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Home » Life Is Beautiful, Tragedy, Vayera

Vayera: A Person of Destiny

Submitted by on October 31, 2020 – 8:26 pmNo Comment | 104 views

Sodom would soon be aflame, and Lot and his family were being shepherded from the city. It was not his destiny to die that night. It was his destiny to live. But why?  Lot thought it was on account of his good deeds, but that wasn’t the case. It was in the merit of his illustrious uncle Abraham.

Before leaving the city, the angel instructed Lot, “do not look behind you.” Lot obeyed and looked forward, but his wife could not resist. She looked back and died on the spot.[1]

What was wrong with looking back and why was Lot’s wife so severely punished? The ordinary explanation is that it is not right to look upon others during their time of suffering. Especially if you too were destined to suffer and were spared for reasons that have little to do with you.[2] But as always, we seek a deeper reason. Something that provides us with an insight and lesson for life.

A Glorious Chain
In a brilliant interpretation, one rabbi explained that Lot and his wife were enjoined against looking to the children that they would leave behind when they passed. Among their daughter’s descendants would be Ruth, the amazing Moabite proselyte, King David, the entire dynasty of the Davidic kingdom, and the Mashiach. Lot and his wife were certain that they would be spared from destruction on account of the children that they would leave behind. If someone as special as David and Mashiach would come from their loins, surely, they did not deserve to be destroyed with the sinners of Sodom.[3]

Yet, the angel told them not to look behind them. The children that they would leave behind would not save them. Because their part in creating the lineage from which these wonderful people would descend was already behind them—they had already given birth to the daughter from whom these people would descend. Her birth was in the past and in times of peril, we must look forward, not backward.

Lot found the fortitude to look forward, but for his wife, this was too difficult. She looked back. Thus. the suffering of Sodom overwhelmed his wife, but Lot himself survived. Why is it important to look forward in times of peril and danger and why is looking backward a sure-fire way to perish?

Person of Destiny
There are two ways to look at life. We can either see ourselves as people of fate or as people of destiny. If you are a person of fate, you see everything that happens to you as fated, and you bemoan it. When something good happens, you don’t take credit, you assume that it was fated to happen. Nothing that you could have done would have increased or decreased the odds of it happening. Conversely, if something bad happens, you don’t take responsibility. It was not your fault; nothing you did brought it on, and nothing you might do can help you survive. You are fated to suffer, and you must accept it.

When we think of ourselves as people of fate, it is easy to grow bitter when bad things happen. We look back and point to all the wonderful things that we did, all our wonderful qualities, and bemoan the fact that none of them were enough to prevent our suffering. Why do we suffer, we wail before G-d? Why do we deserve it? Why are we fated to such a horrible life?

Not so when we perceive ourselves as people of destiny. As people of destiny, we ask what we can do next, what is our destiny today? If we suffer a setback today, we look for the destiny within the setback. In what way will our setback lead us to our new destiny?

Fate is passive and destiny is active. Fate is reactive, destiny is proactive. Fate demands to know why things happened. Destiny demands to know what we can do about them. Fate asks why, destiny asks wherefore? A person of fate bemoans, a person of destiny intones.

It, therefore, follows that a person of fate looks back to all the wonderful achievements from the past and asks why the present is so harsh. The person of destiny looks to all the wonderful things that can be achieved in the future and asks how the bleak present can contribute to the bright future.

As the fires raged across Sodom, the angel enjoined Lot not to look at his past. Don’t look behind you to the great things that you have already accomplished, the noble things that you have done, and the qualities and traits of which you are proud. Such thoughts will only drag you down when you compare them to the horrors of the present. You will ask yourself why you deserve to suffer.

Instead, look forward and be a man of destiny. Ask yourself what you can learn from this suffering. How can these hard times refine you and make you a better person? Let’s face it Lot, you might have given birth to a daughter from whom Ruth and King David will descend and you might be a nephew of the great Abraham, but you aren’t perfect. There is a lot that you must still achieve.

G-d gave you prosperity and you chose to live in Sodom where wayfarers and panhandlers were not welcome. When G-d gives us more than we need, He wants us to feel the plight of those who have less than they need. He wants us to share. He wants our hearts to bleed for others in need. Instead, you lined your pockets with gold and isolated yourself behind the gated (virtual) community of Sodom. You didn’t share your bounty. You didn’t feel the pain of those who were driven away. You didn’t go after them and give them succor.

The current bout of suffering from which you are being saved can give you lots of food for thought. Look forward Lot, not backward. Ask yourself how this upheaval can give you the perspective you need. How can it soften your heart? How can it sweeten your perspective? How can it refine your attitude, sensitize you to others, humble your ago, and change your demeanor? Ask yourself, as a person of destiny, how this experience can make you a better person and open you up to G-d?

Lot accepted the challenge and looked forward. (Not that he succeeded in becoming a righteous person, but at least he tried.) His wife refused. She had bought into the ethos of Sodom and had no interest in changing her ways. A new life held little appeal for her. Instead, she looked behind her. She brazenly looked back to the lifestyle she led and argued that it was good. She had no interest in changing. She had no interest in growth. She was mired in the past.[4]

When your mindset is mired in fate and you bemoan your troubles, your troubles will ultimately sink you. This is what happened to Lot’s wife. When you adopt the attitude of destiny and look forward to growth, you can survive. And this is what happened to Lot.[5]

 

[1] Genesis 12–26.

[2] Rashi Genesis 12:17.

[3] Karban He’ani ad loc. He adds that this is why the cantillation note for the word vayitmahamah—and he tarried (12:17) is a note we call shalshelet. Shalshelet means a chain. Lot gazed upon the chain of righteous people to come from his loins and couldn’t imagine that he would go down with Sodom.

 

[4] This is implied by the fact that she died by turning into a pillar of salt. Our sages taught (Bereshit Rabbah 50:4) that this was a punishment for refusing to provide salt to the few guests that Lot did bring home. She worried that if she gave them salt they would grow thirsty and then she would have to provide drinks.

[5] This essay is based on Kol Dodi Dofek by Rabbi Yosef Ber Soloveitchik.

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