Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Talking about Lashon Hara... The Daughters of Lot...


Parshat Vayera

The Torah portion Vayera includes within it the famous story about the nephew of Abraham – Lot, and his two daughters. Due to a variety of merits, both on the part of Abraham and on the part of Lot himself (having followed in certain of the footsteps of Abraham), when it came time for G-d to destroy the city of Sodom – a city filled with absolute immorality and perversions, Lot's life was saved together with his two daughters.

The Torah teaches that the angels took Lot and his daughters to a place of safety. They were lead to a cave, while behind them Sodom was overturned. With fire and sulfur, the city literally went up in flames, leaving behind it an eerie feeling of complete death and silence. Lot's wife was not saved, as she chose to look on to see the destruction of Sodom – though she was by no means righteous enough (as was Abraham) to witness the downfall of the wicked of Sodom.

Having fled to the cave, Lot's daughters took a look around at the world and saw there was nothing left of it (apparently!) It was just two women and a man. Everything else had been destroyed. With this in mind – and finding a bottle of wine nearby (placed there by nobody else but G-d Himself!) they inebriated Lot – their father, in order to get him to have sexual intercourse with them, thereby populating the world again. Lot certainly did not need the extra wine to convince him of the desire to engage in relations with his daughters, though it was certainly an external means of sharing with us that were it not for the wine, he may not have done anything.

Our story now begins…

It's the twentieth century, and the great Posek (legal authority on Jewish law) – Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, is called by a very sick patient lying on his deathbed in hospital. Rav Moshe sits beside the patient – sickly looking with a rare disease, his tongue hanging out of his mouth. Barely able to talk, the patient asks everyone to leave the room save for the Rav. He tells Rav Moshe that he has a story to tell him – regarding his own personal sickness.

For some strange reason, the man was suddenly stricken with a disease that none of the doctors could diagnose. It seemed that all of a sudden, one day, his tongue had simply rolled itself outside of it's usual position, lying as it did then – outside of his mouth. But the previous night, the "mortally-wounded" man had dreamed a dream. In it, the daughters of Lot appeared to him. They were not happy at all. They reprimanded the man concerning his behaviour he had displayed for a very lengthy time. The man had often spoken badly of the daughters of Lot – "What type of women they must have been to have committed such a sin!" He had berated them, spoken Lashon Hara about them, and criticized everything about these apparent prostitutes who could find nothing better to do than to commit incest with their father after the "world" had just been destroyed for such very acts!

But the daughters explained to the man that in fact, this was not the case. In truth, their "debased" act was nothing less than for the sake of heaven. These were no ordinary people. These daughters of Lot were righteous. They had remembered about the days of the flood, when the entire world had been destroyed. They had feared it had happen again. But not knowing what had become of the rest of the world, they felt that this time, there was nobody else to continue the procreation of the world. In fact, the world was initially created by "incestuous" relationships from the beginning. Cain had certainly been intimate with his own sisters, and so too many others, all in order to begin the process of procreation in the world. Not incestuous, but necessary for the world to exist. So too the daughters of Lot had wanted – completely – for the sake of heaven, that the world should continue to exist.

Their relationship with their father that night, was for no other reason than to bring life into the world. The daughters explained to the "man with the hanging tongue" that he had spoken badly about them, criticizing them when it was not called for – or even barely permitted! For this, he had been punished with this rare disease of the tongue. The man then asked them, if indeed this was all so, was there any need to publicly share in the naming of the children that had been born to them, that this was through the relationship between them and their father? Both Moav (from my father) and Ben-Ami (son of my nation) point directly to the fact that they were born through the incestuous relationship between father and daughter (though Ben-Ami was a far more subtle name.)

The daughters explained that this too that had done completely "Lishma" – for the sake of heaven. They explained… one day a man will be born into the world. But he will come through an adulterous relationship. Not wishing to reveal the truth of the matter, his mother will claim him to be born from her – a virgin! In order not to make the world stumble with our own children, we have seen to it to name the children in exact accordance with the act that was committed, so that all should know that these children were born through an ordinary relationship. Nobody in the world can ever be born through a virgin. If anybody says such a thing, they are simply lying to cover up a forbidden relationship! The daughters thereafter left the man to sleep the remainder of the evening in "peace."

It was not very long after he told the story to Rav Moshe, that the man turned over in his bed… and died.

Have we really got the "right end of the stick?" Do we really know the full story? We see things with our eyes every day concerning others' lives. We see them often committing the most horrendous things possible. Yet, do we know what is really happening? The Chofetz Chaim – Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan (1839-1933) wrote an entire work named "Chofetz Chaim" (by which name he was called for the remainder of his life) detailing the complete range of sources throughout the Torah, the intricate laws of guarding one's tongue, guarding one's speech. "Who is the man who desires life (chaftez chaim), who loves days to see good? Guard your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit" (Psalms 34:13-14)

When we are not sure regarding something we may see happening in another's life, we should take great care to reflect on the story of Lot and his "incestuous" daughters. We should realize that what we see with our eyes of flesh, is very often not quite the full story at all. Speaking about it to others, may well get us into serious trouble! Indeed, in days gone by, those speaking this evil slander would find themselves inflicted with a disease known as leprosy. Not quite the kind of today, but the features would highlight to the Kohein of the day that something was not in order. It may be that the slandered would have to spend "time out" by himself until his leprosy would leave him. Only then could he return to the main camp of the Jewish people. Meanwhile, just as he could find no better things to speak about to others than other people's lives (and their terrible deeds!) – so too measure for measure, he would now find himself alone… being able to talk to nobody about anything.

As many great people have said – if you don't have something nice to say, then don't say anything at all. (And even when you do have something nice to say, be well aware of the laws of Lashon Hara before sharing your thoughts!)

Average people speak about day to day things… Great people speak about ideas! But small people… speak about other people.

To those still wondering about the benefit of the "incestuous" relationship between father and daughters, they may wish to contemplate that it was ultimately through this relationship that the redeemer of the world – Moshiach – is to come. It was ultimately through Moav that Ruth – the righteous convert would be born. And through Ruth – her great-grandson, King David, and through King David… the redeemer of the world.

Those truly wishing to improve their speech – to perhaps realize their own faults – and the better points of others – would do well to spend 5-10 minutes each day learning just 2 laws of the Chofetz Chaim's work. A Hebrew edition is available with dates for each day of the year. An English work can also be purchased here. Alternatively contact Rav Eliyahu and set up a daily learning session with him discussing these fascinating laws.

NOTE: Though Lot's daughters behaved as they did completely for the sake of heaven, this does not in any way teach us that should we have our own accountings regarding incest, that the act done is thereby permitted – as clearly discussed in the laws of forbidden relations – Leviticus 18:6-20

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