Torah Sparks on The Sin of Sodom
ISSUE #1 - THE SIN OF SODOM
"The Lord said, because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grave; I will go down now, and see whether they have done altogether according to her cry, which has come to me; and if not, I will know." (Genesis 18:20-21)
What was so evil about Sodom and Gemorrah that God would destroy them? Is there a hint in the behavior of the men of the city, who tried to attack the visitors in Lot's house? The rabbinic tradition said that visitors (outsiders) were not welcome in Sodom. Why not?
The Talmud teaches, "One who says, 'What is mine is mine, what is yours is yours,' this is a mediocre person. Some say this is the way of Sodom." (Avot 5:14) In Sodom, people did not steal from others ("what is yours is yours"). But in Sodom, people also did not share with others ("what is mine is mine"). Selfishness ruled, and people would not share their wealth with others. The people there thought in terms of scarcity (there is only a limited amount of wealth, and if I share with you I will have less).
The Talmud developed this idea. One long section considers the selfishness of Sodom. Among the stories in that section, one tells of a poor man who came into town. A young woman was kind to him and shared her money with him. When the people heard this, they attacked and tortured her (Sanhedrin 109b). Helping the poor would set a bad precedent for the community; beggars and poor people would move into town. The Torah teaches that "God heard her cry" (Genesis 18:21), the cry of a generous young woman attacked by her wicked neighbors. Another story tells how the people would give a poor person marked coins. No merchant would accept those coins, so the poor person could not buy food and eventually would starve. Of whom were the people of Sodom scared? Why did they try to keep the poor, travelers, and beggars out of their town?
Is the way of Sodom similar to modern cities that try to keep the homeless out? Are there ways that the self-absorbed nature of Sodom can be seen playing itself out in our world?
We all have a little Sodom in us as we think that "what is mine is mine, and I do not wish to share it." How can we overcome our own scarcity complex?