Vayeira: Without goodness, what’s the point?

“And the Lord said, ‘Because the outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah has become great, and because their sin has been exceeding grave. I will descend and see. If they act according to its outcry that has come to Me, then destruction! And if not, I shall know.” (Genesis 18:20-21)

Our oral tradition and Sages share the same opinion about the cause of Sodom and Gomorrah’s destruction. The depravity of both cities on the plains of the Jordan’s valley was no different from Egypt’s and from other Canaanite nations in Biblical times, except for the unprecedented ruthlessness of the two infamous cities.

They say that their “great outcry” was so despicable that the Creator had to stop it. The legendary dialogue between God and Abraham, in regards to their fate, was precisely about the total absence of goodness in their midst. If there is no goodness in life, what is its purpose? If there is no good people around us, do the wicked give meaning to life?

We all know that there are no limits for goodness. Actually, the more we have it the happier and better we live. Regarding wickedness, limits are never enough, because we don’t want it around in any way or form.

In the case of Sodom and Gomorrah, they exceeded any possible limitation, to the extreme that the Creator had to destroy them. Their abject cruelty had no place in the human consciousness that naturally and instinctively looks for goodness as their source of life, sustenance and happiness.

At times, Abraham gives the impression that he accepted the unprecedented wickedness in both cities as part of human nature, hence the alleged coexistence of evil doers and righteous persons. If they are able to share the same communities, why should the Creator destroy the righteous along with the wicked? This situation makes us reflect on the role of the righteous in an environment plagued by wicked people.

What the righteous are supposed to do? If they are, why they allow or condone wickedness in their midst? In this context, we can conclude that Abraham’s nephew, Lot, was not a righteous man living among the wicked in Sodom. Hence Lot’s descendants became enemies of the children of Israel, the bearers of God’s commandment for them to be the light for the nations.

“For I have loved him [Abraham], because he commands his children and his household after him that they keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and justice; in order that the Lord might then bring upon Abraham that which He had spoken of him.” (37:19)

Our Sages say that the Creator didn’t consider Lot a righteous man; but in deference to Abraham, He sent His angel to save him from the imminent destruction. The lessons of this occurrence range from the responsibilities of good people, the righteous, whose purpose is to make goodness prevail over evil; and what must be done to eliminate evil from our midst, as the beginning of humankind’s final redemption.

Depravity is an abjection of human consciousness, either with or without ruthlessness; and there must be limits for every negative trait and trend that denigrate the goodness that dignifies life. When depravity leads to extreme cruelty, this makes us reflect on Abraham’s dilemma.

Should we allow depravity as long as it doesn’t harm life? No, because depravity certainly harms and destroy goodness as the ruling ethical principle God created to direct all aspects and expressions of life. Goodness is the cause and the purpose, and it doesn’t cohabit with anything that denigrates goodness and life, reducing it to abjection.

About the Author
Ariel Ben Avraham was born in Colombia (1958) from a family with Sephardic ancestry. He studied Cultural Anthropology in Bogota, and lived twenty years in Chicago working as a radio and television producer and writer. He emigrated to Israel in 2004, and for the last fourteen years has been studying the Chassidic mystic tradition, about which he writes and teaches. Based on his studies, he wrote his first book "God's Love" in 2009. He currently lives in Kochav Yaakov.
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