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Vayeira 2017

By Rabbi Michael Satz.

When I say Sodom and Gomorrah, what pops in your mind? It’s okay. This is Torah. What is this sin that religious people tell us that our society is falling prey to?

Maybe our society is falling prey to the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah, but it is not the “sins” we are probably thinking of. Our tradition is not speaking of sex as the sins.

Our parashah, Vayeira, reads in Genesis 18, “The Eternal One then said, ‘The outcry in Sodom and Gomorrah—how great it is; and their crime—how grave it is!  Let Me go down and determine whether they are wreaking havoc in equal measure to the shrieking that is coming to Me.  If not, I will know.’”

According to the Midrash (Pirke Derabbi Eliezer, 25) the outcry of Sodom was from one of Lot’s daughters.  In this story you will understand her outcry and the city’s sin:

They issued a proclamation in Sodom, saying: Everyone who strengthens the hand of the poor and the needy with a loaf of bread shall be burnt by fire!  Pelotit the daughter of Lot was wedded to one of the magnates of Sodom.  She saw a certain very poor man in the street of the city and her soul was grieved on the account.  What did she do?  Every day when she went out to draw water she put in her pitcher all kinds of provisions from her house and she sustained that poor man.  The men of Sodom said: How does this poor man live?  When they ascertained the facts they brought her forth to be burnt by fire.  She said: Sovereign of all worlds!  Maintain my right and my cause at the hands of the men of Sodom!  And her cry ascended before the throne of glory.  In that hour the Holy Blessed One said: “Let Me go down and determine whether they are wreaking havoc in equal measure to the shrieking that is coming to me”—and if the men of Sodom have done according to the cry of that young woman, I will turn her foundation upwards and the surface downward . . .

So, according to this Midrash, the sin of Sodom is social inequity.  Ezekiel the prophet said, “This was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: Pride, fullness of bread and abundance of idleness was in her and her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and the needy.  And they were haughty.”

Talk about yesterday’s conference—1 in 7 people in Canada live in poverty–poverty will be an issue in Ontario elections—learn the parties’ platforms. Minimum wage, basic income, social assistance reform

Sodom, according to the Bible was a very wealthy city.  It says in Gen. 13 that it was “like a divine Garden.”  It could afford to help everybody, but the people became too arrogant with all their wealth.  We read from the Talmud:

The men of Sodom only became haughty on account of the bounty with which the Holy Blessed One had endowed them.  They said: Since gold and silver flows form our land what need have we of travelers?  We do not require any visitors since they only come to diminish our substance.  Come and let us cause the foot of the traveler to be forgotten form our land.  Said the Omnipotent to them: On account of the bounty with which I endowed you, do you cause the foot of the traveler to be forgotten from amongst you?  I shall cause you to be forgotten from the world.

I commend our country in its openness to immigrants. I read the other day that Canada wants to bring in one million immigrants in the next three years. We are also a haven for refugees.

Our neighbors to the south are another story.  We as Jews, though, are commanded to act otherwise for we were strangers in the Land of Egypt.

A third sin of Sodom, the Midrash tells us, was the sin of silence.  It is written:

The sin of Sodom consisted not only in what its people did but in what they failed to do.  Thus, no one raised his voice in protest when the crowd sought to molest Lot’s guests.  Failure to protest is to participate in the sin of a community.

How often do we really protest when unthinkable horrors are happening everyday?

The Torah gives us a model in this same parashah of how not to succumb to the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah.  We need only look to Abraham.  When three strangers came to Abraham’s tent, he immediately welcomed them and fed them.  The midrash even states that Abraham was still recovering from circumcising himself and was still in pain.  He could have been in bed, but instead he was spending his time waiting outside his tent just in case some travelers were passing through and needed some rest and food.

Abraham shows us also how not to succumb to the sin of silence.  When God to Abrahams the plans for Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham argued with God that it is not fair to kill innocent with the guilty.  Abraham pleads for the cities, and accuses God of being unjust.  He says, “Far be it from You to do such a thing, killing innocent and wicked alike, so that the innocent and the wicked suffer the same fate.  Far be it form You!  Must not the Judge of all the earth do justly?”  God replies, “If I find fifty innocent people in Sodom, I will pardon the whole place for their sake.”  Ultimately, God does not find the fifty, but Abraham made a righteous protest.  He tried.

Rabbi Judah Loew, the great Maharal of Prague (16th century) wrote, “While a person may be individually pious, such good will pale in the face of the sin of not protesting against an emerging communal evil. Not only will such piety not avert the impending evil, but such a pious person will be accountable for having been able to prevent it and not doing so.”

Silence is the face of evils is Sodom and Gomorrah’s, and our, worst sin.  Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson writes, “In the midst of the dark ages of his time, the Maharal understood that his obligation as a being in covenant with God was to represent God’s light and God’s passion, despite the powerful forces mustered in opposition .  In the midst of the current dark age, we too need to remember our eternal calling–to sanctify God in the midst of the people. By feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, healing the sick, pursuing peace and identifying with the weak, we move from silence to eloquence. We provide God with hands and a voice. There is no neutrality. Silence is assent.”

Let us not continue the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah—the sins of cruelty, xenophobia, and silence.

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