This week’s Torah portion, Toledot (“Histories”), begins with Rebecca’s difficult pregnancy and the birth of her twins, Esau and Jacob. Here is the first blog post I ever published, written eleven years ago in 2009: Toledot: Opposing Twins.
Esau and Jacob are the sons of Isaac and Rebecca, who are first cousins once removed. (Isaac’s father, Abraham, is the brother of Rebecca’s grandfather, Nachor.) Further inbreeding takes place in that family when Jacob marries both daughters of Rebecca’s brother Lavan–in other words, his first cousins.
But this is a far cry from the incest I am writing about today in the third chapter of my book on moral psychology in Genesis.
Father-daughter incest is usually perpetrated by the father on an underage daughter who cannot defend herself. But after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, it is Lot’s two unmarried adult daughters who get him drunk so they can use him to get pregnant.
I feel sorry for Lot, whom the Torah portrays as foolish but not bad at heart. As he flees Sodom he knows that his city and his home are going up in flames behind him, along with his married daughters and probably grandchildren. Then Lot’s wife turns into a pillar of salt. Lot and his two remaining daughters keep going and find shelter in a cave in the hills. Then Lot wakes up and discovers he is a victim of incest. Oy, vey!
Yet Lot’s daughters are also traumatized, and the evening before the destruction of Sodom their father offered to throw them to the mob at his door in order to protect the strangers he was sheltering. And there are other complications …
It is easy to make general rules for ethical behavior. It is harder to apply them to specific cases.