04 Nov What was the sin of Sodom?
When the Sha’agat Aryeh became rabbi of Melz, the town leaders enacted a new ordinance to enhance Jewish life in his honor. They decreed that instead of begging house to house, beggars would come to a central office and receive a stipend. They scheduled a meeting to discuss this enactment, but the Sha’agat Aryeh declined, saying “this is nothing new, they already introduced this law in Sodom and Gemorrah.”
In common English parlance, Sodomy has a very specific meaning. But according to Jewish tradition, the sin of Sodom had little to do with private behavior. In Pirke Avot, it states “The one who says mine is mine and yours is yours, is average; others say this is the attribute of Sodom.” The sin of Sodom was based on an attitude of “mine is mine and yours is yours.” What does this mean? It means to stay out of each others business, not to interfere with each other, but also not to care or help. This is the economics of self-ineterst described by Adam Smith, except that the results are far more dire than he predicted.
My image of Sodom used to be a suburb where everyone drove home from work, put on their favorite TV show, had their nice life, but never interacted with their neighbor. I am not concerned with my neighbor’s well being unless something egregious happens to them.
In our parsha, God destroys the city of Sodom not because of their intimate behavior, but because of how they related to each other. One midrash tells that they made tzedakah and hospitality illegal: it was illegal to care for one’s neighbor. Perhaps they destroyed themselves. A society is created by bonds of caring; I think this is why mitzvot such as hospitality, visiting the sick, and comforting the bereaved are emphasized in Judaism as much as they are. These mitzvot create a society where we care for each other.
Lynn and Michael Terry, who created and owned a horse trailer company, decided to retire. Instead of selling their company to investors, they sold it to their employees for less than they could have received otherwise. They made sure their 130 employees kept their jobs, and the community kept a company. They were motivated not just by self-interest, but by a desire to have a positive impact on others.
During this weird period, we are separated from each other not by lack of caring, but by abundance of concern. The fate of Sodom teaches us to build a caring society by being concerned not only about what happens in our own walls, in our own lives, but also caring just as much about our neighbor.
Afterschool News: Hebrew School Reimagined
Congratulations to the Leon family on Leon’s Bar Mitzvah this week!
We are happy to welcome Havivah Giangrecco, a student at University of Washington, as our new Hebrew Tutor.
Our Hebrew program is built around small group or individual sessions, so that children are actively learning for the entire session. We are always happy to welcome new students!
A parent told me today that her child, who is in our Torah and Today class, missed class this week because of a scheduling conflict. He protested, telling his mother “but I have to go!” Why does he love it? Because our teacher, Rabbi Raphi, is engaging kids in substantive Torah based discussions; they just finished a 3 week study of revenge. The children learn from Torah, Talmud, and Midrash, and do not feel like they are bored or wasting time. Way to go Rabbi Raphi!