Rabbi Label Lam
Amongst the Ten
Hanging on the wall in our dining room, in a handsome frame, is a satellite
photo of the Holy Land of Israel. One of the most noticeable features of
the picture is this large bluish green area which stands out in comparison
to the flesh tone dessert appearance all around. This place with the
distinct coloring is the famous "Dead Sea". Anyone who has been there can
testify that its name is not wrongly appropriated. It's really dead
there. Nothing grows there except the mineral mining industry, health
spas, and a few good questions. "How did this place get like this?"
There's another large but not larger body of water to the north. It's the
Kineret Lake. It is one of the sole sources of water for all of
Israel. It flows directly into the Dead Sea via the Jordan
River. Logically, that area should be the most fertile farm land in the
entire region instead of "Death Valley". It's striking when seen from so
high up. One can't help but notice that something's wrong with this picture.
In fact, we learned in last week's parsha, that place was once plenty
plush. When Lot chose to move away from Avraham and began to slouch toward
Sodom he was attracted by the richness of that region, as it says in the
verse, "And Lot lifted up his eyes and saw the entire Jordon Valley that it
was completely irrigated before HASHEM destroyed Sodom and Amorah, it was
like the garden of HASHEM." (Breishis 13:10) What happened here? What are
we to learn from this dramatic and permanent lesson that is forever fixed
on the face of our sacred land?
Is it the tragic result of their ugly interpersonal behavior or their
enforcement of unjust and selfish laws that we are to be reminded of and
cautioned about? Perhaps so! In addition we see in this week's reading that
in spite of the wide spread acceptance of the deviant and decrepit behavior
that became the hallmark of Sodom, it was still considered a candidate to
When Avraham was informed of the impending doom of Sodom he made a last
minute appeal. In his prayerful petition he pleaded that the collection of
five towns, including Sodom should be spared in the merit of 50 righteous
people. His request was agreed to but there was no such group of 50. Ten
person's per town, if found, would have tipped the scales of justice. In
the end, Avraham bargained for even one city with ten good people to be
spared in their merit but no such group existed. What do we learn form
this failed attempt to save Sodom?
I can recall the last time I was in Israel, and I was traveling with my son
to Masada and the Dead Sea and since there were no more seats so we stood
in back steps for the long ride there. Two things caught my attention. 1) I
was astounded to see how many people, who didn't even look the part, were
saying Tehillim/Psalms and Tefillas HaDerech the wayfarer's prayer
quietly and with a contagion of concentration. 2) I was touched that we
were frequently peppered with requests and offers that people were willing
to yield their seats in order that we could sit down. It helped make for a
sweet and a safe journey, I believe.
Sodom remains as an unavoidable and constant reminder of many things.
Perhaps the idea that is most hopeful and compelling for us is that it
could have been saved if only ten people would have been that much more
vigilant. Our local focus therefore is not the business of despairing for
all the rampant cruelty and selfishness rife throughout the world but
rather to make a serious effort to be amongst the ten.
Text Copyright © 2003 Rabbi Label Lam and