Parashat Vayera

The Sin of Sodom and its Impact on Creation

Humanity's dominion over the earth must be for the sake of the Divine.

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Provided by Canfei Nesharim, providing Torah wisdom about the importance of protecting our environment.

Two cosmic catastrophes unfold in the book of Genesis. The first, the flood, in which God brings waters down from the Heavens to destroy almost all life. The second, the utter devastation of Sodom and Gomorrah, in which an area previously known as a fertile and lush "garden of Hashem" (Gen. 13:10) becomes a desolate land "that cannot be sown, nor sprout, and no grass shall rise up upon it, like the upheaval of Sodom and Gomorrah...which God overturned in His anger, and His wrath" (Deut. 29:22). 

canfei nesharimOne of the connections we see between these two events is the word the Torah employs in both cases, lihashcheet--to destroy. When God relates to Noah that He will bring the flood He says, "The end of all flesh has come before Me; for the earth is filled with robbery through them; and, behold, I am about to destroy (mashcheetam) them from the earth" (Gen. 6:13).

In the case of Sodom we see the same word applied, "…when God destroyed  (beshachet) the cities of the plain…" (Gen. 19:29). The Torah did not elaborate on the sin of Sodom, but the underpinnings are expressed later in the prophecy of Ezekiel: "Behold this was the sin of Sodom…She and her daughters had pride, excess bread, and peaceful serenity, but she did not strengthen the hand of the poor and the needy" (16:49).

What Did They Do?

The prophet's description combined with what the Torah reveals to us gives us the following picture: the people of Sodom insisted on preserving their high quality of living to such an extent that they established a principle not to let the poor and homeless reside in their city. Consequently when a destitute person would come seeking help, they would revoke his right to any welfare--public or private! By doing this they figured they would preserve an elite upper class community who would monopolize the profits that the bountiful land offers without having to distribute any revenues to a "lower class" of people.

An opinion in the Mishnah in Avot 5:10 further strengthens this picture of moral depravity when it defines the Sodomite as one who says, "What's mine is mine and what's yours is yours." The Mishnah decries a man who wishes to remove himself from the social responsibility of welfare by closing himself and his wealth from others, even if he makes the claim that he is not taking away from anyone else.

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Rabbi Yuval Cherlow

Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Hesder Petach Tikva, is a graduate of Yeshivat Har Etzion and a retired major in the IDF. Rabbi Cherlow was amongst the founders of the Tzohar Foundation, a central Modern Orthodox foundation which works to build bridges between the religious and secular worlds.