The Minyan that Wasn’t
Our Torah portion is set to the tense moment when Abraham questions God’s judgement over the future of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Our Patriarch stands before God and demands: “Will You sweep away the innocent along with the guilty? What if there should be fifty innocent within the city; will You then wipe out the place and not forgive it for the sake of the innocent fifty who are in it? Far be it from You to do such a thing, to bring death upon the innocent as well as the guilty, so that innocent and guilty fare alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?”
God agrees to the terms. “If I find within the city of Sodom fifty righteous ones, I will forgive the whole place for their sake.”
The negotiations continue. “What if the fifty righteous should lack five? Will You destroy the whole city for want of the five?”
God answers: “I will not destroy if I find forty-five righteous there.”
Abraham: “What if forty?”
What if thirty?
What if twenty?
Finally, Abraham asks: “Let not my Lord be angry if I speak but this last time: What if ten should be found there?”
And God answers, “I will not destroy, for the sake of the ten.”
And that is where the negotiations end. Both God and Abraham seem to agree that ten is the minimum number of good people who can hold a far fallen society together. Ten, a minyan, is the smallest unit of human goodness that makes a civilization salvageable. Ten is the remnant strong enough to hold a frayed people together as one fabric.
What are the attributes of that minyan that would have been enough? What are the qualities of righteousness? And how do we ensure that we can be counted among them?
As ballots are still being counted across the United States, our neighbours to the South are divided on much more than a political candidate; they are divided on the definition of “righteousness.” There are two different understandings of the reliable minyan; two different visions of who is good and who is trustworthy. The whole world is watching the debate, not between two men, not between two socio-economic classes, not between established citizen and newcomer, not between black and white, but between two different outlooks, two distinct understandings of who can be counted among the righteous.
In the end, there was no righteous minyan to be found in the city of Sodom. Our Sages teach that the omniscient God knew that all along, of course. So why engage in the negotiations with Abraham? Why indulge his passionate debate? Because God was training Abraham in the ways of justice. God was testing Abraham’s resolve, teaching him in how to be hopeful and how to never give up on humanity.
We are descendants of this Abraham.
Let us always be counted in among the minyan that sustains.
A Post-Election Prayer
By Rabbi Dr. Andrea L. Weiss
No matter what happens, this we know:
we must recalibrate our national compass
and reconfirm what matters most:
“one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
How do we get from here to there?
The Torah guides our way:
It is not enough to “love your neighbor as yourself”;
you must love the stranger as yourself. (Lev. 19:18, 34)
The prophets tell us what to do:
“Let justice roll like water
and righteousness like a mighty stream.” (Amos 5:24)
The Psalms remind us:
“The night may be dark,
but morning always comes.” (Ps 30:6)
May we each do our part
to bring about the dawning of a new day.