Parasha Inspiration – Vayera

הִנֵּה־זֶ֣ה הָיָ֔ה עֲו‍ֹ֖ן סְדֹ֣ם אֲחוֹתֵ֑ךְ גָּא֨וֹן שִׂבְעַת־לֶ֜חֶם וְשַׁלְוַ֣ת הַשְׁקֵ֗ט הָ֚יָה לָהּ֙ וְלִבְנוֹתֶ֔יהָ וְיַד־עָנִ֥י וְאֶבְי֖וֹן לֹ֥א הֶֽחֱזִֽיקָה:

Behold this was the iniquity of Sodom your sister: pride, abundance of bread, and careless ease were hers and her daughters’, and she did not strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.

Ezekiel 16:49

This week’s Torah portion has several important narratives within it. Among these narratives is the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. According to Torah, the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was so great that there was a crying out to Hashem. So, what was this great sin?

The answer to this question is not actually given in the Torah portion itself. All the Torah tells us is that the sin was great. To discover what this great sin was, we must actually turn to Ezekiel 16. There, we see what this great sin actually was.

There are many teachings regarding suppositions about the great sin of Sodom and Gomorrah. Most all of these teachings involve abhorrent sexuality of one sort or another. However, we see in Ezekiel 16 that according to Hashem, the great sin that produced the crying out to Hashem did not involve sexuality at all, rather, it involved pride and the lack of extending a helping hand to the poor.

This is the great sin of Sodom and Gomorrah, not extending a helping hand to the poor. Modern teachings do not point us toward the real sin of Sodom and Gomorrah, but Torah actually does. Lot makes a point of extending his hand in charity and hospitality to strangers. He actually does this possibly endangering his own life. He extends the hand of charity and hospitality to strangers. This action is righteousness in an unrighteous city. The consequences are that he and his family are rescued and saved. Not all of Lot’s actions may be described as righteous. Certainly, the offering up of his daughters to the crowd is questionable at best. But the differentiating action between Lot and the unrighteous city is that lot did not hesitate to extend his hand toward the stranger and the needy. Shabbat shalom.

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Rabbi Steven Bernstein

Steve was born on Lag B’Omer in Ann Arbor, MI but was raised in Gainesville, FL. The son of two University of Florida professors, he excelled in the sciences in school. In addition to his normal academic studies, he pursued his Jewish education studying with many Rabbis and professors of Judaic Studies from the University including visiting Rabbis such as Abraham Joshua Heschel and Shlomo Carlebach.