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Kenneth Brander
Kenneth Brander
President and Rosh HaYeshiva, Ohr Torah Stone

Pesach in S’dom? Responding to Abuse (Parshat Bo)

We’re reading the parshiot in which we’re introduced to the holiday of Pesach, the Jewish people leaving Egypt, God passing over the houses of the Jewish people.

Rashi quotes an interesting midrash in the book of Bereshiet, and that is that the first Passover experience doesn’t happen in Egypt, but happens actually in S’dom.

When Lot urges the angels to come into his house and we’re told he prepares a feast for them that includes matzot – unleavened bread – that they eat together. [Genesis 19:1-3] Rashi says that happens because it’s Pesach.

And there are many similarities of text and context between the stories that Rav Yoel ben Nun and others discuss. Here are some of them:

  1. For example, when Lot and Avraham separate, what does Avraham say to Lot? He says, ‘Listen, we’re brothers. There shouldn’t be strife between us. There shouldn’t be strife between our shepherds. There’s a whole land out there. If you go north (lit. “left”), I’ll go south (lit. “right”); and if you go south (lit. “right”), I’ll go north (lit. “left”).’ Lot responds “וישא לוט את עיניו” – Lot lifts up his eyes. He sees S’dom and Amorah, and he calls it “Gan Hashem”, like the Garden of God, “כארץ מצרים”. He compares S’dom and Amorah just like Egypt. [Genesis 13:8-13]
  1. In the story of S’dom and Amorah, the angels smite the citizens with blindness, and in Egypt, God smite the Egyptians with darkness. [Genesis 19:11 and Exodus 10:21]
  1. The Israelites are behind closed doors eating their matzah, and so is Lot and his family behind closed doors eating their matzah. [Genesis 19:10 and Exodus 12:22]
  1. We start off the Pesach seder inviting guests, which is a scene not from Egypt, but from Lot’s Passover experience as he invites the angels to dine and stay with him. [Genesis 19:2]
  1. In both cases, the parties are urged not to look back. The Jewish people are told not to look back, not to return to Egypt, and Lot is told the same thing. [Genesis 19:26 and Deuteronomy 17:16]
  2. There are similar language in both cases “קומו צאו”, get up and let’s leave. [Genesis 19:15 and Exodus 12:31]
  1. The word “משחית” – ‘to destroy – is used, and two of the three times in the Torah that the word “ויתמהמה” is used in the Torah is found in the story of Egypt and the story of S’dom. [Genesis 19:14 and Exodus 12:13]

What are the similarities that Rashi, based on the midrash, connects these two experiences?

The answer is that in both the story of S’dom/Amorah and Egypt, they represent societies in which people can be abused, in which it’s okay for people to be taken advantage of.

And the responsibility of a Jew is not to be part of a society that is willing to take advantage of other people.

A society that is willing to take advantage of other people is not a Godly society. And any time there are experiences in which people are taking advantage of, God does not dwell there.

And any experience in which we witness people being taken advantage of, it’s our responsibility, like we do in Egypt and in S’dom, to speak out against those societies, to realize those environments are totally inappropriate, that that is not the place where the Jewish people can rest.

So indeed, the connection between S’dom/Amorah and Egypt, is because their cultures are the same.

They’re abusive societies, and societies that are abusive are not a place for Jews.

And when Jews see people abusing others, it’s our responsibility to understand: we don’t look back; we speak out against the injustice, because that’s the responsibility of being part of the divine nation, connecting to God through recognizing our responsibility to helping people who may be oppressed or abused.

Shabbat Shalom.

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About the Author
Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander is President and Rosh HaYeshiva of Ohr Torah Stone, an Israel-based network of 30 educational and social action programs transforming Jewish life, living and leadership in Israel and across the world. He is the rabbi emeritus of the Boca Raton Synagogue and founder of the Katz Yeshiva High School. He served as the Vice President for University and Community Life at Yeshiva University and has authored many articles in scholarly journals.
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