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 be spared.
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 Torah.org