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The Real Sin of Sodom

Parshat Vayera

Genesis 18:1 – 22:24

This is a very rich portion filled with many of the pivotal stories about Abraham and his family. This is the week Abraham challenges God about the plan to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah for their behaviors.  Jewish tradition teaches that this story is not as so many Christian Fundamentalists have tried to claim.  This is not a story about God’s punishment of homosexuals.  This is a story about the lack of welcome of strangers, of inhospitality. This is God’s disgust with people who are suspicious of their neighbors and wish to do harm to their neighbors.  As Rabbi Akiva taught one of the greatest principals in the Torah is to “Love your neighbor as yourself.”


Yet the people of Sodom came to Lot’s home (Abraham’s nephew) demanding to do violence to the strangers visiting Lot.  Lot had carried on the family tradition of welcoming the stranger. Our Torah also emphasizes this value as well. “You shall neither wrong a stranger nor oppress him for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”(Ex 21:22).  The townspeople came in a rowdy crowd demanding to humiliate and subjugate the foreigners by raping them.  Lot was never really one of the people of Sodom and the two strangers who he welcomed were certainly not part of the town.


But the frenzy of the crowd took over and they were ready to use sexual oppression and violence to feed their fears and subjugate the foreigners in their town.


This is what God abhors when we diminish the humanity of others.  It can’t be us and them.  It must be us and come join us. It must be a story of learning about the other to make them into a part of the community.


This week in the news we have heard so much about allegations of sexual harassment and sexual abuse. We have heard so much about using sex as a way to humiliate and abuse others.


This behavior creates a hostile environment for the victims and for the perpetrator they are oppressing and exerting their power over a subordinate. They are making a power play using sex and intimidation as the vehicle.  Not unlike the hostility of the townspeople of Sodom.


As the story of Sodom and Gomorrah ends Lot and his family flee the city of Sodom that is exploding around them. Lot’s wife (notice she is nameless) turns to look at the destruction of the city although they were warned not to look. The text tells us she is turned into a pillar of salt.  In that area of the Negev desert in the south of Israel there are many geological formations that are these kinds of natural pillars.


But perhaps the admonition not to look back is a reminder not to be connected or mourn for a place that would treat people in such a manner.  We look back when we care. We look back when we think that it is a place we might return to. We ought to distance ourselves far from a place where that kind of cruelty and violence is the norm.  We shouldn’t want to associate ourselves with the violent crowd, or permit sexual harassment or abuse to go on. Joe Paterno has learned the hard way.  Love your neighbor as yourself means respect and honor your neighbor and see them as created in the image of God.  This is the real lessons of Sodom.