Our Parsha opens with Hashem, as we understand, visiting Avraham Aveinu on the 3rd day after Bris Milah, when Avraham was at the height of his pain following the circumcision, as Rashi indicates, “to inquire about his welfare.” (Metsuda Linear Chumash rendering of Rashi on Perek 18, posuk 1)
It’s not like Hashem needed to pay a visit to ascertain Avraham’s actual condition. Hashem is the Creator, The Master, The Ruler over the world who knows and is aware of everything. And so, as Hashem visited to inquire as to Avraham’s wellbeing, Avraham pardoned himself from Hashem when he spotted 3 travellers inviting them into his tent.
From these events, we learn and gain insight into the Mitzvot of Bikur Cholim; showing, caring, giving strength and encouragement to the ill by visiting and caring about them as well as Hachnasat Orchim; inviting guests into one’s home.
We learn from the parsha the contrast between Avraham Aveinu’s chessed with the cruelty of the city of Sodom as well as about the two melachim who were assigned by Hashem to rescue Lot and his family and to destroy Sodom. We learn about the midos, the mores the characteristics of the people of Sodom whch led to their destruction and perspective of Sodom in modern day.
Rabbi Yehudah Nachshoni, in his “Studies in the Weekly Parsha” begins a section on Sodom by stating that the Torah makes no specific comment as to the sin of the Sodomites:
“The Torah merely tells us that they were very wicked and sinned greatly, and that a cry had come up from Sodom to the Heavens until Hashem, as it were, came down by Himself to see if indeed they had done ‘as its cry.’ But what that cry was, is not specified in the Torah. Chazal explain it as the cry of certain young woman who had been sentenced by the city to either be exposed to bees or to be burned, because she had helped a poor man.” (Studies in the Weekly Parsha, Parsha Vayeira, page 85; Perek Cheilik 109b, Gemora Sanhedrin)
The sefer, “The Midrash Says” (Parsha Vayeira, pages 165-177) offers additional antidotes on the cruelty and depravation of the people of Sodom; that hospitality, that kindness was outlawed and justice was absurd and non-existent in Sodom.
“The Midrash Says” cites the Sodomite constitution which included the following laws;
- 1/ Any stranger found in the vicinity may be robbed of his money and mal-treated.
- 2/ It is the duty of a Sodomite judge to ensure that every wayfarer leaves the country penniless.
- 3/ Anyone found handing food to a pauper or stranger will be put to death.
- 4/ Anyone who invites strangers to a wedding will be punished by having all of his clothing removed from his body.
- 5/ The sefer informs that Avraham’s servant Eliezer would readily attest to the perversion of Sodom in a number of stories of his experiences when he once happened to pass through:
Eliezer was once accosted in the street by Sodomites and beaten until bleeding. When Eliezer went before a Sodomite Judge demanding justice, the judge ruled that Eliezer owed the Sodomites for letting his blood. So Eliezer then beat the judge silly until the judge bled. Then he demanded remuneration for the beating which he told judge to pay those that he “owed.”
Then, as evening came, Eliezer was invited to rest in one of Sodom’s guest beds. He ascertained that it was the Sodomite custom to fit the guest to the bed (by either cutting off limbs or stretching the limbs), rather than giving a guest an appropriate bed. Eliezer begged off of the offer claiming not to have slept in a bed since his mother died.
Ascertaining Sodomite laws concerning strangers being invited to a Sodomite wedding (see above point 4), When asked who invited him, he pointed to various men successively until he was seated by himself consuming his solitary meal.
There was also the episode at the entrance to Lot’s home on the night that “the men”, the melachim arrived which epitomizes and gives historical perspective to the ways of Sodom; Parsha Vayeira, Perek 19, posuk 5; “They called to Lot and said to him, ‘Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we may know them.’”
Rashi comments on “that we may know them”; “For the purpose of homosexuality as in: ‘Who have never known a man,’ known refers to sexual relations.”
But we also learn about the Mitzvah of Pidyan Shevu’im (the redemption and freeing of Jewish capitives), both from Avraham and Eliezer’s participation in the battle of the Four Kings vs the Five Kings (as told in Parsha Lech Lecha) in order to free nephew Lot, as well as the later destruction of Sodom — again with the liberation of Lot and his family as a by-product.
As was outlined in the vort for Parsha Lech Lecha:
As with Avraham Avinu, Jonathan Pollard was not instructed or ordered by superiors or by a handler to provide Israel with the dire information she needed. Pollard could have been a free man today and over these past 25 years, successful in his employment within the American intelligence community, had he just looked the other way as America betrayed Israel via the abrogation of the intelligence-sharing treaty between the two nations. But what would be the fate of Israel, of the Am Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael and throughout the world had the knowledge about Iraqi weaponry and capacity for chemical, nerve warfare not been revealed to Israel?
Yehonaton ben Malka just couldn’t turn away and couldn’t ignore what he saw as the potential for Jewish blood-letting. He couldn’t ignore the fate of his people in order to maintain his own well-being.
Yet over the last 25 years, Israel’s secular political-governmental leaderships seem to have their own cheshbonot, their own selfish, self-protecting, dirty-little-secrets-to-hide reasons for not lifting a finger to save, to redeem a fellow Jew — Jonathan Pollard who languishes in prison to this day.
Aren’t Jonathan Pollard, or Gilad Shalit our kin? Why is it that an Israel which rescued numerous soldiers and airline passengers from terrorist capture in the past, now appear soo incompetent and politically handcuffed to act militarily and diplomatically as required to liberate Shalit and Pollard respectively?
We parallel Avraham Avinu’s unequivocal actions to free his blood kin with modern-day Israel’s former actions to free Jewish air-hijacking hostages, particularly the 100 plus hostages held in Entebbe, Uganda. But we contrast the all of the above with Israel’s latter and current abysmal failures to redeem Jewish hostages, both militarily relating to Gilad Shalit, and politically and diplomatically regarding securing freedom from American prison for Jonathan Pollard. Further, one could ask; Does Avraham’s wartime rescue of his nephew Lot contrast with Israel’s failures to even contemplate a military liberation of Gilad Shalit? And does the rescue by the molochim of Lot and his daughters from Sodom — an act of Divine Mandate contrast the utter failure of successive Israeli governments to do appropriate Histadlut for Jonathan Pollard’s redemption from American incarceration — thus enabling Hashem’s Divine Redemption?
May we, the B’nai Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole, that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard, captive Gilad Shalit and the other MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem. May we have the courage to stand up as one to prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and the handing of Jewish land over to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem, Yom Hashem V’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bim hay v’yameinu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!
Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.