We are introduced to Sodom and Gomorrah in last week’s parshah of Lech-L’cha (See B’reishis 13:10, etc.). We continue to read of Sodom and its ultimate destruction in this week’s parshah of VaYeira. Aside from being told that the people of Sodom were “wicked and sinful toward Hashem exceedingly,” we are not given, in any detail, how awful the people of Sodom were. Yet we know they must have been bad if G-d decided that they were not worth saving, no matter how much Avraham pleaded on their behalf.
We also know that Sodom represents ultimate evil. The prophet Isaiah opens with warning not to become Sodom-like. Every Shabbas Chazon, we read the haftarah taken from Isaiah (1:1-27), in which he laments, “Had not Hashem...left us a trace of a remnant we would have been like Sodom, we would have resembled Gomorrah.”
It was left to Chazal in the Midrash and elsewhere to depict the horrors that took place in Sodom. We learn from them that the inhabitants of Sodom tortured strangers in town by dismembering them or placing them on the rack. A young maiden who welcomed guests was coated with honey and placed before a swarm of bees. The atrocities abound. Not that long ago, when someone committed a depraved act, it was called sodomy. Today these people are lionized.
In truth, we find this with other evil characters in the Torah, as well. A cursory reading of the non-Jewish prophet Bilaam evokes almost a feeling of sympathy for this hapless individual who could not succeed in his orders by King Balak to curse the Jews. In fact, he ends up bestowing some of the most beautiful eternal blessings upon the Jewish People, as he was forced to abide by the will of Hashem while being humiliated by his own donkey.
Esau, our implacable enemy to this day, does not come across in the superficial reading of the Torah as a terrible person. We can even feel a bit sorry for him, as he was outsmarted by brother Yaakov in getting a brachah from their father Yitzchak. The worst we find of him is that his wives were a source of “spiritual rebellion to his parents Isaac and Rebecca (B’reishis 26:35).” Nu nu. Not everyone’s spouses are enamoring to their in-laws.
Why is that? Why do we find that the Torah does not describe in detail the treachery of some of the most evil people appearing in its narrative?
It seems to me that not always is evil readily apparent to the unsuspecting eye. Not always are evil people or societies obviously wicked like ISIS that we see the atrocities before our eyes. Sometimes evil comes neatly wrapped. “Social justice!” “Camaraderie!” “Equality!” “Open borders!” “No bail for all!” “Defund the police!” They all sound like noble causes.
The evil is not as openly on display with any of these ideals. But look what is happening as a result. Crime is soaring. Murders are skyrocketing. Working people are deprived of jobs. Stores are being forced to close due to unstoppable looting as owners and employees suffer. Israelis are referred to as ethnic cleansers, approvingly so, even by our slogan-driven vice president. Who calls out for the social justice of these poor victims?
This Election Day really matters. Some of the candidates espouse the most lofty-sounding ideals that could be very Sodom-like to our normal way of living. Make sure you vote for mayor and for all locals who you believe have a chance at stopping the madness. We need to take the warning of Isaiah seriously. If not for Hashem’s guidance, we could all, Heaven forbid, fall into the Sodom trap. The Torah lets us know that it is very often not obvious.
Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, Vice President of the Coalition for Jewish Values, former President of the Vaad Harabonim of Queens, and the Rabbinic Consultant for the Queens Jewish Link.