Parsha of the Week

The Exodus and Sodom: Similarities, differences


With a small push, yet surprisingly little creativity, we can easily notice that the Exodus from Egypt mirrors the events that surround the last evening of the existence of Sodom.

In Egypt, the Israelites are instructed to eat matzahs. Lot served matzahs to his guest. In Egypt, the Israelites were given a number of instructions focused on their doors (put blood on the doorpost, don’t go through the door — stay indoors) over the course of the night.

The door makes a significant appearance at least seven times in Lot’s encounters with the people of his city, who were trying to break down the door to get to his guests. In Egypt, there is safety inside, but there is danger outside in the form of the plague and the mashchis (death-bringing force). Lot’s home was a temporary safe zone from the raucous mob outside who were intent on harming Lot’s guests.

Some of the plagues we’ve seen (notably hail, characterized by its fire raining down) were aimed at destroying the infrastructure of Egypt. Hail’s parallel to how Sodom was destroyed — with sulfur and fire raining down — is rather obvious.

The main encounters of the final hours in Egypt take place at night. The same is true for Sodom, as the angels/men arrive in the evening, and are in Lot’s house in the nighttime.

There is no house in Egypt not suffering a loss. In Sodom, every household was destroyed.

The Torah describes how the Israelites are to eat their food for the evening (12:11) and how they left Egypt (Devarim 16:3) with haste hipazon). Lot’s experience in leaving Sodom was largely influenced by the actions of those who came to save him.

How Israel was taken out of Egypt (as described in the first of the Ten Commandments) is an expression of salvation. Whether physical or, in many ways, spiritual salvation, the idea that Israel’s future would have been seriously jeopardized had they stayed in Egypt longer is a clear theme emphasized by the rabbis. Owing to what we see in the instructions to Lot and family, and of course in his wife’s death, we see that Lot was also cutting it extremely close, and was moments away from falling to the same fate as his fellow Sodomites.

Both Israel and Lot were saved in Avraham’s merit (though Israel also enjoyed the merit of Yitzchak and Yaakov).

There are more parallels as well. And yet there are obvious differences.

While the story of Israel becomes the focus of the rest of the Torah, Lot’s story ends with the birth of his illegitimate sons; he disappears from the narrative completely.

While Israel experiences both an Exodus from Egypt as well as a Pesach experience which turns them into a nation, Lot’s experience is primarily focused on his personal salvation (along with a few family members), minus whatever might have turned his family into a godly people.

This is less to criticize Lot, whose circumstances were very different, but more to highlight how the experience of the Israelites was unique and rather spectacular.

To achieve a salvation from physical destruction — that is wonderful. It was also the experience of Noach and his family, as well as all the animals on the Ark.

But to experience Pesach, a turning point that created a godly entity with a purpose and mission that spans thousands of years through today when an identifiable People still aiming to fulfill that mission — that is the incredible image we walk away with when contemplating the Exodus.