Pesach: A Seder in Sedom

By: Rabbi Jay Kelman |

"He made a feast for them and baked matzah and they ate" (Breisheet 19:3). The "angels" had come to Sedom to rescue Lot from the destruction that awaited the metropolis of Sedom-Amorah. Rashi, commenting on the strange menu that Lot served to his guests, notes that it must have been Pesach. Presumably, had it been any other time of the year, Lot would have served bread--a more appropriate staple food to serve at a "feast".

Considering that there was no Jewish calendar at this point--and the story of the Exodus was 400 years away--it is difficult to imagine what type of seder Lot had. How exactly did he fulfil the mitzvah of sippur yetziat mitzraim, retelling the story of the Exodus? Did Lot also serve marror to commemorate the bitterness of the slavery? Furthermore, Lot was celebrating a holiday that would have no relationship to his descendants. When Lot moved to Sedom, he severed the covenantal relationship that G-d was to bestow upon Abraham and his family throughout history.

There would be no reason for our Rabbis to ascribe Lot 's eating matzah to a foretelling of the Pesach story. Why not ascribe the "first Pesach" to Abraham, where the angels had been earlier in the day? Yet the Torah makes no mention of matzah by Abraham. It was "three measures of the finest flour" (18:6), most likely pure chametz.

Our Rabbis who read the Bible so carefully could see layers and layers of meaning that would otherwise have escaped our eyes. Lot did not, could not, celebrate the Pesach we have today. However, the essence of Pesach can be found within the story of Lot, Sedom and the angels.

The Egyptian exile was meant to instil upon the Jews the obligation to treat the widow, orphan, and stranger with the utmost compassion. Over and over again, the Torah equates compassion towards others with our sojourn in Egypt. It was the Egyptian fear of the stranger that led to our enslavement. Unfortunately, hundreds of years earlier, it had been Sedom that developed the notion of cruelty to outsiders. Guests were not allowed--it nearly cost Lot his life hosting the angels--and welfare to the poor was absolutely forbidden. The Netziv points out that the special taxes imposed upon the Jews in Egypt were not in order to help raise necessary capital for Egyptian society (such a discriminatory tax would have been somewhat understandable). Rather, it was leman anoto bsivlotom, to oppress them with their burdens (Shemot 1:11), for no reason other than pure spite. Our rabbis have described the essence of Sedom behaviour as midat Sedom, to refuse a favour to someone else despite there being no cost to you.

The Torah introduces its sexual ethic with the warning, "Do not follow the ways of Egypt where you once lived" (Vayikra 18:2). Apparently, Egyptian culture was a most promiscuous one--just like the people of Sedom, who surrounded Lot 's home in their attempt to engage in homosexual behaviour with his guests. Like the Jews who had no time to leave Egypt, Lot was ordered to "get moving, get out of this area, as G-d is about to destroy the city" (Breisheet 19:14). Interestingly, the first of only four Shalshelets--a liturgical note connoting delay and hesitation--is placed on the word Vayitmahema, "and he hesitated" (19:16). In truth, Lot had to be pulled out of Sedom; redemption delayed is redemption lost. While Lot, like the Jews in Egypt, needed a little push to leave, his two sons-in-law, to whom "it was all a big joke" (19:14), stayed behind and were killed with the rest of the city. Not much different than the 80% of the Jews who did not heed the call of Moshe and were never heard from again.

With our redemption from Egypt, the Jews were warned, "Do not return to the land of Egypt"; we must learn from Egypt, but we are not to return to it. Unfortunately, Lot 's wife did not listen to similar instructions to "not look back" and was turned into salt.

The story of Lot, in truth, did happen on Pesach. "In the month of Nisan we were redeemed, and in the month of Nisan we will be redeemed". The birth of the Moshiach began with the daughters of Lot as they escaped from Sedom. Fearing the world had been destroyed, they conceived from Lot the ancestor of King David. The redemption continued through Egypt and Moshe, Ruth the Moabite and King David. May we merit to see the complete redemption heralding the just treatment of all as all nations will recognize the name of G-d. Chag Sameach!