Avraham’s nephew, Lot, was saved from the destruction of Sodom despite being a complicated character. Rashi (19:29) explains that he was saved for a peculiar reason: He refrained from telling Paroah that Sarah (at that point- “Sarai”) was really Avraham’s wife (not sister). But shouldn’t there be a more obvious merit for Lot: he -like Avraham- hosted and served the angels when they came to visit! Why wasn’t that Hashem’s reason for saving Lot?
To understand, let us compare the hospitality of Lot and Avraham. In one small detail we find a valuable lesson from Avraham: He tells his guests to “Take a little bit of water” (18:4). At the face of it, it seems strange: Why only a little bit? He gave them huge pieces of steak! but only a little water? Many answer based on the Gemara (Bava Metzia 86b) which says that the water was brought -not by Avraham- but by a messenger. Avraham, in his kindness, was considerate to everyone; not just the new visitors he’s welcoming into his home, but even the water carrier who lives with him. While caring for the guests, he also cared for the messenger, as to not over-burden him with bringing extra water.
Lot, on the other hand, provides a different picture. After the community surrounded his house and demanded that Lot release his guests, he responds with an alternative option: “Look, I have two daughters… you may do to them as you please; but do not do anything to these men…” (19:8). While he treated his guests with kindness, it was not one borne out of his character; it was a hollow act to impress his guests. While Avraham’s kindness applied equally to all people, Lot’s “kindness” treated some nicely, while at the same time sacrificing others.
Welcoming guests and treating others kindly is surely an admirable character trait. But the act itself is not always well-meaning. Too often we’re tempted by ulterior motives: if someone else is watching, if it will be rewarded, or maybe for bragging rights afterwards. If our kindness is guided not by our considerate character but because of other incentives- the act is not only deficient, but it may actually harm others in the process.