The Sin of SodomOctober 15, 2013 - 5:00 am
“Then the LORD said, ‘The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous.’”—Genesis 18:20
The Torah portion for this week, Vayeira, which means “and he appeared,” is from Genesis 18:1—22:24, and the Haftorah is from 2 Kings 4:1–37.
In this week’s portion, we read the story of the destruction of Sodom. It isn’t clear from the Bible what exactly Sodom’s crime was, and so the Sages gather information from Judaism’s oral tradition and provide us with more details.
The people of Sodom were the exact opposites of Abraham. While Abraham stood for kindness, in Sodom, kindness was — literally— outlawed. The people of Sodom considered beggars and solicitors as criminals who stole from society, and helping them was punishable by death!
Even a visitor planning to spend the night in Sodom was often in big trouble. The Sages teach that when visitors were offered a bed, it often was at their own peril. If the person was short, he was offered a long bed and his legs were “stretched” to fit into it. If he was short, he was given a small bed and his legs surgically “shortened” to fit in it.
The Sages tell us about the time Abraham’s servant Eliezer ended up in Sodom, but knowing their laws, he refused to sleep in a bed and instead slept on the ground. During the night, someone punched him in the nose causing him to bleed. The townspeople brought him to a judge who ordered Eliezer to pay the man who punched him an astronomical amount of money for the blood-letting (considered a medical remedy in ancient times)!
These were the people of Sodom. Cruel, heartless, and the exact opposite of God’s desire for the world. However, there was one incident in particular that caused God to take action; one victim whose cries reached heaven.
Even knowing that she could face punishment by death, Lot’s daughter took such great pity on one beggar that she secretly gave him a loaf of bread every day. The townspeople, realizing that if the beggar was still living someone was feeding him, set up an ambush and caught Lot’s daughter delivering the food. They covered her in honey and put her next to a wasp nest. It was her cries that reached heaven.
The Sages teach that the motto, “What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours,” is common thinking for the average person, but it also reflects the defining trait of Sodom. While we instinctively want to hold onto what’s “ours,” God wants us to be charitable. When we are stingy with our possessions and affections, we betray our purpose in life.
The Sages teach that Abraham’s motto was: “What’s yours is yours and what’s mine is yours.” Let’s live generously and give with love.