The Torah in Parashat Vayera tells of the rescue of Lot, Avraham’s nephew, from the destruction of the city of Sedom. God had condemned Sedom and its surrounding cities to annihilation because of the inhabitants’ evil conduct. The city’s wickedness was clearly displayed by the Sedomites’ response to Lot’s welcoming two wayfarers, who turned out to be angels sent to destroy the city and to rescue Lot and his family. Soon after Lot invited them into his home, the townspeople assembled outside the house and demanded that Lot hand over the visitors. In the end, the angels brought Lot and his immediate family members out of the city, which was then destroyed. Afterward, Lot’s two unmarried daughters, thinking that they three were the only people left on earth, served their father wine on two successive nights so he would become intoxicated and impregnate them. These incestuous encounters produced two sons – Moav and Amon.
The Midrash (Bereishit Rabba 51:9) makes an enigmatic remark about this unusual story: “Ein kol Shabbat ve-Shabbat she-ein korin bah parshato shel Lot” – “There is not a single Shabbat on which the section of Lot is not read.” Quite obviously, this story is publicly read in the synagogue only once a year, on Shabbat Parashat Vayeira. And thus the Midrash’s comment, that this story is read each and every Shabbat, cannot, seemingly, be taken literally, but rather refers to some aspect of this incident which recurs, or is reexperienced, every Shabbat.
Rav Aryeh Tzvi Fromer of Kozhiglov, in his Eretz Tzvi, explains that Shabbat is a time for our inner greatness to “escape” from within our beings, just as Lot was rescued from Sedom. The rescue of Lot, in effect, paved the way for the world’s ultimate redemption, as one of the sons he begot after his rescue was Moav, the father of the nation that centuries later produced Rut, the great-grandmother of David, and, by extension, the matriarch of the Jewish royal dynasty. Amid the evil and depravity of Sedom was a spark of Mashiach that needed to be rescued before the city’s annihilation, and this is one of the important subtexts of the story of Lot.
The Midrash, Rav Fromer explains, teaches that something similar occurs each and every Shabbat. The pressures and rigors of the workweek often have the effect of concealing our inner “Messianic spark,” the element of sanctity within our beings. Preoccupied as we are with our physical and material needs, our “spark” of holiness becomes hidden deep within us. Shabbat marks the “rescue” of this spark, the opportunity we have to allow our inner spiritual potential to shine forth. On Shabbat, we are freed from our mundane pursuits that conceal our true selves, and we are thus able to rediscover our inner sanctity, by devoting ourselves more fully to prayer and study. In this sense, Rav Fromer writes, the story of Lot is experienced each Shabbat, as we “rescue” the spark of sanctity that is so often “trapped” beneath the mundane activities of the workweek, and allow it to shine and uplift us to greater heights of spiritual devotion.