Thursday, November 13, 2008


Jerusalem, Israel
HaRav Yehuda Kreuser SHLIT"A, Rosh Yeshiva
17 Marcheshvan 5769/14-15 November 2008

What was it about Sodom and Gomorrah that was so terrible that "its outcry has become great and their sin has been very grave"? Surely other nations committed sins, but we do not find anywhere that they were at once overturned and totally destroyed. In fact, the people of Sodom and Gomorrah were part of the seven nations that lived in the Land of Israel before the
Jewish people came and conquered it in the time of Joshua, yet they were not destroyed until some 400 years later, when, as the Torah puts it, their quota of sin had reached its limit. Until that point the Jews were unable to prevail in the Land, as these nations still had merits to protect them from annihilation. But Sodom and Gomorrah were at once obliterated.

Sodom and Gomorrah, above all else, were known as the cities of law and order, everything was done according to the law of the land. Same-sex marriages were encoded in law and binding as totally legal. Nothing was more important than law and order - no matter what the law was. Above all else, the most important law in Sodom was not to do kindness or to help the poor.
A poor person who happened to come into the city would be meet with starvation, as no one would be allowed according to law to give him food.

This, then, is the great contrast that we find in our parsha between Abraham and the people of Sodom. Abraham, who went to great extremes to help his guests and do chesed for them, going so far as slaughtering three young calves so each of his three guests could have the choicest meats. On the other hand, the people of Sodom put to death - by smearing honey over the entire body and having bees slowly sting to death one who broke the law of the land and gave food to a poor beggar. It was for this reason, above all others, that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed at this time and wiped off the planet, for one who does not have the trait of kindness is not part of the human race.

We find in the time of Gideon (Judges 8), that his army was pursuing the kings of Midian, and they came to the Jewish city of Succoth, as the text teaches us: "Gideon then arrived at the Jordan, and he and the three hundred men who were with him, were crossing exhausted, yet pursuing. He said to the people of Succoth, give us loaves of bread to the people that follow at my feet, for they are exhausted and I am pursuing Zebah and Zalmuna, the kings of Midian." But the leaders of Succoth said: "Is the palm of Zebah and Zalmuna already in your hand, that we should give bread to your legion?"

So the people of Succoth did not show kindness to Gideon and his troops and did not supply them with food. And when Gideon returned from battle, he took the elders of the city and some desert thorns and briars, and with them he thrashed to death the men of Succoth. For when the trait of kindness is missing it becomes a society like Sodom.

We find in the Talmud, a Jew who came to the Jewish community in Babylon after the destruction of the First Temple. He wanted to start a business there, but they did not let him. He wanted to obtain food but they did not give him any. He said that these people are from the Erev-Rav - the mixed multitude who left Egypt with the Jewish people - for all who do not have
the trait of kindness in them are not part of the Jewish people. It was for this reason the Giv'onim were rejected from being part of the Jewish people in the time of King David, for they were lacking the trait of kindness and demanded that the descendants of King Shaul be put to death.

Our rabbis teach us that three gifts were given over to the Jewish people: kindness, bashfulness, and mercy. It was through the great act of chesed that Abraham did that we merited to receive the Torah. Our rabbis teach us that when Moshe went up to receive the Torah, the heavenly angels gathered together to kill him, but at that moment Hashem changed the appearance of Moshe to look like Abraham and rebuked the angels: Don't you remember who this is? When I sent you down on a mission to earth, Abraham served you hand over foot, but when a guest comes up here you want to kill him? You do not deserve to have the Torah, but rather it should be in the hands of the Jewish people who practice kindness.

Rashi points out in our parsha that even when there is judgment in the world, acts of kindness by the Jewish people can overturn it to mercy. The yardstick is clear: In a state of law and order, those who practice mercy and kindness to their fellow Jew are certainly the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but these who are cruel and heartless, who beat on their fellow Jew, whose only desire is to hit upon the defenseless, who only want to uproot the Jew from his home and cause pain - just might, as the Talmud points out, not be part of the tribes.

With love of Israel,

Levi Chazen
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