Parashat Vayera Cheshvan 20, 5781
This Parashah, Vayera וַיֵּרָא “and He appeared”, like all the portions of the Torah, tells us stories to help us have a better life. As human beings, we tend to put God in a box according to our understanding and our preconceptions. How often have we heard the following phrases? “This is from God” … “This is not from God” … “God manifests himself in this way”…., “God does not manifest in this way”, etc., always treating God as the object and not as the subject. God appears in this parashah in forms or ways in which He had not previously “appeared”. He appears in situations to exercise His kindness, His mercy, to show us how to have fear of heaven, to exercise justice, to test us, to create history with some “apparent mistakes” – I emphasize apparent since God does not allow anything to happen that is not for our good. According to common knowledge about Ammon, Moab, Ishmael, Laban, Abimelech, Sodom, Gomorrah, the Eternal’s malachim (angels or messengers), among the many characters in this story, they were supposedly negative at some point in history, but let’s see how God uses them: for example Ruth who was the great grandmother of King David and the lineage of the Messiah, she comes from Moab; Na’amah wife of King Solomon, Shlomo and the mother of his son, Rehavam comes from Ammon; Rivka comes from Laban, the children of Ishmael saved Joseph, etc. which brings us to the conclusion that they fulfilled a purpose beyond our understanding. Among all these so-called “coincidences”, God appears, in plain view or hidden.
While I was studying this portion, I asked myself: how could such a good and merciful God decide to destroy a nation? To my disappointment, I did not find a satisfactory answer that fully explains how God, being a God of love, decides to literally destroy these cities with fire. However, I found certain questions within the Tanakh, Talmud and Messianic Writings which led me to certain conclusions:
There are 5 cities, Sodom, Gomorrah, Adma, Tzvoim and Tzoar. According to the Midrash, Sodom is used as a general term to include the rest since it was the capital of the district.
Bereshit 13:1 says: ” Now the men of Sodom were wicked and sinned against the LORD exceedingly.” Why were they corrupt? The Midrash says that this evil came from their wealth, as the area was extremely fertile. The result of the abundance enjoyed by the population of Sodom did not increase their gratitude towards the Bore Olam – quite the contrary – they trusted in their wealth and despised His authority. Selfishness does not allow people to do good.
Yirmiyahu 23:14 says “But in the prophets of Jerusalem I have seen a horrible thing: they commit adultery, lie, and they strengthen the hands of evildoers so that no one returns from his wickedness; they have all become to Me as Sodom, and their inhabitants as Gomorrah”.
Yechezkel 16: 47-51 says “you have not walked in their ways, nor done after their abominations; but in a very little while, you dealt more corruptly than they in all your ways. As I live, says the Lord GOD, Sodom your sister has not done, she nor her daughters, as you have done, you and your daughters. Behold, this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: pride, fulness of bread, and careless ease were in her and in her daughters; neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty, and committed abomination before Me; therefore, I removed them when I saw it. Neither has Samaria committed even half of your sins but you have multiplied your abominations more than they, and have justified your sisters by all your abominations which you have done”
Eikhah (Lamentations) 4: 6 says ” For the iniquity of the daughter of my people is greater than the sin of Sodom that was overthrown as in a moment, and no hands fell upon her.”
2 Peter (Kefa) 2: 7-8 it is written: “And if God delivered Lot, a tzaddik distressed by the conduct of the lawless walking in the ways of licentiousness. For that tzaddik, living among them day after day was tortured in his honest soul by the ways of lawless ones that he saw and heard”.
Abraham assumed that there must be at least ten righteous in Sodom, but the Almighty told him that there were not even ten righteous.
Rav Yitzchak Berkovits explains that the people of Sodom believed that doing chesed (kindness) to another person, this was an act of cruelty. Consequently, they instituted a group of laws and punishments that prevented kindness (chesed) from destroying society.
Rabbi Chemi says that when there is a stronger manifestation of light, there is a clearer manifestation of darkness. When the light in the world is dim or the day is gray, it is not possible to visualize what has always been there, those imperfections. As an example, in the sets of recording studios prior to going on air, they put makeup on the presenters, and place them in front of a mirror with a lot of light, since the imperfections of their face – so to speak – look best in this light and allows them to “correct” their defects that would not be corrected in dim light. The question is, has this imperfection always been there? Of course, but what happens is that it can be better seen when exposed to adequate light.
In this Parashah, Sodom literally represents the opposite of Abraham. Abraham taught us the way not to become Sodom through chesed, kindness:
a) Chesed is not just goodness, it is active goodness as I understand it. People can be full of good feelings without achieving anything for others.
b) Chesed, on the other hand, operates independently of need. It is something that beats in the heart and demands expression, the desire to give, to make the world a better place by offering our help.
How do we learn this in practice? I would like to bring something written by Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis:
a) Bikkur Cholim – Visit the sick. The word bikkur (visit) is related to bikóret (research) to teach us that, when visiting a sick person, we must investigate and understand the best way to help the patient and their families. The word bikkur is also related to bóker (morning), reminding us to bring joy and brightness with our presence and not to start from the presence of the sick without saying a prayer for their recovery.
b) Hachnasat orchim, receiving guests. We transform our home from a simple residence to a spiritual abode in which we share God’s blessings.
c) The Chuppah – Abraham’s model for the Jewish home: Abraham’s tent was open in all four directions so that it was accessible from each of them.
d) Enthusiasm: Abraham ran to receive his guests. Attend to the needs of the guests personally and do not delegate this to others.
e) Say little, do much: Abraham invited his guests to receive “a little water” and eat “a morsel of bread”, but in the end, it was a banquet that they ate.
f) Thank God for everything, good and even what may seem apparently bad.
g) Accompany the guests when leaving the home.
h) The responsibilities of the guests: We should try to improve the shalom bait (peace in the home) of those who host us, praising one spouse before the other.
i) Pray for others: “Whoever prays for another person when he needs it, is answered first.” God gave Sarah a son after Abraham prayed that Abimelech would be blessed with children.
So, what are we sowing? The virtues of Abraham or the corruption of Sodom? Lot chose Sodom; he followed the lust of his eyes, he sought wealth, but in the end, he left Sodom penniless, lost his wife, had a dysfunctional family and became a source of future shame because of his actions. Abraham decided to respond to the Eternal’s call and God fulfilled His promise by giving him many children, as well as financial blessing.
I conclude that God executed through His attribute of justice, the act of destruction, but He did not destroy Sodom; Sodom with their actions and conduct destroyed itself, they were the cause of God’s judgment.
Shabbat Shalom! Mauricio Quintero