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Parshas Vayeira (5776)

Lot's Daughters: The Story Behind the Story

This week I would like to share with you an incredibly spooky yet absolutely true story that transpired less than a century ago. But to be able to fully appreciate this story, you will first need a little background information about the daughters of Lot and about Rabbi Moshe Feinstein.

In this week’s Torah portion, the sinful city of Sodom is destroyed by an Angel of G-d, and Lot (Abraham’s nephew) and his two daughters escape into the mountains. Lot's daughters conspire to rebuild humankind, and taking advantage of Lot's drunkenness, they become pregnant from Lot resulting in the birth of Ammon and Moab (see Genesis 19:30-38).

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein ZT”L (1895-1986) was born in Uzdan, near Minsk, Belorussia. He became rabbi of Luban while young and remained there till 1937. After that he immigrated with his family to the United States, to the Lower East Side of Manhattan. There he became Rosh HaYeshivah (Dean) of Mesivta Tiferes Yerushalayim, which became world-famous because of his presence. He became the most important halachic authority of his generation, and his rulings were accepted worldwide. They have been published in a multi-volume collection called Igros Moshe.

The following unbelievable story behind the biblical story of Lot’s daughters was related by Rabbi Moshe Feinstein ZT”L himself who witnessed it firsthand:

In November 1921, when Rabbi Moshe Feinstein was the chief rabbi of the town Luban, a certain Torah scholar from the town fell seriously ill with a very unusual disease, in which the main symptom was that his tongue swelled up enormously. The doctors could not figure it out, and soon the man was on his deathbed from this illness. Rav Moshe went to visit him. As soon as he walked in to the sick man's room, the man sent everyone else out, saying he had to speak to Rav Moshe in private.

After everyone left, the sick man turned to Rav Moshe and told him that he knows why he contracted this bizarre illness. It quickly became clear that talking was difficult for him because of his tongue. He said that the week before, when the Weekly Reading was Parshas Vayeira, he had given a sermon in which he berated the daughters of Lot for what they had done. In it he spoke very harshly about their act and criticized them especially harshly for the brazenness of the older one in naming the child after the deed ["Moab" = "from Father"] and thereby publicizing her incestuous act to everyone. He questioned why the daughters of Lot merited to have the Messiah descend from them – as per Jewish tradition - considering what they had done [the Messiah has to be a descendant of King David, who is a descendant of Ruth the convert from Moab, the grandson of Lot in question].

He then related to Rav Moshe that the previous night two extremely old women in long robes that fully covered their heads and faces had come to him in a dream and identified themselves as the daughters of Lot. They were upset at the way he had spoken about them and were given permission to come down to this world to respond. They told him that he should not have accused them of being depraved and committing such shameful acts.

They explained that they thought they were the last people on earth to survive the destruction of Sodom and they had to ensure the continuity of mankind. That required them committing such an act, even though it was heinous. According to their perspective, they had no other choice.

Nevertheless, they felt that they had to publicize it, because if they did not, future generations might come to make a deity or messiah out of any child born to them, for they would consider it a virgin birth! After all, no other man was around and surely they would not have cohabited with their own father.

To avoid the result of people thinking it to be a virgin birth and possibly making a religion out of them [like Christianity], they decided that they had to publicize what they did - no matter how shameful - in order to ensure that everyone understood that there is no such thing as birth without a father. They added that that is exactly the reason they merited having the true Messiah descend from them.

Lastly, they said to him that he was being punished from Heaven [through his elongated tongue], measure for measure, for the harsh words that he spoke against them, much as the Meraglim (spies) who spoke slander against the Land of Israel were punished in a similar fashion (see Rashi’s commentary to Numbers 14:37).

He concluded telling the story to Rav Moshe, turned to the wall, and passed away.

Now I don’t know about you, but I learn a few powerful lessons from this strange but true story:

First I learn that I had better be careful before saying anything negative about anybody – even about seemingly wicked biblical characters – because you never know the whole story.

Second, I am reminded yet again that not all religions are necessarily true, and that there could easily be alternate rational explanations for the miracles they claim to have occurred.

Most importantly, this eerie story which took place less than a century ago is yet another proof that beyond the matrix of this physical world there is a spiritual reality (can you say G-d?) that we can’t see yet which very much exists.

[Story adapted with permission from Rabbi Yerachmiel Tilles and Ascent of Safed – - as translated from Igros Moshe vol. 8, introduction.]

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