This week’s parasha is so full of narrative and meaning, I hardly know where to begin. But since I must narrow it down to something, and since I’m still reeling from the events of last week, looking for rays of hope and light, let’s take a look at the idea of “hospitality” and “welcoming”. These are ideas that happen to be in the news a bit more these days.
First example of hospitality: Abraham welcoming the strangers. Three strangers come walking by Abraham’s tent, and he rushes out to greet them. In fact, if you animated this little scene, you’d have Abraham raising a lot of dust. He runs, he rushes, he greets, he bows, he hastens, he fetches. He gets Sarah to put together something for them to eat, and bathes their feet to refresh them on their journey. He has yet to ask them who they are or where they are going. He only knows they are travelers and he can welcome them into his home.
Abraham gets a blessing for this; the men/messengers tell Abraham and Sarah that they will become parents within the year. It’s laughable, given Sarah’s age, but they are reassured it will come to pass.
The next example is right after this – Sodom and Gemorrah. Abraham’s nephew Lot has a home, a wife, and four daughters. Two are married. God and Abraham are arguing over God’s plan to destroy the cities, given their wickedness and pervasive evil. Abraham is trying to get God to change plans, but after finding fewer than 10 righteous people, God will not save the town on their behalf.
We similar language now. Lot is sitting by the gate, sees two strangers, runs to greet them, bows, welcomes them to his home, but he has to convince them, unlike Abraham’s visitors. Lot also prepares food for them, but just after dinner, the townspeople come to Lot’s door and demand he hand over the visitors, “Where are the men who visited you tonight? Bring them out so we may know them.” (Gen 19:4 ) Lot tries to talk them out of it, by offering up two of his virgin daughters to the mob. They won’t have it. The Rabbis interpret “so we may know them” as intent to commit sodomy, turn them over to the mob that intends sexual assault.
Finally, the two men/messengers tell Lot to take his wife and daughters and sons-in-law, and leave town, because God’s about to destroy the place. The sons-in-law don’t believe him, so Lot leaves with his younger two daughters, his wife, and heads for the hills.
God, indeed, destroys the towns. And then, after their mother turns into a pillar of salt, and believing their father is the only man left alive in the world, the daughters get their father drunk and sleep with him in turn, each becoming pregnant. Not making this up.
So we have two stories with mysterious visitors who are obviously messengers/angels. Two acts of kindness towards them…come to my home and I will feed and house you. Two prophecies fulfilled – one for a new child within the year, and two from the most forbidden of relationships.
What do we make of these parallel stories? Hospitality begins with respect and generosity, as both Lot and Abraham demonstrated. Is it the way they played out – with Lot’s believing that submitting his two young daughters to mob assault is better than abetting a homosexual assault? Sodom and Gemorrah were wicked cities, and Lot was affected. He so devalued his daughters (did they hear him offer them to the mob?) that their boundaries were gone by the time they arrived in the hills, where incest became an acceptable concept for them.
Hospitality and respect; neither can exist when one group is pitted against another, when one group is devalued or considered disposable, and another must be avoided. Lot faced violence,and rather than saying no to all of the intended violence, he tried to mollify the mob by “feeding them” vulnerable individuals, becoming no better than they and eventually falling victim to unconscious participation in the basest of acts. In an atmosphere of threat and violence, when outsiders are seen as fair game for attack, when fear of “others” is fanned to the point of violence, well…that society will be destroyed.