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A Lesson from Sodom - July 21 2017

A Lesson from Sodom - July 21 2017

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Sean Spicer seems to be out of a job, ending another saga of what has often been the most rowdy government job since George Ackerson took the post of Press Secretary for Herbert Hoover. Communication between the government and the population is always interesting to watch, though this time around watching the SNL version of it was usually more entertaining. 

A basic premise for properly communicating with someone is seeing the other individual(s) as an equal. If I try to talk to someone, but I subconsciously don't really take that person seriously, it's going to be very difficult for any real communication and mutual understanding to take place. The key to communication is empathy and respect.

In Jewish tradition there is one group of people who were historically renowned to have been the very opposite of empathetic. They were the inhabitants of the city of Sodom, and they were downright cruel. Sodom was a city in the Jordan valley in Israel, and makes it in to the Torah's narrative as the place where Abraham's brother in law (his wife's brother) lived. Some of the harsh customs of the city of Sodom were a ban against charity, a ban against hosting guests, rampant robbery and more.

The book of 'Pirkei Avot' (Ethics of our Fathers, the Talmud's book of ethics that's traditionally read every Shabbat between Passover and the High Holidays) discusses the uncaring nature of the people of Sodom, and how we can try to avoid being like them. The Talmud brings two opinions as to what exactly constitutes behavior like that of the people of Sodom, i.e. self-centered behavior.

One opinion states that someone who has no respect for another's property or personal space - one who thinks that 'what's mine is mine and what's yours is also mine' - is acting like the people of Sodom. That opinion is commonplace and self understood.

Then the Talmud brings a second opinion: One who says 'What's mine is mine, and what's yours is yours' is acting selfishly and in the 'spirit of Sodom'.

Really?! What is wrong with that? It is highly altruistic for one to expect others to share everything. How can we designate someone who says 'What's mine is mine and what's yours is yours', as acting selfishly?

The answer to this question is quite informative. If my respect for others only exists as long as they stay out of my life, as long as our boundaries are clearly marked and 'what's theirs is theirs and what's mine is mine', then my tolerance and respect for them is questionable. If I only have respect for someone else as long as for me they don't exist, that respect is hollow.

True respect is when I allow another into my life and still respect and appreciate them. If I can welcome their opinions and criticisms, and I'm strong enough to hear what they have to say without feeling diminished myself, that is true respect. It requires far less effort for me to be tolerant and supportive of people thousands of miles away. After all, what do I have to lose? It's far more meaningful for me to be tolerant and supportive of my neighbor, because my neighbor lives next door and is actually involved in my life. 

Caring for those closest to us doesn't diminish our care for all people. On the contrary. It increases it. Caring for those closest to us enhances our sense of empathy and makes us able to truly care for others. Love and tolerance starts from within. In order to love those far away, I need to love those next door.

Shabbat Shalom, have a wonderful week!

Rabbi Avrohom                                                                                               

Shortly after this article was published, three Jews were murdered in Israel by Arab terrorists during their Shabbat dinner. May their memories be blessed, their families comforted and may the Jews in Israel know no more suffering and live in peace and security.

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