Wednesday, November 1, 2017

An Unholy Act with the Best Intentions

There are many stories in the Torah that might be deemed “too adult,” and are generally glossed over in Hebrew school. But, like every narrative in the Bible, these stories have significance to the history of the Jewish people.

The text of the story of Lot and his daughters is particularly fascinating. Lot’s daughters commit incest in order to save the world from coming to an end, or at least so they believed. After the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot’s elder daughter said to the younger, “Our father is old and there is not a man on earth to consort with us in the way of all the world. Come, let us make our father drink wine, and let us lie with him that we may maintain life through our father” (Genesis 19:32-33). The elder did so on the first night and the younger the night after. They both conceived. The elder named her son Moab (from my father); the younger named her child Ben-Ammi (son of my nation).

One of the most fascinating commentaries on this section of the Torah notes that dots appear over the description of the elder daughter rising up from her father’s bed. These dots communicate that Lot was aware of her leaving, and thus aware of what had happened the previous night. This commentary is a rebuke to him, since he did not hesitate when his daughters offered him wine again the next evening.

Jewish law views incest as one of the most heinous crimes, and, indeed, the descendants of Lot’s daughters were enemies of the Israelites when they returned from Egypt. The Torah even prohibits marrying the men of Moab and Ammon, seeing great fault in their national character. Despite the transgression, from the ancient incestuous act of Lot’s daughters, done out of a desire to save humankind, came Ruth, the great-grandmother of King David and thus an ancestor to the Messiah.


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