SALT - Thursday, 6 Shevat 5777 - February 2, 2017

  • Rav David Silverberg

            Numerous parallels exist between the story of the night of the Exodus, which we read in Parashat Bo, and the story of Lot’s rescue from Sedom, which is presented in Sefer Bereishit (chapter 19).   In both instances, God brought a plague of destruction upon an evil population, miraculously sparing a select group: Lot and his family were rescued from Sedom, and Benei Yisrael were protected from the plague of the firstborn.  Just as Benei Yisrael were commanded to remain at home eating matza on the night of the plague that befell Egypt, Lot prepared matzot that night for his guests (Bereishit 19:3).  Indeed, Rashi comments that Lot baked matzot because that night was Pesach.  Moreover, Lot was rescued from Sedom in the merit of his uncle, Avraham – “God remembered Avraham, and so He sent Lot from amidst the upheaval” (Bereishit 19:29) – just as Benei Yisrael were redeemed in the merit of the covenant with Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov – “God remembered His covenant with Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov” (Shemot 2:24).  A literary parallel between the two accounts can be found in the phrase “kumu tze’u” (“Arise and leave!”), which is used both by the angels as they urged Lot and his family to leave (Bereishit 19:14), and by Pharaoh as he drove Benei Yisrael from Egypt in response to the plague (Shemot 12:31).  The textual parallel is reinforced by the verb m.h.m.h. (“tarry”), which is used to describe Lot’s delayed departure from Sedom (“va-yitmhmah” – Bereishit 19:16) and Benei Yisrael’s frantic departure from Egypt (“ve-lo yakhelu le-hitmahmei’ah” – Shemot 12:39). 

            Another possible point of connection between these two events is the theme of hospitality.  The city of Sedom was destroyed for its selfishness and hostility to foreigners, specifically to foreigners in need of assistance.  This was underscored by the story of angels who disguised as wayfarers, whom the townspeople sought to kill for the “crime” of accepting an offer of hospitality.  These guests were mistreated by the townspeople who should have shown them kindness and compassion, and were rescued while the evil city was annihilated.  Similarly, Benei Yisrael had come to Egypt to escape the harsh drought conditions in Canaan, and while at first they were generously cared for while Yosef served as Egyptian vizier, after his death, they were viewed with suspicion, despised, humiliated and mistreated.  Ultimately, the needy guests were spared while the cruel host population was stricken with a deadly plague.

            It has been suggested that this final parallel underlies the theme of hospitality that features prominently in our annual observance of the seder night.  We customarily invite guests to the seder, and we introduce the maggid section of the seder – the focal point of the observance – by formally extending an invitation to all those who are hungry and in need of hospitality.  As we sit down around the table to commemorate, reenact and relive our ancestors’ experiences, we recall the lesson of the destruction of Sedom and Egypt, and commit ourselves to reversing their mistake.  We were rescued in the merit of Avraham, whose generosity, kindness and hospitality stood in direct contrast to the cruelty and heartlessness of Sedom and Egypt.  We thus begin our commemoration with a proclamation of our commitment to his legacy of generosity, and loudly announce our firm rejection of the legacy of Sedom and Egypt, our eager willingness to happily welcome and assist those in genuine need of assistance.

(Based on an article by Rav Yoel Bin-Nun)