VAYEIRA (Genesis, 18:1 22:24) — “Sodom & Gomorrah… and Sandy”

The people of Sodom were exceedingly wicked and sinful to G-d… Genesis, 13:13) 

G-d said (to Abraham), “Because the outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah has become great, and because their sin has become very grave, I will descend and see; if they have acted in accordance with its outcry which came to me – then destruction!” (Ibid, 18:20-21)

The Torah doesn’t go into detail as to the nature of the wickedness of the Sodomites.  Most of what we know about these wicked people is related in the Talmud.  Suffice it to say that they were bad.  Very bad.

What was Abraham’s reaction to G-d’s decree?  After all, as G-d’s chosen one, as the embodiment of all that is holy, he surely must have shared G-d’s disgust for the evil actions of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. One would think that he would have been happy to see that that G-d was going to rid the world of these unG-dly and anti-social scoundrels.

However, that was not at all Abraham’s reaction.  Instead of celebrating G-d’s decision, he began to negotiate:

“Will You even destroy righteous with wicked?! … Far be it from You! Shall the Judge of all the earth not do justice?” (ibid. verses 23, 25)

Abraham was arguing that the cities weren’t purely evil, and that the merit of the righteous people should allow even the wicked people to survive.

Abraham didn’t love only righteous people.  He loved ALL people:

Earlier in the day of the above quoted conversation, Abraham was visited by three “men.”  (In reality, our Sages tell us that these were actually angels who appeared to be men.) But what type of men were they?  Were they kind, holy, G-dly men?  Or were they cruel, selfish, idolatrous people like the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah?

Abraham didn’t ask:

He ran toward them from the entrance of the tent, and he bowed toward the ground… “Let some water be brought please, and wash your feet, and recline under the tree. I will bring some bread, so that you may nourish you hearts before you continue on your journey.” (ibid, verses 2, 4, 5)

Why did Abraham ask them to wash their feet?

Rashi tells us that it was a common practice at that time for people to worship the dust of their feet. Abraham, ASSUMING THAT THEY WERE IDOL WORSHIPERS  asked them to remove this idolatrous remnant from their feet before entering his home.

To be sure. Abraham rejected their lifestyle, and he wouldn’t permit it in his home.  But that didn’t stop him from extending every effort to insure that his fellow human beings were well-fed and provided for.

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They told people to be careful.  They told people in threatened areas to evacuate their homes.  (Three of those evacuated families were those of my married children who live in Bayswater (Far Rockaway), NY)

Hurricane Sandy came with all its fury, leaving in its path a trail of destruction.  The suffering continues.  Some people “only” lost electricity.  Some people have lost everything.

The pictures are shocking and heartbreaking.  Empty lots where houses used to be.  Trees lying across cars in driveways and in crushed homes.  The tragic loss of life.

It is easy to look at the pictures of the devastation and be reminded of this week’s Torah Portion’s story of the overturning of Sodom and Gomorrah.  After G-d was finished raining destruction on those cities, there was nothing left.  The Torah tells us that before the destruction, Sodom was a green and lush paradise.  After the destruction, it was a barren desert.

No doubt, there will be some who will glibly attribute the hurricane to G-d’s anger over ________ (fill in the blank.)  After all, Atlantic City, which is, arguably, as close to Sodom and Gomorrah as you can get, is currently under water.  (That’s Sodom and Gomorrah PLUS Noah’s Flood!)  Others will point to the increased level of acceptance of various forms of immorality.  (By the way, both of these explanations have already been suggested to me.)

In short order, televangelists of all stripes will lecture their followers about G-d unleashing His fury against sinners.

I have little patience for those who think they have the ability to explain why G-d does what He does.  Among other things, these “prophets” will need to explain why there are Torah scrolls that are drenched, and why there are holy books floating around in countless homes and synagogues.

Let’s get one thing straight.  G-d rewards the righteous, and He punishes the sinners.  But He does it on His own timetable. And it is, I believe, the epitome of arrogance to attribute G-d’s actions to what WE think His reasons are.

Why did this happen?  I don’t know.  But He does.  And that is all I need to know.

But there is another, much more important question.  And that question is, Now what?

Abraham saw strangers walking past his home.  He didn’t ask if they were “Jewish.” He didn’t ask whether they were Democrats or Republicans or Red Sox fans or Yankee fans.  In fact, he assumed that they were idol worshipers   He assumed that these were people whose theology was the antithesis of everything he stood for.

And what was his reaction? He wanted to make sure that they weren’t hungry.

It is beautiful to see how complete strangers have been reaching out to one another to offer assistance.  We are all in this together.  Those of us who have not been hurt by the hurricane need to reach out to those who have.

Many of our fellow human beings will continue to sit in dark, cold homes for a week or longer.  Many of our fellow human beings have no home to home to.

Efforts are underway to help these people.  And we need to help.  You can donate to American Red Cross efforts by clicking here.

Envision what this Shabbos will be like for many people.  The Mitzvah of lighting Shabbos candles before sundown on Friday was originally instituted, quite simply, to allow people to see around their homes, because after sundown they wouldn’t be able to ignite any lights.  Nowadays, we turn on all the lights we expect to need, and then light our candles. For many people, once the Shabbos candles burn out, their homes will be dark.

Efforts are being made in Jewish communities to provide Shabbos hospitality in homes that have electricity for people who have none.  Kosher food and clothing is being made available.  You can help by clicking here.

When tragedy strikes, our job is not to question.  Our job is to give.

That’s what Abraham would do.

Have a good Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

To leave a comment about this article, or to read other readers’ comments on this article, scroll down past the archive links.

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FROM THE ARCHIVES

 “A Prayer and an Opportunity” (2010)

… We, the People of Israel are a compassionate People.  We try to take care of our own.  And there they are, at synagogues and cemeteries, jingling change in their hands, and calling out, “Tzedokah, Tzedokah.” (Loosely – and incorrectly – translated as “Charity, Charity.”)

… It can be very disturbing.  It can even be annoying.  And this is what led to my dilemma two years ago.

I was praying at Rachel’s Tomb.  I had many things to pray for.  I was standing there, at that holy site, pouring out my heart to G-d.  I was reciting Psalms with a fervor that is difficult to match in other places.  I felt close to our Father in Heaven.

Then it happened.  A hand was thrust into my face, with a quick description of a difficult situation of an impoverished family… taking advantage of the opportunity to pray in this holy place.  I was inspired.  I was uplifted.  And this charity collector burst into my conversation with G-d and totally destroyed my concentration.  How dare he?!!

…Who was right, I pondered; the collector or me?… 

Read more.

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“Immaculate Deception?” (2009)

The world was a desolate place. Sodom  and Gemorrah had just been destroyed.  They were such dens of iniquity that G-d would no longer tolerate their existence.

But He didn’t destroy everyone…

Lot  and his two surviving daughters hid in a cave… They assumed, after the massive destruction they had just survived, that the entire human race had been wiped out… Lot’s daughters had to make a difficult decision…

Lot  now had two illegitimate sons/grandsons, who were the fathers of two nations who would, some day, be a source of problems to their cousins the Israelites.

They were illegitimate.  But why advertise it? …

Read more.

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 “Girl Talk?” (2007) 

Yose ben Yochanan says: “… don’t engage in too much conversation with the woman.” This was said about one’s own wife; all the more so does it apply to another’s wife.… the Sages said: “anyone who engages in too much conversation with women causes evil to himself, neglects Torah study, and will eventually inherit Gehinnom.  (The Hebrew term for … a very hot place!!)”

Not very politically correct!

This is, to say the very least, very difficult to understand.  The part about overdoing conversation with someone else’s wife is understandable.  Human nature being what it is, it is certainly wise for men and women who are not married to each other to set parameters as to how much friendly conversation is appropriate.  But what’s wrong with talking to your wife?…

Read more.

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 “What’s So Funny?”  (2006) 

… Two people hear the same prophecy.  Abraham laughs, and G-d says nothing.  Sarah laughs, and is criticized by G-d.  What’s the difference?  If Sarah is criticized for doubting the truth of the prediction, why isn’t Abraham?…

Read more.

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 “Would Abraham Give Candy to Trick-or-Treaters?” (2005) 

… You are a Sabbath-observing Jew.  You are taking a Shabbos afternoon stroll when a car pulls up next to you.  The driver, also Jewish, asks you for directions.  What do you do?…

What do you do?  Good manners would dictate that you politely tell the driver how to reach his destination.  Jewish Law, however, dictates that you may not assist another Jew in violating Jewish Law.   Should you say you don’t know how to get there?  You’re not allowed to lie.  What do you do??!!! …

Read more.

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“The Most Powerful Force on Earth” (2003) 

…Lot… moved to Sodom  to get away from his uncle Abraham.  He didn’t want to live near his uncle; Abraham was too . . . “religious.” …Lot …seems to have preferred the decadent lifestyle of his neighbors over the restrictive morals of his uncle’s home.  Given the choice of Jerusalem  vs. San Francisco, Lot  chose ‘Frisco! …

Read more.

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“Not Now, G-d, I’m Busy . . . I’ll Talk to You Later!” (2002) 

… You have been selected for a visit from the President of the United States…

“Forgive me, Mr. President. I have something to take care of.  Make yourself at home.  I’ll be back soon.”

You then proceed to run to your itinerant guests, waiting on them hand and foot while the President cools his heels and leafs through your wedding album.

You give them your best food to eat and your finest cigars to smoke.  All the while, the President stands there incredulously, flabbergasted by your audacious and outrageous behavior…

Read more.

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“Could the Twin Towers Have Been Saved?” (2001)

… At the risk of being controversial (who, me?) and politically incorrect, I would like to suggest that there seems to be Biblical precedent for the profiling of Arabs, expecting the worst.  After all, our cousins the Ishmaelites have been at war with us for thousands of years…

Read more .

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“Under the Influence of Dregs” (2000) 

… Sarah … was afraid that he would exert a negative influence over her son Isaac, whom G-d had designated as Abraham’s successor. “Send this maid and her son away, because this maid’s son will NOT share the inheritance with my son Isaac!”

Abraham was distressed by his wife’s suggestion. “My son Ishmael?” he must have asked. “How can I send him away? Who will teach him the right way to live if not I?”

Abraham lost the argument…

Read more.

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This is the weekly message at TorahTalk.org. Copyright © 2000-2012 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.

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Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (Brisrabbi.com) and chaplain in Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.

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Published on November 2, 2012 at 12:35 am  Comments (2)  

2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Today’s parsha also talks about sand three times, twice by the angles and once at the end by the blessing to Abraham – that your children wil numerous as the stars.Is there a connection to Sandy the storm?

  2. You nailed this one! Have a comfortable Shabbos…


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