There’s nothing left of this metropolis, once comprised of five huge quarters that stretched for miles along the plains. The fertile crescent has long dried up, replaced by halite. The lake that irrigated the area has become salty and unusable. There is a pillar several stories high that Israel’s tourist authorities tout as that of a woman, a structure that appears ready to topple on the highway below. Indeed, there is no trace that there was a civilization here, just a mountain of salt that grows taller by the year.
But there is one aspect of Sodom that has remained — money. Today, you can still find crews drilling for oil and minerals, which produces revenues of more than $5 billion a year.
As a society, Sodom and its sister city Gomorrah had everything they could ask for. Living in the breadbasket of the region ensured that most of the residents would be wealthy. The weather was consistent — sunny and dry, perfect for construction, transportation and recreation. Sodom was a highly regulated society where foreigners could not enter without permission. Police were usually not necessary: The people upheld the laws, overseen by one of the most prominent jurists in the world — Abraham’s nephew Lot.
But something was terribly wrong.
“And G-d said, ‘Since the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah has become great, and since their sin has become very grave, I will descend now and see, whether according to her cry, which has come to Me, they have done. [I will wreak] destruction [upon them]; and if not I will know.'”
Sodom valued money over humanity. The people were consumed with satiating their basic desires. They ate until they were about to puke, and then they ate some more. Sex was about thrills rather than family or love. Men weren’t usually interested in women rather other males, which provided for quicker and more intense pleasure.
The focus on materialism meant the people of Sodom invested heavily in what today would be called security. The rich had private armies that pillaged and killed their targets. Girls existed for rape. The poor and unfortunate were left to die. Foreigners were tortured and slain in ways meant to amuse. So, a tall man would be confined to a short bed, and whatever limbs protruded would be severed. A short man in a long bed would be racked until his bones split.
The evil in Sodom was fostered by a populace that believed it was perfect. Their laws were based on the axiom of what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours. Divine punishment? They had it covered in Lot, whose uncle Abraham was not only buddies with G-d but ready to save his nephew and his rich friends. The tremors that shook Sodom were shrugged off as nothing more than a natural phenomenon.
In the end, Sodom was destroyed with fire, brimstone and water. The only thing that remained was its evil legacy.
On Oct. 18, the United Kingdom executed a toddler named Alter Fixler. The National Heath Service, against the objections of Alter’s parents, demanded that their baby die. She was deemed irreparably brain-damaged, and she took up a bed in a Manchester hospital that cost more than $3,000 a day.
Britain could have washed its hands of Alter by sending her to either Israel, where she was a citizen, or the United States,. both willing to treat her. But the British judges in their white wigs and black robes refused to yield: They ruled that it was not in the interest of the child to be sent away. The best solution was to kill her, remove her from life support. The parents were not even allowed to take their baby home. Authorities wanted to make sure that she was dead.
Sodom would have understood British justice. London sees itself as enlightened. It no longer executes convicted murderers. Instead, it reserves capital punishment for the infirm. The judges even thought themselves humane: They allowed Alter to be taken to Israel — for burial.
Abraham argued with G-d to save Sodom. He had multiple concerns: One was that G-d had already destroyed the world in the Great Flood, decimated the generation of Enos and dispersed the generation of Babel. Would people see Sodom as another example of G-d’s wrath when instead the city should be encouraged to repent?
Abraham’s biggest reservation was that the righteous would die along with the wicked in Sodom? Shouldn’t the righteous be allowed to survive and even protect the city?
In the end, G-d showed Abraham that there were not even nine righteous people in the metropolis. As important, G-d said He had heard the cries of the victims of Sodom. But nowhere did He hear voices that protested the evil. And a righteous man who does not protest does not count.
The Midrash says the destruction of Sodom began at night because that’s how its residents operated — under the cover of darkness. In the daytime, this was a prosperous and happy society. But when the lights went low, the evil emerged.
Rabbi Yosef Yitzhak Schneerson was the sixth leader of the Lubavitch dynasty. He, too, lived in a perfect society — the new Soviet Union, where the state owned everything and G-d was outlawed. In the summer of 1920, the rabbi was summoned by the secret police’s so-called Jewish section. One morning, three rifle-toting officers, two of them Jewish, came for him. The rabbi was wearing phylacteries and insisted that he finish praying. The Jews began to curse him but the gentile officer intervened. When he finished, Schneerson was brought for interrogation by the Communist Party’s Committee to Investigate Religions. He was charged with treason. One of the committee members pointed a revolver at the rabbi. The communist boasted that his “toy” could make anybody do anything, including confess.
“You are utterly mistaken,” the rabbi replied. “This toy impresses only the cowardly atheist, who has but a single world and many gods. Every hedonist has his many gods. But as for us, who have but a single G-d and believe in two worlds, the toy which you are brandishing not only fails to frighten, it makes no impression whatsoever.”
Abraham’s efforts to save Sodom failed on account of one simple girl. She had committed the ultimate crime: She gave some flour to a poor man. Her punishment was torture and death. She was stripped, covered with honey, taken to a rooftop and tied to the stake. Within minutes, the bees feasted on her flesh. Throughout the ordeal, she screamed for help — and nobody came forward because that was the law.
That, G-d said, He would not forgive. When a society preys on the innocent and the weak under the pretext of the law, G-d steps in. That’s why Sodom went down, the Soviet Union collapsed and the killers of Alta Fixler will meet their end.