Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – Vayeira
Lot and his family escape the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham warned them that the city was doomed, and they had to escape. Lot, his wife, and their two daughters got out just before the winds of destruction consumed the cities. Whew!
Let’s take a step back. The portion begins as God and angels paid a visit to Abraham. God announced that the wickedness of Sodom forced the Divine hand. Abraham got in God’s faced and debated the call, “Will the judge of the universe not do justice?” He went to negotiate the fewest number of righteous people it would take to change God’s mind. God agreed that if ten righteous people could be found – the cities would survive.
When Abraham could not find ten, he admonished the four who were righteous that he found to leave. Okay, three. Lot’s wife left under protest and looked longingly back as the cities fell. She turned to salt. Lot and his daughters went to the mountains – all they knew no longer existed. They must have thought that Sodom and Gomorrah made up the entirety of the world. Late at night, Lot’s daughters felt it was their job to repopulate the Earth. They got Dad drunk in successive nights, slept with him, and he impregnated them. Tradition treats their children as our eternal enemies. Moab and Amon did not repopulate the earth – they populated Israel’s eternal enemy. Deuteronomy 23:3 and 6 read, “No Ammonite or Moabite or any of their descendants may enter the assembly of the Lord, not even in the tenth generation … Do not seek a treaty of friendship with them as long as you live.”
Ok, so there was one righteous person – Lot. Well, when Abraham came to visit, Lot threw his daughters to the angry sex-thirsty crowd to protect his uncle. So, God was correct – there were no righteous people there. What if Abraham had moved his family into the city? There would have been scores of righteous people there. How serious was he in arguing for the well-being of the city? Could he have made a difference by setting a different example? Did he simply give up, resigned to the “reality” that they deserved destruction after-all? He decided that his influence would not have made any difference in their behaviors. Thomas Paine wrote, “We have it in our power to change the world over.” Gandhi taught us, “We must become the change we wish to see in the world.” Lest we think the task is too daunting, Mother Theresa taught us, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” In our own Pirke Avot, Rabbi Tarfon teaches us that we are not required to finish the whole task, but we must work on it to teach others to, as well.
If God was testing Abraham, Abraham failed. He stood up and screamed at God over the presumed injustice but lacked the faith to make the ripples, begin the work to be continued by others, or do anything other than complain.
We this reality play out all the time. We see the number of people who scream about injustice and then do nothing but scream. How do we feed the hungry? We can write all the articles, go on all the talk shows, but if we don’t dive in with people to help people, the hungry will stay hungry.
How do we cure Racism, anti-Semitism, Misogyny, anti-LGBTQ bias, poverty, or any form of discrimination? We already have laws on the books. Volumes of books and articles fill libraries and bookstores. The “speaker’s circuit” teems with experts. Not one uttered word can change the hearts that still discriminate until it gets shared person to person. Most do not even understand how they participate in systemic bigotry. Most are good people who just don’t see past their horizons. Most people, when approached caringly, want to learn more and grow. We cannot change the world if we are unwilling to reach way out of our comfort zones to engage people in personal conversations and engagements. A young effectively imprisoned Anne Frank wrote in her diary, “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” I still believe that we have this power – we only need to reach deep into our hearts and feel love enough to act.