Vayera 5776

18 Marchesvan 5776
October 30-31, 2015
Annual: Genesis 18:1-22:24
Triennial: Genesis 21:1-22:24
Haftarah: 2 Kings 4:1-37

The Sin of S’dom and Amorah is so Great

By Esther Israel, CY Faculty

S’dom and ‘Amorah (Sodom and Gomorrah) were situated in the southern Jordan valley; according to B’reishit 13:10, the lushest, most fertile part of the land. The story of what happens to the three messengers of God as they come to rescue Lot from what is to befall these cities appears in chapter 19. We know already from God’s words to Abraham in 18:20 that “The outrage of S’dom and ‘Amorrah is so great, and their sin so grave!” But the nature of their sin is not specified, only that it is so terrible that it deserves annihilation.

What do we learn of their evildoing from the text? The homosexual rape of the visitors that the S’domites planned and the terror at Lot’s door leaves no doubt as to their wickedness. Their demand of Lot that he deliver the visitors to them for their obscene desires (19:5) is ironic in light of the way Abraham had welcomed these guests in the previous chapter. So it’s clear why many have understood the great sin of S’dom to be sexual acts deviant in their eyes; some, but not all of them, violent; hence the term “sodomy.” Interestingly, several of the Prophets use images of S’dom in chasting the people for different sins, providing inner-Biblical interpretations of that story. Isaiah (1:9-17) addresses the people as “the rulers of S’dom” for their hypocritical worship of God: “Your hands are bloodstained … Cease your evil doings … Learn to do good , seek justice; aid the oppressed, advocate for the orphan, and defend the widow.” He hopes to shame his listeners into changing their social conduct, by using S’dom as the measure of how evil it is, though clearly in reference to different behavior.

In chapter 16 Ezekiel rebukes his contemporary Judeans for sins even worse than those of S’dom (though he does not details the Judeans’ sins): “Sodom and her daughters…were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and the needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me.” For Ezekiel the essence of the Sodomites’ sin was in their inflated self-assurance; they set their own needs and desires as the moral standard; unsurprisingly, they do not find themselves lacking.

These prophetic texts are, too, valid readings of B’reishit 19. A confused morality is characteristic of the city: The most righteous man there, Lot, is “better” than his neighbors, realtively. Their violence against his guests shocks him (he had learned הכנסת אורחים, literally “bringing in wayfarerers” from his uncle, Abraham): “To these men do nothing, for they have come under the shelter of my roof” (19:8). But instead, he offers compromise no less morally outrageous: Let the rabble take his two virgin daughters and do as they wish to them.

To this I add: When God’s messengers enter S’dom, they find Lot “sitting at the city gate” (19:1, which in Biblical terms means that he was sitting on the city court). When trying to restrain the crowd, in 19:7-9, some jeer: “This one came to dwell here, and would be our judge!” Even to the limited extent that Lot provides a voice of morality, there he is stopped: S’dom will not accept objective moral standards, nor the rule of law. And especially, it will not not tolerate criticism.

A Vort for Parshat Vayera

By Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, CY Faculty

The parsha opens with God appearing to Abraham – the Rabbis say He came to “comfort the ill” (bikur holim) following Abraham’s circumcision (two verses earlier).  Abraham interrupts the conversation when, “looking up,” he sees three men (angels).  When the meal is prepared, Abraham “stands over” his guests as they eat.  The scene begins with Abraham at a lower level than his guests and ends with him “a little higher than the angels” (cf Ps. 2:7).  The Rabbis consider this a spiritual rise, resulting from the hospitality Abraham shows to strangers (hachnasat orchim), a mitsva the Talmud says is “more important than welcoming the Divine presence.”

Table Talk

By Vered Hollander-Goldfarb, CY Faculty

  • Three people arrive at Abraham’s tent in the heat of the day. He asks them to stay briefly, offering them minimal hospitality while deciding to provide much more. Why does he downplay what he intends to give them? Pay close attention to what he tells them and what the needs and concerns of a traveler are at this time of the day.
  • The guests tell Abraham and Sarah (who is able to hear them from her tent) that in a year’s time Sarah will have delivered a child. Sarah reacts by laughing to herself (18:9-15). Why do you think that she laughed? God reacted differently to Abraham’s reaction upon hearing a similar message (17:16-21). Why?
  • The angels/ messengers arrive in Sodom and inform Lot (Abraham’s nephew) that they are about to destroy the place. He is given until morning to flee (19:12-20). What does Lot do during those precious hours? Why do the angels have to take him by the hand and lead him away? What thoughts and feelings might be crossing his mind during those brief hours?

* Look at the first word of 19:16 in the Hebrew; it has a rare cantilation called ‘shalshelet’ (it looks like a squiggly line). When read, this is a very, very, very long sound. Why was it place here?  

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