The weekly Torah portion and its lessons for all people

VAYEIRA, Gen. 18:1-22:24

by Avraham ben Yaakov

Our present Torah portion continues the story of the life of Abraham, who was the epitome of faith in God, humility, charity and kindness. Woven in with this story and in counterpoint to it, a central part of our portion describes the overthrow of Sodom and its neighboring cities, which went to the opposite extreme in denial of God, arrogance, selfishness and cruelty. For "the men of Sodom were very wicked and sinful to God" (Gen. 13:13).

Prior to their overthrow, the Torah tells us that the surrounding Jordan plain was "like a garden of God " (Genesis 13:10) on account of its exceptional fertility and beauty. But the moral degeneracy of its inhabitants brought about their destruction through "fire and sulfur from heaven" (Gen. 19:24) - a cataclysmic ecological disaster that caused the loss of their entire culture for ever, turning the surrounding area into a barren, arid, rocky desert inhospitable to vegetable or animal life, as can be seen until today in the aptly-named "Dead" Sea region of Israel and Jordan.

What was the sin of the men of Sodom ?

While Abraham came to teach us to be kind to one another, the inhabitants of Sodom practiced the exact opposite. This can be seen in their attitude to the angels who came in human guise to visit Abraham's nephew Lot : the inhabitants wanted to sexually rape them (Genesis 19:5). Nothing could be further from the hospitality to strangers practiced by Abraham as part of his kindness, as described in the preceding chapter, with which our portion opens (Genesis 18:1-16).

The people of Sodom were blessed with exceptional natural advantages yet refused to share them with anyone else. They strictly forbade and ruthlessly avenged any act of charity of kindness. The Torah sages told of one young girl who took pity on a starving wayfarer and fed him, for which she was punished by being coated with honey and left on a roof to the mercy of the wasps (Rashi on Genesis 18:21). In Sodom there was one legendary bed for all visitors: one who was too short was stretched to fit the bed while one who was too tall was cut down to the right size (Midrash). Such tales illustrate the total fixation of the Sodomites on their own selfish interests while being stone-heartedly indifferent to the needs, pain, and suffering and basic human dignity of anyone else. Until today those who insist on imposing their own cast-iron rules on others without the least sensitivity to their true needs and interests are guilty of the same.

Outwardly the people of Sodom may have seemed highly sophisticated, which could have been one reason why Abraham's nephew Lot had chosen to dwell with them (Genesis 13:10-11). But when the two angels came to visit Lot in Sodom , the inhabitants quickly revealed their true nature when they demanded that Lot should bring them out so that they might "know" them (Genesis 19:5). This was a euphemistic way of saying they wanted to submit these visitors to a brutal, humiliating, homosexual anal rape.

This was in total defiance of the universal Noahide Torah code, in which the fourth of the Seven Laws strictly forbids such acts of sexual immorality since they degrade the human sexual function from being the foundation of marital love and human procreation into the sordid gratification of sheer physical lust.

God commanded man to "be fruitful and multiply" (Genesis 1:28), and implanted in him the very powerful sexual drive to ensure that men and women would instinctively seek each other out in order to bond and reproduce so as to ensure the future of the human race. Within the marital relationship, sexual intimacy is precious and holy, raising us above mere animalism and binding husband and wife together in the love that provides a nurturing environment for raising and educating children to follow the path of God.

The fourth of the Seven Commandments includes the following prohibitions (Rambam, Laws of Kings 9:5-8):

1. A man may not marry nor have relations with his biological mother. The same applies to his father's wife even if she is not his mother.

2. Maternal brothers and sisters are forbidden to marry one another.

3. A man may not have relations with another man's wife. Adultery is strictly prohibited because it undermines the sanctity of marriage, in which the bond between husband and wife is exclusive.

4. It is forbidden for humans to have relations with animals or birds of any kind ("bestiality").

5. It is forbidden for males, whether adults or minors, to practice anal sexual relations where the active partner plays a male role while the passive partner plays a female role ("sodomy").

Sodomy is ultimately degrading to both partners and is particularly abhorrent because the active partner ejaculates human seed - which has the power to create future generations made in God's image - into the anus, which is a place of stinking waste.

Immorality in the mass media

It would be appropriate for serious citizens who embrace the Seven Commandments to reflect on the lessons of the destruction of Sodom for contemporary society and culture, which are plagued with extreme moral laxity and blatant indecency, particularly in the mass media and popular entertainment. These have tremendous influence on people's attitudes and behavior, but in many countries, the last few decades have seen the abandonment of all restraint in what is shown in advertising, newspapers and magazines, on television, in movies and now on Internet. One of the driving forces of this trend is the astronomical sums of money that are being made through the exploitation of the sexual drive.

At the click of a mouse, Internet makes instantly available images and videos of every kind of overt sexual activity including those that are most abhorrent in the eyes of the Torah - sodomy, bestiality and the shameless spilling of seed. It appears that behind closed doors all over the world and sometimes even on the very streets and in open places, entire subcultures have grown up around these practices.

The consensus in many (though not all) parts of the world today is that consenting adults should be left free to practice what they want as long as they do not try to involve minors or other people against their will. Yet the rampant immodesty in the media encourages immoral behavior and is itself an invasion of the privacy of the many citizens who have no wish to be subject to this assault on their senses and those of their children.

One of the greatest challenges to those wishing to follow the Seven Commandments and teach them to their children is to protect them from the negative influence of the surrounding permissiveness. Parents who care for the long-term welfare of their children must make every effort to filter what their children are exposed to on TV and other media, and make assiduous efforts to educate them in the Seven Commandments in order to immunize them as best as possible against this negative influence.

Even if society permits consenting adults to do what they please in private, this does not justify the blatant flaunting of that which is abhorrent to the Torah in public forums, on TV, Internet and other media. It would be a great act of courage in the spirit of Abraham for Noahides to join together to protest this trend and instead promote the pathway that Abraham taught to his offspring.

"And Abraham will surely be a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth will be blessed through him. For I know him, that he will instruct his children and household after him to guard the way of God to practice charity and justice, in order that God should bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him" (Genesis 18:18-19).




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