides on Bereishis 19:8) brings up a fascinating yet disturbing incident found in the book of Shoftim (Judges) that seems to mirror the misguided morality of Lot. Known as פִּילֶגֶשׁ בַּגִּבְעָ (the concubine of Givah), it is a story that seems similar. However, the critical analysis of the Ramban exposes many critical differences. Once again you have a mob seeking to sexually assault a male guest. This time the mob are Jews from the tribe of Binyamin. Once again, to assuage the mob, the host offers his daughter, which is refused. He then offers the concubine of his guest, which the mob accepts. She is assaulted all night and dies shortly afterwards. The guest cuts her body into pieces and sends them to all the tribes of Israel to dramatize the moral indignity committed by the tribe of Binyamin. Indeed, every tribe is outraged and sends soldiers to punish the tribe of Binyamin. However, instead of taking the matter before the justice system, they inquire of God via the אורים ותומים – breastplate of the High Priest. Their inquiries, according to the Ramban, reflect the fact that they have already decided to take matters in their own hands. They are defeated twice by the soldiers of Binyamin until they finally pose the question to God in a way that reflects the Torah’s values and not their own. Finally, they are victorious over the tribe of Binyamin.
As you can see, the story plays out much differently than the twisted morals of Lot. Although it too is about the terrible consequences of misplaced morality. Many thousands of Jews died in what can be described as a civil war. What’s vastly different between this story and the story of Lot, is the story in the Book of Judges was predicated on positive moral values – the moral indignation of the Jewish People against the depraved mob from Binyamin. In Sodom the whole city participated vs. a small minority of those in Binyamin. Interestingly enough, before a Jewish king came on the scene, all the tribes of Israel did not assemble to fight against any given enemy of Israel – like the פְּלִשְׁתִּים (Philistines) in the south. But this incident brought together troops from every tribe and every corner of the country.
So although the tribe of Benjamin started out as degenerate as the people of Sodom, the only moral outcry to the events in Sodom came from God himself. While the terrible event in Binyamin evoked a moral outcry from the entire nation of Israel. However, a morally justified lynch mob is not what God had in mind. The Jews learned a bitter but critical lesson – even a moral outcry has to be tempered with the morality and justice of the Torah.
*Yet we know from the Book of Ruth that the Davidic line from which Moshiach (Messiah) will come from this unholy union of Lot and his daughter. Lot’s daughter named her son Moav. Ruth, the Moavia (Moabite) was the great grandmother of king David.
This is related to the Kabbalistic idea that the roots of Mashiach are purposely camouflaged in highly unlikely (morally problematic) events. That way, the world is not paying attention to what are truly the most critical events in Jewish history – the emergence of the Moshiach. Another example is the fact that the Davidic line also emerged from the union of Yehuda and his daughter-in-law, Tamar.