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G-d's messengers accepted Abraham's personal hospitality preparations into his tent with: 'Yes: do as you said' (18:5).
G-d's messengers initially refused Lot's personal hospitality at the gate entrance of Sodom with: 'No: we will lodge in the street' (19:2).
Rashi to 19:2 comments: From here we learn that one may refuse [an offer of hospitality] from a lesser person, but not from a greater person.
This comment needs examination. If anything, it should be the other way round. Tent hospitality to all in the searing desert climate remains a Bedouin tradition even to this day. It is a mutual means of survival, freely and gracefully dispensed without even a quo vadis. So accepting Abraham's tent generosity was normative behavior. In contrast, Lot's way of life was by then decidedly urban: 'Lot lived in the gate of Sodom' (19:2). Many Canaanite remains from that period include casement walls (thick walls doubling up as residences) and residential gates, designed to control access to undesirable outsiders. And walled cities are relatively safe - food, water, and paid temporary accommodation may be obtained on site. As people are not directly dependent on one another, there has been no social development of gratuitous hospitality as a way of life. (Indeed, inter-city hitchhikers know that rides are easy to come by in the countryside, but well-nigh impossible in the city center.) So it was Lot, not Abraham, who broke social norms and invited in the strangers - and from his point of view, as the story develops, at great personal risk.
Why therefore, was Abraham's offer cordially accepted, but Lot's initially turned down? What did personal status have to do it? And why, in light of the above, was it the overriding factor?
In response, human nature is not to value what can be got for free, but what we have to work for. Sadly, consultants taking high fees are more likely to have their advice taken seriously than people just as competent who give their counsel without charge. Still more do people want they cannot get at any price.
Abraham's 'visitors' bore the good news - that his wife would give birth to a son. Lot's 'visitors' bore the bad news - that they would destroy Sodom, but save Lot and his family.
So the 'visitors' were to demand more from Lot than from Abraham. Lot was to make an escape from the society of the 'evil and the sinful' (13:13), amongst whom he had chosen to live. The 'visitors' knew that if they put up their price at the beginning, they would get more cooperation at the end. So at first their reply was: 'No, we will lodge in the street'. Being refused puts up their price and value - so 'he strongly persisted' until they eventually consented to enter…
This principle recalls a wry comment made by the Malbim in nineteenth century when one of the 'assimilationists' was called to the Torah. He made the standard blessing: 'Who has chosen us from all people and given us the Torah…'
'Lucky fellow,' the Malbim rejoined. 'Because He gave us the Torah, he can ignore it. What if he had given it to the Gentiles? He would have adhered strictly to it, to be a 'Gentile amongst Gentiles'.
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Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: email@example.com for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
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