July 14, 2024
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Lot was commanded not to look back at the destruction of Sedom and Am Yisrael were also commanded for the future not to return to Egypt. What is the meaning of this command?

In both cases, it seems that they absorbed quite a bit of the foreign culture that surrounded them. According to our Sages, Am Yisrael was on the 49th—the lowest—level of impurity in Egypt. “But they did not hearken to Moshe because of their shortness of breath and because of their hard labor.” (Shemot 6:9). The Midrash explains hard labor—“avoda kasha”—to mean “avoda zara” —that they did not listen to Moshe because they were steeped in idol worship (see also Yechezkel 20). It is clear that Lot also took in quite a bit of the foreign culture and ideology that surrounded him. In order to be saved, one has to make a decision and take a stand: Where do I belong?! In order to be redeemed, one must make a clear choice to cut oneself off from the evil, to separate oneself from wickedness, and to turn inward to true goodness.

Therefore, in both cases we see them separating and secluding themselves within their homes. At the end of the day, in both cases, they had to leave that place, as Pharaoh says: “Get up and get out from among my people” (Shemot 12:31). In both cases, it was forbidden to look back, to return; there had to be a complete disconnect.

In order for them to be saved, Am Yisrael, who were steeped in idol worship, must pull themselves away from worshipping idols. They must completely cut themselves off from Egyptian culture. Only such a decision can bring salvation and redemption.

This idea is strengthened through another parallel between Lot’s Pesach and Pesach in Egypt: In both instances, they had to do something that endangered their lives, something that showed that they would not follow the rules and ideology of the place. Lot endangers his life by welcoming guests into his home and thus shows that he is disconnecting himself from Sedom. Am Yisrael slaughters a lamb—the Egyptian “god”—thereby cutting themselves off by showing that they would not subscribe to the ideology and culture of Egypt!

It was not easy for Lot to break away: “But he tarried, and the men took hold of his hand and… out of God’s pity for him, and they took him out and placed him outside the city” (Bereishit 19:16). Lot’s wife did not succeed in breaking away and she looked back. Therefore, she turned into a pillar of salt.

By contrast, Am Yisrael did succeed in breaking away: “They baked the dough that they had taken out of Egypt as unleavened cakes, for it had not leavened, for they were driven out of Egypt, and they could not tarry…” (Shemot 12:39). That is why they were saved!

Am Yisrael eats matzah on Pesach. Lot also ate matzah on Pesach, as Rashi explains when the angels came to Lot in Sedom: “‘And he baked matzot and they ate’—it was Pesach.” (Bereishit 19:3).

Matzah symbolizes one’s individual identity, one’s essence—cutting off from foreign ideologies and culture. This is the ultimate salvation: the matzah! That very disconnect, making that decision that we are not going to be like the people of Sedom or Egypt, that is what brings us redemption.

We, Am Yisrael, have merited to return to our land. However, as we have learned, we need to pay attention not only to our physical dwelling place but also to the substantial decisions that impact our very essence and character. One can learn many values from the nations of the world, on condition that he does not lose his Jewish identity. The return to Eretz Yisrael will reach its full strength when, in addition to having returned physically, Am Yisrael will feel that what guides and directs them is God’s light; when we are able to be true to the inner essence and identity of Am Yisrael.

Translated by Rebbetzin Sara Krengel.

Rabbi Yosef Zvi Rimon is founder and chairman of Sulamot, and serves as rosh yeshiva of Lev Academic Center (JCT) and rabbi of Alon Shvut South. He is the head of World Mizrachi’s educational advisory board.

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