15/16 Nov: Vayera: Shabbat comes in 3:56 pm, ends 5:01 pm
Parashat Vayeira – And She Cried Out
‘And the Eternal said: Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great and because their sin is very grievous: I will go down now, and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which has come to Me…’ (Genesis 18:20-21) The nature of the sin of Sodom is not directly described in the text. A midrash (a creative rabbinic explanation) in Pirkei DeRabbi Eliezer expounds upon the words ‘the cry of it , which has come to Me’, which is more precisely translated as ‘the cry of her ’. The ‘her’ of the text appears, in a surface-level reading, to be referring to the cry of the city. However, the sages of this midrash read the ‘her’ as referring to a young woman in the city. They tell the story of a law in Sodom that banned extending aid to the poor. Pelotit, a daughter of Lot, was moved to provide food for a starving beggar. When the beggar did not die of starvation, the men of Sodom investigated his condition and revealed her charity. As a result, she was put to death by burning. It was Pelotit’s cry that reached the Divine, and caused the destruction of Sodom. The sin of Sodom was not only that individual transgressors treated one another with apathy or disdain, but that their mistreatment of one another was enshrined in the law, and that any act of compassion was met with capital punishment. It is an extreme example of a societal ill that we must all be aware of: that we should never assume that morality and ethics are dictated by the legal system, and rather that we should ensure that the legal system is dictated by morality and ethics.
Rabbi Natasha Mann
So in terms of a punishment for the people of Noah’s time, the flood and the destruction of all living things does seem a bit extreme. One of my rabbis, Rabbi Brad Artson argues, that is exactly the point the Torah is trying to make.
Destruction, even when it comes from the God who is “slow to anger and abounding in kindness” bursts beyond any manageable or fair limitations. Even punishments, originally intended to be measured and reasonable, provoke unanticipated suffering and hardship.
Rabbi Paul Arberman.
Abraham Joshua Heschel believed that Adam’s sin was primarily in hiding from God and from himself. This is not, in Heschel’s eyes, an abstract idea; we all hide from God and from ourselves. Heschel expresses it thus in the third verse of his poem I and Thou:
” Often I glimpse Myself in everyone’s form,
hear My own speech – a distant, quiet voice – in people’s weeping,
as if under millions of masks My face would lie hidden. ”
Heschel is describing a personal experience in which he has hidden from himelf, his essence absorbed within society. His face is masked, hidden from view, making the idea to “know thyself” impossible.
I’m not sure why we hide from ourselves so well when we are young — or perhaps we just don’t take the time to think through who we are — but I can say definitively, that one of the great joys of getting older is the unmasking — getting to know yourself — what you actually enjoy or don’t enjoy doing.
Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman