I find the story of the saving of Lot by angels, or Divine messengers, as one that linguistically can get complicated. It is found in Genesis 19.
[What follows is a summary of what I said at the table of Dr. Sophie Simmons at Shabbat lunch today with guests Frank Baigel, Shabtai and his son and, of course, my wife here in Shiloh.]
The Hebrew uses the noun ‘persons’ or אנשים quite frequently in the first 16 verses, eight times, and one could get mixed up for they actually interchange. While most times, the noun ‘persons’ or ‘men’ refer to Lot neighbors in Sodom, the angels get into the language too:
א וַיָּבֹאוּ שְׁנֵי הַמַּלְאָכִים סְדֹמָה, בָּעֶרֶב, וְלוֹט, יֹשֵׁב בְּשַׁעַר-סְדֹם; וַיַּרְא-לוֹט וַיָּקָם לִקְרָאתָם, וַיִּשְׁתַּחוּ אַפַּיִם אָרְצָה. ב וַיֹּאמֶר הִנֶּה נָּא-אֲדֹנַי, סוּרוּ נָא אֶל-בֵּית עַבְדְּכֶם וְלִינוּ וְרַחֲצוּ רַגְלֵיכֶם, וְהִשְׁכַּמְתֶּם, וַהֲלַכְתֶּם לְדַרְכְּכֶם; וַיֹּאמְרוּ לֹּא, כִּי בָרְחוֹב נָלִין. ג וַיִּפְצַר-בָּם מְאֹד–וַיָּסֻרוּ אֵלָיו, וַיָּבֹאוּ אֶל-בֵּיתוֹ; וַיַּעַשׂ לָהֶם מִשְׁתֶּה, וּמַצּוֹת אָפָה וַיֹּאכֵלוּ. ד טֶרֶם, יִשְׁכָּבוּ, וְאַנְשֵׁי הָעִיר אַנְשֵׁי סְדֹם נָסַבּוּ עַל-הַבַּיִת, מִנַּעַר וְעַד-זָקֵן: כָּל-הָעָם, מִקָּצֶה. ה וַיִּקְרְאוּ אֶל-לוֹט וַיֹּאמְרוּ לוֹ, אַיֵּה הָאֲנָשִׁים אֲשֶׁר-בָּאוּ אֵלֶיךָ הַלָּיְלָה; הוֹצִיאֵם אֵלֵינוּ, וְנֵדְעָה אֹתָם. ו וַיֵּצֵא אֲלֵהֶם לוֹט, הַפֶּתְחָה; וְהַדֶּלֶת, סָגַר אַחֲרָיו. ז וַיֹּאמַר: אַל-נָא אַחַי, תָּרֵעוּ. ח הִנֵּה-נָא לִי שְׁתֵּי בָנוֹת, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-יָדְעוּ אִישׁ–אוֹצִיאָה-נָּא אֶתְהֶן אֲלֵיכֶם, וַעֲשׂוּ לָהֶן כַּטּוֹב בְּעֵינֵיכֶם; רַק לָאֲנָשִׁים הָאֵל, אַל-תַּעֲשׂוּ דָבָר, כִּי-עַל-כֵּן בָּאוּ, בְּצֵל קֹרָתִי. ט וַיֹּאמְרוּ גֶּשׁ-הָלְאָה, וַיֹּאמְרוּ הָאֶחָד בָּא-לָגוּר וַיִּשְׁפֹּט שָׁפוֹט–עַתָּה, נָרַע לְךָ מֵהֶם; וַיִּפְצְרוּ בָאִישׁ בְּלוֹט מְאֹד, וַיִּגְּשׁוּ לִשְׁבֹּר הַדָּלֶת. י וַיִּשְׁלְחוּ הָאֲנָשִׁים אֶת-יָדָם, וַיָּבִיאוּ אֶת-לוֹט אֲלֵיהֶם הַבָּיְתָה; וְאֶת-הַדֶּלֶת, סָגָרוּ. יא וְאֶת-הָאֲנָשִׁים אֲשֶׁר-פֶּתַח הַבַּיִת, הִכּוּ בַּסַּנְוֵרִים, מִקָּטֹן, וְעַד-גָּדוֹל; וַיִּלְאוּ, לִמְצֹא הַפָּתַח. יב וַיֹּאמְרוּ הָאֲנָשִׁים אֶל-לוֹט, עֹד מִי-לְךָ פֹה–חָתָן וּבָנֶיךָ וּבְנֹתֶיךָ, וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר-לְךָ בָּעִיר: הוֹצֵא, מִן-הַמָּקוֹם. יג כִּי-מַשְׁחִתִים אֲנַחְנוּ, אֶת-הַמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה: כִּי-גָדְלָה צַעֲקָתָם אֶת-פְּנֵי יְ-וָה, וַיְשַׁלְּחֵנוּ יְ-וָה לְשַׁחֲתָהּ. יד וַיֵּצֵא לוֹט וַיְדַבֵּר אֶל-חֲתָנָיו לֹקְחֵי בְנֹתָיו, וַיֹּאמֶר קוּמוּ צְּאוּ מִן-הַמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה, כִּי-מַשְׁחִית יְ-וָה, אֶת-הָעִיר; וַיְהִי כִמְצַחֵק, בְּעֵינֵי חֲתָנָיו. טו וּכְמוֹ הַשַּׁחַר עָלָה, וַיָּאִיצוּ הַמַּלְאָכִים בְּלוֹט לֵאמֹר: קוּם קַח אֶת-אִשְׁתְּךָ וְאֶת-שְׁתֵּי בְנֹתֶיךָ, הַנִּמְצָאֹת–פֶּן-תִּסָּפֶה, בַּעֲוֹן הָעִיר. טז וַיִּתְמַהְמָהּ–וַיַּחֲזִיקוּ הָאֲנָשִׁים בְּיָדוֹ וּבְיַד-אִשְׁתּוֹ וּבְיַד שְׁתֵּי בְנֹתָיו, בְּחֶמְלַת יְ-וָה עָלָיו; וַיֹּצִאֻהוּ וַיַּנִּחֻהוּ, מִחוּץ לָעִיר
1 And the two angels came to Sodom at even; and Lot sat in the gate of Sodom; and Lot saw them, and rose up to meet them; and he fell down on his face to the earth; 2 and he said: ‘Behold now, my lords, turn aside, I pray you, into your servant’s house, and tarry all night, and wash your feet, and ye shall rise up early, and go on your way.’ And they said: ‘Nay; but we will abide in the broad place all night.’ 3 And he urged them greatly; and they turned in unto him, and entered into his house; and he made them a feast, and did bake unleavened bread, and they did eat. 4 But before they lay down, the men of the city, even the men of Sodom, compassed the house round, both young and old, all the people from every quarter. 5 And they called unto Lot, and said unto him: ‘Where are the men that came in to thee this night? bring them out unto us, that we may know them.’ 6 And Lot went out unto them to the door, and shut the door after him. 7 And he said: ‘I pray you, my brethren, do not so wickedly. 8 Behold now, I have two daughters that have not known man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes; only unto these men do nothing; forasmuch as they are come under the shadow of my roof.’ 9 And they said: ‘Stand back.’ And they said: ‘This one fellow came in to sojourn, and he will needs play the judge; now will we deal worse with thee, than with them.’ And they pressed sore upon the man, even Lot, and drew near to break the door. 10 But the men put forth their hand, and brought Lot into the house to them, and the door they shut. 11 And they smote the men that were at the door of the house with blindness, both small and great; so that they wearied themselves to find the door. 12 And the men said unto Lot: ‘Hast thou here any besides? son-in-law, and thy sons, and thy daughters, and whomsoever thou hast in the city; bring them out of the place; 13 for we will destroy this place, because the cry of them is waxed great before the LORD; and the LORD hath sent us to destroy it.’ 14 And Lot went out, and spoke unto his sons-in-law, who married his daughters, and said: ‘Up, get you out of this place; for the LORD will destroy the city.’ But he seemed unto his sons-in-law as one that jested. 15 And when the morning arose, then the angels hastened Lot, saying: ‘Arise, take thy wife, and thy two daughters that are here; lest thou be swept away in the iniquity of the city.’ 16 But he lingered; and the men laid hold upon his hand, and upon the hand of his wife, and upon the hand of his two daughters; the LORD being merciful unto him. And they brought him forth, and set him without the city.
In verses 5 and 8 and 12, ‘men’ refers to the angels.
But who are the ‘men’ in verse 16? Are they the angels urging Lot to get out to the hills before it is too late?
Or are they some of his neighbors, trying to detain him?
וַיִּתְמַהְמָ֓הּ | וַיַּֽחֲזִ֨יקוּ הָֽאֲנָשִׁ֜ים בְּיָד֣וֹ וּבְיַד-אִשְׁתּ֗וֹ וּבְיַד֙ שְׁתֵּ֣י בְנֹתָ֔יו בְּחֶמְלַ֥ת יְ-וָ֖ה עָלָ֑יו וַיֹּֽצִאֻ֥הוּ וַיַּנִּחֻ֖הוּ מִח֥וּץ לָעִֽיר
leave room for doubt.
This allows me to comment that the key is the hesitation Lot displays in his lingering.
The Hebrew word is the same as applied to describe the tarrying of the Messiah as in the Rambam’s 12th Principle of Faith. And the cantillation mark, the Shalshelet, is quite unique, found fairly infrequently. Four times actually.
Lot shouldn’t have been in Sodom in the first instance. It was a bad place. Even after witnessing the power of the angels in striking the men of Sodom blind, and therefore saving him, he was still hesitant in leaving. Were the Jews, and even grand rabbis, in Europe on the eve of the Holocaust also similarly hesitant or were they struck blind?
Who grasped Lot or, what grasped Lot?
Was he held by those wishing to save him or those who wished that he remain? Or was he grasped by the lures of a familiar place, or one, despite the problems, which seemingly promised riches (as Rashi intimates and see Mois Navon), a livelihood and a future for themselves and their family?
What power does Sodom represent for the Jew that even in clear danger, he hesitates?