THE DESTRUCTION OF SODOM
Rabbi Yisroel Chait
When G-d advised Abraham of His decision to destroy Sodom, Abraham vigorously
tried to prevent the destruction. He seemed to question G-d's judgment
and seek some sort of reprieve for the people of Sodom from such an ostensibly
harsh verdict. However, when Abraham was commanded to take his beloved
son Isaac as a sacrifice for the alter, he attempted to fulfill G-d's will
with alacrity. This puzzling contrast can be explained by analyzing G-d's
system of justice with respect to mankind.
When a mortal judge sentences a criminal, the severity of the sentence
is commensurate with the harshness of the offense. In pragmatic terms,
the judgment is seeking to protect society and not benefit the criminal.
However, G-d's punishment generally seeks to benefit man, so as to elevate
the individual to act upon a higher moral plane. There are exceptions to
this principle, as illustrated by the destruction of Sodom. G-d's decree
to destroy Sodom was evidently not the type of judgment intended to benefit
them. Rather, it was a determination by G-d that the people of Sodom were
no longer deserving existence. The corruption of their lifestyles was without
any merit that could justify their continued existence. However, Abraham's
great love of his fellow man propelled him to be an advocate on their behalf.
Abraham was questioning whether this type of punishment from G-d, clearly
detrimental to the people of Sodom, was just. In Genesis chapter 18, verse
25, Abraham questioned "That be far from Thee to do after this manner
to slay the righteous with the wicked, that so the righteous should be
as the wicked; that be far from thee; shall not the Judge of all the earth,
do justly." Abraham was questioning the justice in G-d's execution
of this detrimental punishment. He was not questioning G-d, but rather
trying to comprehend G-d's administration of justice. Could it be that
G-d would slay a righteous person together with a wicked person. G-d's
punishment of Sodom was obviously not beneficial to man, and Abraham was
attempting to comprehend the method in which G-d's justice was being
When Abraham was commanded by G-d to slaughter Isaac, no questions were
asked. It was evident to Abraham that this was a punishment from G-d intended
to benefit man. Isaac was not a wicked person deserving extinction. On
the contrary, Abraham realized that this commandment was being executed
for the benefit of man. Thus, Abraham could not ask any questions. He
realized that it is humanly impossible to comprehend how G-d's action is
intended to benefit man. A person cannot question the manner in which a
punishment from G-d benefits man. The benefit may be the punishment itself.
However, if a judgment is of the kind that is meted out not for the benefit
of man, but rather because man no longer deserves to exist, then a person
can try to analyze the implementation of G-d's justice. Abraham, motivated
by his great love of his fellow man and his intellectual nature, felt compelled
to comprehend G-d's justice in destroying the entire city. However, this
cannot be misconstrued as questioning how G-d's actions are just. This
is beyond human comprehension.
The destruction of the city of Sodom also led to the rescue of Lot and
the attempted effort to rescue his wife. This incident is a vivid example
of the unfortunate manner in which people view many of the events recited
in the Bible. People are overwhelmed with the miraculous fable-like qualities
of these stories, which when learned in their youth are so appealing. All
too often people do not overcome their childhood impressions of the Torah,
and fail to appreciate the insightful teachings of the Torah. An analysis
of the story of Lot and his wife can help us learn to value the beauty of
the Torah's teachings.
Lot's wife was punished after she looked back at the destruction of the
city of Sodom. Genesis chapter 19, verse 26 states, "And his wife
looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt." To
comprehend this punishment, we must also understand what was so terrible
about her looking back.
Chazal, the Rabbis, teach us that she was turned into a pillar of salt
because G-d's punishment is measure for measure. Whenever guests were invited
to the house, she didn't give them salt for their food. This is the reason
she was turned into a pillar of salt. We must analyze the significance
and the relationship between these two factors to appreciate G-d's justice
being measure for measure.
The decree was that Sodom and all its citizens must be destroyed. Lot,
however, was not truly a citizen of Sodom. The people of Sodom were not
hospitable. Lot was. He greeted the angels and extended to them the courtesy
of welcomed guests. In fact, Lot felt such compassion for his guests that
when the people of Sodom wanted his guests to be handed over to them, Lot
refused. His kindness to his guests even extended to his offering his daughters
to the people of Sodom in their stead. However, he insisted that no harm
be visited upon his guests. Thus Lot was charitable and deserved salvation
since in spirit he was not truly a resident of Sodom. His kindness though
seems misplaced. He was kind to his guests at the expense of being promiscuous
with his daughters. This seems to be an awkward type of kindness and rather
However, we must appreciate Lot as an individual. The Torah is telling
us about his exploits because he obviously was a worthy individual. He
was not simply an eccentric fool, or the Torah would not elaborate the details
of his salvation. Lot was a relative of Abraham, and was a member of his
household. He learned the importance of kindness from Abraham and was a
true bal chessed, charitable person. Lot, though, did not adopt Abraham's
concept of kindness. Lot was drawn to Sodom because of his instinctual
desires. Genesis chapter 13 at the conclusion of verse 12 states "
. . . and pitched his tent towards Sodom." Lot was attracted to the
sexual permissiveness that pervaded Sodom. Although Lot espoused the concept
of loving kindness, he had no concept of sexual morality. Therefore, his
behavior was understandable. His theory was to treat his guests with the
utmost kindness, even if it compromised the sexual integrity of his daughters.
This to Lot was completely logical. It was entirely within his framework.
However, it evidences that he was completely divorced from any sense of
kedusha. This attests to the fact that Abraham's concept of kindness itself
was totally different from Lot's. Kindness for Abraham was based upon his
sense of justice. Abraham was the first person to recognize G-d as creator
of the universe and possessed a great intellect. His kindness for his fellow
man stemmed from his wisdom.
Lot had no philosophical basis for his kindness. It was just emotional
goodness based on his sense of being nice. Thus, kallos rosh, levity was
not inconsistent with his philosophy. He had no concept of sanctity whereby
man was to live his life based upon a higher intellectual plane of kedusha.
However, Lot was worthy of salvation. He practiced kindness to his fellow
man and was not a consummate citizen of Sodom. Therefore, God sent the
angels to save him from the destruction of Sodom since the decree was directed
against the citizens of Sodom..
Lot's wife did not share her husband's value of kindness. The Rabbis
tell us that she never gave her guests salt. This is really indicative
of her nature. Her withholding salt was just an expression of her emotional
state. She was a vicious person who disdained her fellow man. She really
did not desire to accommodate guests that visited her house. However, because
Lot was a kind person, she had no choice. But she felt compelled to withhold
something, not to be totally giving to a fellow human being. Lot's wife
was truly a citizen of Sodom. The Rabbis tell us that she partook. She
was unable to be happy if another person was enjoying himself. However,
since she was Lot's wife, G-d gave her an opportunity for salvation. If
she did not look back at the destruction of Sodom, she would be saved.
Lot's wife was very happy in Sodom. She shared the values of its citizens
and totally identified with them. However, G-d gave her a chance to do
ideology. If she repented and realized her wrongdoings and was capable
of emotional kindness towards her fellow man as was Lot, then she would
be spared. If she did not look back at Sodom's destruction, it would reflect
that she no longer identified with that evil society, and thus was worthy
of salvation. However, she looked back. She still identified with the
people of Sodom and felt badly that they were being destroyed. Therefore,
her fate was sealed. She was destined to turn into a pillar salt. This
reflected the salt that she was unable to share with her fellow man. Thus,
G-d's method of punishment is measure for measure.
Abraham also returned to the site of the destruction the following morning.
Abraham also desired to look upon the destruction of Sodom. However, his
looking was different than Lot's wife. Genesis chapter 19, verse 28 states,
"Vayashkafe......", Abraham looked, he investigated. "Vayashkafe"
indicates not merely looking, but rather viewing with an intellectual curiosity.
Abraham had no identification with the people of Sodom. He came to view
the destruction after its conclusion the following morning. His looking
was the viewing of a wise individual who wanted to observe the manifestation
of G-d's justice. The Torah is contrasting the method in which an emotional
person views the event to the observation of a sinner. The former looks
out of a sense of despair, yearning, and commiseration. Abraham looked
to investigate, to comprehend, and to analyze the manner in which G-d's