Torah Fax

Friday, November 18, 2005 - 16 MarCheshvan, 5766
Torah Reading: VaYera (Genesis  18:1 - 22:24)
Candle Lighting Time:  4:17 PM
Shabbat Ends: 5:19 PM

In The Midst Of The City
Our Parshah of VaYera records how Abraham, the first Jew, distinguishes himself in yet another way.  When G‑d tells Abraham about His plans to destroy the wicked city of Sodom, Abraham begs G‑d to spare them. The inhabitants of Sodom were indeed guilty of some of the most heinous crimes. Yet Abraham implores G‑d to abort His plan for their annihilation.
This action of Abraham might elicit a sense of admiration by some for his concern for all people, but might also "turn people off" to his "bleeding heart" attitude towards the perpetrators of the cruelest acts, while apparently showing insensitivity for their victims.
Upon closer examination, Abraham was not asking G‑d to let the criminals go unpunished. He was concerned that G‑d do an injustice and allow the innocent to die with the guilty. In Abraham's words: "Will you also destroy the righteous with the wicked."
However, Abraham follows up that reasonable argument based on justice with a second perplexing one: "Perhaps there are fifty righteous men in the midst of the city. Will you still destroy it, and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people who are in it?"
Abraham then reverts to his original argument when he says: "It would be profane for You to do such a thing, to put to death the righteous with the wicked, equating the innocent and the guilty... Would the Judge of the entire earth not perform justice?"
Rashi explains that Abraham was, in fact, asking G‑d for two things. First, he demanded that G‑d not do an injustice by destroying the righteous. Second, he challenged G‑d to spare even the wicked for the sake of the righteous. This however brings us back to the question: Why did Abraham care so much for those who deserved to be punished for their unspeakable cruelty?
The answer is given by Abraham’s own words: "Perhaps there are 50 righteous men in the midst of the city." Why did he add the words "in the midst?"
When Abraham spoke of righteous people "in the midst of the city" he was referring to people who were involved with the community and had the capacity of exercising some influence over them. Thus, Abraham argued, there is no good reason to destroy the wicked people; eventually they will change for the good because of the influence of their righteous neighbors.
Indeed, Abraham's mission was to be the one who would change the direction of the entire world. Abraham started a monotheistic and moralistic revolution in a world steeped in paganism. How then could G‑d-who entrusted Abraham with this mission-not appreciate the value of sparing the wicked, when the righteous could act as a positive influence over them?
One can also find an additional insight implicit in Abraham's reference to the righteous being "in the midst" of the city. Abraham knew that there were no genuinely righteous people in Sodom. How then could he speak of fifty, when he knew that there probably was not even one truly righteous person? Even his nephew Lot, who was eventually spared, was hardly a paragon of virtue. He was spared because of Abraham, and that, by comparison with the others, he was a saint. 
Abraham thus was trying to find some redeeming quality possessed by some of the Sodomites. Perhaps, Abraham wondered, there were fifty people, whose righteousness was that they were "in the midst of the city," i.e., they took the concerns of the city seriously. Perhaps these civic-minded individuals would be regarded as being relatively righteous. The fact that they had this spark of goodness embedded in them; that they would situate themselves "in the midst of the city" to take care of the community's needs, demonstrated that they were salvageable. This would prove that they were not entirely evil, and that they would, in turn-with some help from
people like Abraham-be able to turn things around for the entire community.
G‑d’s response was that there was not even a vestige of goodness in this community. It had so degenerated that there was not even a redeeming quality to be found in Sodom, and as such their fate would be sealed.
Abraham's legacy to us is to look for the good wherever it exists and cultivate it so that it can affect others.
Abraham's approach is echoed in the way Maimonides describes how we are to view ourselves and the entire world:  Imagine that all of our deeds are placed on a scale that is evenly balanced between good and evil. Even one minute, apparently insignificant act of goodness and kindness, can tip the scales in our favor and in the favor of the entire world. One good deed can literally save humanity by virtue of its ripple effect.
This message is rooted in Abraham's plea for the people of Sodom. Even one redeeming act of goodness, he felt, could spread and affect the entire community. Alas that did not exist in Sodom, but it certainly exists today as we are poised to enter into the Messianic Age.
Now, more than ever, every G‑dly act should be encouraged because of its ability to bring us over the top. This will remove the destructive forces of exile-that are analogous to the destruction  of Sodom-and usher in an age of ultimate righteousness, kindness and G‑dliness through Moshiach, who is characterized in Jewish literature as being one who is imbued with a sense of justice and compassion for all.

Moshiach Matters
It should be noted once again, as I have said many times, that the Rabbis must publicize the legal decree that "all the appointed times have passed" (Sanhedrin 97b). In regard to repentance [as the Talmud continues, "the coming of Moshiach depends only on repentance], repentance has already been done and all aspects of Divine service have already been completed. All that remains now is the true and complete Redemption in actual reality. (The Rebbe upon greeting Harav HaGaon Mordechai Eliyahu, 6 Marcheshvan, 5752-1992)
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