Three days after Avraham performed his own Bris Milah, the opportunity to do Hachnasas Archim (caring for guests) came knocking on his door. Despite being in pain and discomfort from his recent procedure, he literally ran to accommodate them. When it came to their meal, he went all out, slaughtering an entire cow for each guest and waiting attentively on their every need. It is interesting to note that Avraham was not the only person to run to take care of these guests. The Torah attests that Yishmael ran to do so as well (18:7 - See Rashi). Apparently, Avraham's love for chessed made a strong impression even on someone like Yishmael. Lot too, was clearly influenced by Avraham's dedication to kindness. When guests (the angels) visited Lot in Sedom, he risked his very life to welcome them into his home, all the while knowing that anyone in Sedom caught doing acts of kindness would be killed. Rashi explains that he had learned this devotion to kindness from the time that he spent with Avraham Avinu (19:1). It seems that the Torah is teaching us that a person's values are always instilled within the other members of his or her household.
This begs the following question: The Torah relates that despite Lot's willingness to sacrifice his very life to perform an act of kindness, something that Avraham himself never had the opportunity to do, Lot's own family had no interest in emulating these values. They offered no help whatsoever in tending to the guests who seemed to need their help so desperately. In fact, when Sedom was being destroyed, Lot’s wife desired to see their suffering so greatly that she couldn't resist watching them perish (even though doing so ultimately cost her her life - 19:26).
How can this be? Why is it that Avraham's whole household, including Yishmael and Lot, were impacted so greatly by Avraham's value for chessed (acts of kindness) that it left a deep impression on them, while Lot's family remained callous to it despite his willingness to sacrifice everything for it? How do we explain this apparent contradiction?
When religious Jews first arrived to America, they were faced with a challenging dilemma. At that time, virtually ALL businesses were open on Shabbos. Therefore, when a Jew was hired for work he was given the following ultimatum: either work on Shabbos, or don’t bother showing up on Monday, because you'll be fired! Many Jews passed this spiritual test; they would work until Friday, collected their pay, and looked for a new job the following week. The mesiras nefesh (personal sacrifice), which these Jews made in order to keep Shabbos was legendary. Strangely, despite their own unwavering commitment to Shabbos, many of their own children refused to keep Shabbos when they got older, and ultimately strayed from the path of Judaism. People were very troubled by this “paradox”. They went to discuss it with R’ Moshe Feinstein, who explained as follows: Although we can never judge them, many of those Jews who lost their jobs each week came home and said “Oy. Shabbos is so difficult to keep! But what can I do? A Jew must keep Shabbos”. The children who witnessed this each week concluded that Shabbos is a burden, and never perceived its incredible beauty and sweetness. This is why they decided not to keep Shabbos, despite how much their father was willing to sacrifice in order to observe it.
Although Lot clearly valued acts of kindness, before this incident, actual acts of kindness were never WITNESSED by his family, as opportunities to do chessed were virtually non-existent in Sedom (any guest that would enter Sedom were immediately attacked by the inhabitants of the entire city, as demonstrated in our Parsha; 19:4-12) . Perhaps Lot's family heard him speak about the importance of kindness, but they never actually saw him do it. Therefore, his value for chessed was never instilled within them; for one's family is far more likely to emulate what they see rather than what they are told. Avraham Avinu, on the other hand, did not merely talk about chessed - he LIVED it, and his household regularly witnessed him doing so. The Torah is thus teaching us that the best way to influence your family and friends is by leading by example *.
Most of us have a clear understanding of what is right and wrong and what should be valued. This week's parshah is teaching us that although this understanding may succeed in influencing our own decisions, it may not be enough to motivate those around us. People, especially children, learn the most from what they WITNESS. Taking the time to ensure that our children and those around us SEE us do mitzvos with love and excitement will have a much stronger impact on their values than hours of teaching them verbally about its importance. Truth be told, acting on our values will increase its importance in our own eyes as well. Instead of simply working on what's most important to us intellectually through thought and study, let us all make an extra effort today to constantly demonstrate them through practice at every opportunity.
*- Another proof of this concept is the fact that the very same pasuk which states that Avraham ran mentions that Yishmael ran as well (18:7). Through this, the Torah is revealing to us that the reason why Avraham's love for kindness was emulated by Yishmael was because he saw Avraham DEMONSTRATE his love for acts of kindness.