Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – Vayeira
“I don’t want to share anything with you. I don’t want anything from you! I don’t need you!” If we have not felt like saying this to people, we have never lived or worked with others. Engaging with each other can be incredibly frustrating. We try to justify the sentiment by arguing that we are not dishonest. In fact, we speak with brutal honesty. We are not asking for anything selfishly – we just want to disengage and be left alone.
The Rabbis teach that isolation is a transgression – maybe even a sin (not a word that generally applies in a Jewish context). At the core of our faith tradition lies the truth that the world cannot heal unless we create, nurture, and maintain meaningful relationships in a community. The great mystic Isaac Luria argued that the origin of our world (as per Chapter 1 of Genesis) was chaos. The Hebrew word is “Tohu.” He taught that chaos means that every particle of matter moves in its own direction and stands beholden to no other particle.
We need each other. Not one of us can live alone. None of us has the skillset to provide for all of our own needs effectively. Still, though, we operate as though the people around us are all disposable. “Tohu” reigns in our communities as everyone wants to play by their own rules. Of course, when we operate in this way, our isolation also keeps us from seeing when we are about to collide with someone else’s isolated world. If one looks in an electron microscope, the particles run amuck, and the collisions can be violent.
In part of a famous midrash, a rabbi is anxious over evil in the world. He goes to the Prophet Elijah and asks for an explanation for why bad things happen to good people. Elijah takes him on a journey to demonstrate how little the rabbi understands the world. One stop is at a synagogue. The travelers dress as homeless vagrants. As they get to the doors of the synagogue seeking a meal and shelter, they are physically thrown out and derided for daring to approach these people for help. Elijah asks God to fill the synagogue with leaders. The rabbi cannot control himself and screams at the Prophet, “The way they just treated us – how can you ask God’s blessing for them?” the Prophet responded, “If each person thinks they are in charge, nothing will get done as their egos keep them and the community from thriving.”
This week, we witness the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. According to the text (Genesis 18), God tells Abraham that he has seen the wickedness of the cities. The text does not specify what that wickedness is, so sages have created a host of possibilities. Whatever the offense, it roots in a form of chaos, an atmosphere wherein people are not caring for each other or for the responsibilities that link them to a community. It is “Tohu.”
When psychologist/drug activist Timothy Leary wanted to run against Ronald Reagan for Governor of California, he asked John Lennon to write a campaign song for him, the genesis of “Come Together.” On the one hand, the lyrics (as per Lennon) are pure gibberish. On the other hand, they reflect societal chaos that served only to splinter relationships and exile us from each other. Leary wanted to bring the whole state into concert and consensus for each other’s well-being. From “tohu” to order. From inhumanity to humane. We cannot believe that we can live in a city on our own and impact no one around us. Sodom’s inhumanity caused its destruction. Are we listening?