Sitting On The Fence Syndrome
By Rabbi Yoseph Kahanov Jax, Fl.
Sitting on a fence is a man who sees no sense in fighting
Sitting on a fence is a man who sees no sense at all
Sitting on a fence is a man who strokes his twenty beards
Sitting on a fence is a man who drinks real ale
But the real problem with this man
Is he says he can’t when he can
He’d rather not get his hands dirty
He’ll still be there when he’s thirty
I told myself to keep my mouth shut
But I still end up saying if and but
I lied to myself right from the start
And I’ve just worked out that I’m falling apart
Sitting on a fence is a man who looks up to his guardian
Sitting on a fence is a man who swings from poll to poll
Sitting on a fence is a man who sees both sides of both sides
Sitting on a fence is a man who looks down on opinion
But the real problem with this man . . .
(Song by Housemartins)
How long will you vacillate between two opinions – 1 Kings 18, 21
We’ve all heard the saying “you can’t have your cake and eat it too,” or better said, “you can’t eat you cake and have it too.” Well Lot, it appears, had missed this lesson.
On the surface Lot seems like a real pious guy. He does everything right. He says all the right things and makes all the right moves. When the Angels show up at the gates of Sodom, Mr. Lot is right there to greet them, just like his uncle Avraham was wont to do. Much as Avraham ran towards the strangers, Lot too runs towards them. . . Avraham bowed; Lot bows.
Despite great personal risk, Lot welcomes the nomads and even invites them into his own home. When the guests decline the invitation Lot insists. He does not give up until he succeeds.
Lot does not appear to be disingenuous or to have an ulterior motive. As a nephew raised on Avraham’s knee, it looks as if he has learned rather well from his sainted uncle, especially about Hachnosas Orchim (guest hospitality).
In fact, if attention is paid, one will notice that the very choice of words and expressions that Lot employs in his conversation with the travelers are almost identical to those uttered by Avraham with respect to the very same visitors.
Lot’s defiance of the surrounding ethos was apparently not limited to social kindness either – the fuzzy Tikun Olam stuff. Lot it appears actually observed hardcore religion – Mitzvos. In fact, according to the commentaries, Lot observed the Jewish holidays.
Rashi, for example points out, matter of factly, that Lot like Avraham served his guests Matzoh in honor of the holiday of Passover which fell out at that time.
Imagine that! Eating Matzoh, perhaps even Shmurah Matzoh, in the heart of Sodom and Gomorra, in observance of the holiday of Passover. Not too shabby for a guy in the hood – the most decadent and perverted place on earth.
Given the above it could be argued that Lot was actually a hero – a man who defied his surroundings and risked his life for the sake of G-d and religion. Yet Jewish tradition portrays him as anything but a hero or even a man of piety. What does our religion have against Lot?
Grant it Lot was not perfect, but then who is? So he had a small altercation with his good uncle over some grazing land and decided to split, does that make him a bad guy? Even if he wasn’t as discriminate as Avraham with regards to where he let his cattle graze, as Rashi notes, does that erase all the good stuff? Let’s not forget the age and culture in which he lived. This was a very minor infraction by the standards of the prevailing civilization.
Why then does Judaism fail to recognize Lot’s heroism or piety? Is he being picked on because he wasn’t part of what was to become the Jewish people, or because he actually decided to quit the club?
Whatever was wrong with Lot, it was obviously not some small indiscriminate incident or squabble. It was rather something that reflected on his overall character and values. It was in fact, the very place he chose to live and raise his family.
Lot, as we know, was not born in Sodom, neither was his father or grandfather born in Sodom. Nor, for that matter, did he move there before it gained its notoriety as the Mecca of evil and corruption. Why, after all the years under the tutelage of the great Tzadik Avraham, would Lot choose to relocate to the most depraved and degenerate spot on earth? What business did Lot have in Sodom? What attracted him, of all places, to this morally depleted cesspool? The obvious answer is its ruthlessness and licentiousness.
Lot, as it turns out, was a man of many passions; a few too many perhaps. While he wanted to maintain the level of piety that he acquired from his uncle Avraham, he also liked what he saw in Sodom. He was a man with a foot in two worlds – two opposite worlds – the world of Avraham and the world of Sodom. Worse even, he thought it actually was possible for one to live this way.
The Biblical characters are not just historical figures that came and went several thousand years ago. They are rather symbols of ongoing human behaviors and traits. They identify positive and wholesome forms of existence, as well as the converse.
Lot’s mistake is not unique or unusual. It is quite common in our own day and age to come across people who suffer, to varying degrees, from the very same delusion. Perhaps we ourselves may contain a touch of this psychological malady.
The Talmud (Yoma 69b) asserts that the impetus of the ‘Evil inclination’ towards idolatry has been removed nowadays; it has been replaced with the tendency towards vacillation and irresolution. There is a strong inclination to temporarily set G-d aside for the sake of expedience – money, honor or social status. This seems to follow the contemporary maxim of Western civilization that rules are meant to be stretched, traditions forsaken, in exchange for the elusive ‘spirit of the age.’
People with this mindset just don’t get it. They fail to realize that to be in one world you have to give up being in the other. You simply cannot live a life of higher spiritual purpose and that of hedonism at the same time, as they are essentially dichotomous. When you try to be all things to all people you are, in the end, nothing to anyone.
The political correctness of our times, places particular demand on people to maintain “Neutrality” where honesty and integrity dictate otherwise. The desire to be popular and “Good with everyone,” would have us turn our back on what we know in our heart to be wrong – to remain silent and take no stand where pro-activity and intervention is the only correct and just alternative.
As our Parsha and the life of Lot continue to unravel, we discover the sad and pitiful state into which Lot’s life has lapsed – a lonely frightened man, held up in a cave not knowing who to trust and what will happen next.
Through the character of Lot, the Torah hopes to impart a valuable message to all of mankind for all of time: When one endeavors to live in opposite worlds; when one strives to have everything – “the best of both worlds;” the holy as well as the unholy – he may, like Lot, in the end be left with nothing at all, Heaven forbid.
We need to take a lesson from Lot – to overcome the folly of the times, as Eliyahu the Prophet demanded of the confused and wayward worshipers of the Baal, “How long will you vacillate between two worlds?”
G-d’s blessings for success and Nachas, especially with regards to Jewish continuity – parents, children and grandchildren following in the same footsteps and direction – are precipitated through commitment, resolve and allegiance to our principles and traditions.
May we all witness this blessing in our own lives, with the coming of the righteous Moshiach.