Hospitality in the Judean Desert. (shutterstock) shutterstock


Why can’t an Ammonite or Moabite “enter the congregation of God” and become part of the Jewish people?

By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel

The week’s Torah portion is “Vayeira” (Genesis 18:1-22:24) and in it we read about Abraham who rushed to host guests even as he was recovering from his recent circumcision. Hospitality is a very important Jewish principle, and, in some ways, it differentiates us from the nations around us.

Get this: Although almost anyone can convert to Judaism if they really want to, there are two nations who have no such option. Let’s take a look at a passage in Deuteronomy.

“An Ammonite and Moabite shall not enter the congregation of God …. Because of the fact that they did not greet you with bread and water on the road when you were leaving Egypt.” (Deut 23:3-6).

In other words, Ammonites and Moabites cannot convert to Judaism because they are inhospitable! A nation of hungry slaves leave Egypt and travel to the Promised Land and they wouldn’t even give us bread and water. Even for pay! People with such character traits have no place among the Jewish people. One of the character traits of a Jew is to be hospitable, especially to the less fortunate.

But the questions is asked: The Ammonites and the Moabites descend from Lot. Lot, who was the nephew of Abraham, was the Patriarch of these two nations. Lot, however, excelled in hospitality! He was the one who risked his life to host guests in his city of Sodom where showing hospitality was against the law. So how did Lot’s descendants lose this positive trait that their Patriarch excelled in? What went wrong?

It is explained that when one performs acts of kindness because one truly believes it to be the right thing to do then it becomes a part of one’s DNA and it is passed on to the next generation. But when one practices acts of kindness out of route and habit, while still valuable, it does not become ingrained in one’s DNA.

Although Lot excelled in kindness, it was based on the influence of Abraham from where he learned it. Lot did not internalize the mitzvah of hospitality like Abraham did, but rather, performed it out of route, as part of his influence and environment. Bathing, eating, hosting…it was all the same to him. As such, it did not become part of his DNA and was not passed down to his descendants.

Indeed, there are two different good deeds attributed to Lot. The first were his acts of hospitality and the second was his compliance in the plan to save Abraham in Egypt by going along with the lie that Abraham and Sarah were sisters. Lot could have turned Abraham in but instead he went along and was somewhat responsible for Abraham being saved.

Nevertheless, we are told that Lot merited being saved from the destruction of Sodom due to the latter act of saving Abraham, not in the merit of having showed hospitality under difficult circumstances. Why? Again, hosting guests was part of his nature, his routine. It was not an act that generated much external merit for him. Saving Abraham, however, consisted of foregoing a large monetary reward should he have informed on them. This was difficult for Lot to resist and to do the right thing, and hence, it was this merit that generated his reward of being saved from Sodom.

There is an important lesson here for us, namely, that we are judged not merely be the good deeds we perform, but the effort we had to invest to perform them. For one person, hosting guests is routine, or perhaps exceptionally easy, while for another it is a major sacrifice. All acts of kindness, no matter what the reason, are praiseworthy. But latter person will get more reward than the former — “no pain, no gain!”

For more insights by Rabbi Enkin on this week’s Torah portion, click on the links below.