An ide­ol­ogy of evil

The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - JUDAISM - SHMUEL RABINOWITZ The writer is the rabbi of the West­ern Wall and Holy Sites.

Two weeks ago, we read in parashat Noah about God’s prom­ise not to bring another flood upon the world. “I will no longer smite all liv­ing things as I have done... and there will never again be a flood to de­stroy the earth.” This week, we read the story of Sodom and Go­mor­rah and the se­vere pun­ish­ment in­flicted upon them – the era­sure of th­ese cities from the map. In light of the prom­ise given af­ter the flood, we un­der­stand that the ac­tions of the peo­ple of Sodom were so ter­ri­ble and evil that they war­ranted a pun­ish­ment like the flood – but in a lo­cal­ized and lim­ited man­ner.

What was so ter­ri­ble about the be­hav­ior of the peo­ple of Sodom? Ac­tu­ally, it is not ex­plic­itly stated in the parasha. But we do read about two guests who ar­rived in Sodom to­ward evening and were hosted by Lot, Abra­ham’s nephew. When news of their ar­rival spread around town, all the in­hab­i­tants – “both young and old, the en­tire pop­u­lace from ev­ery end [of the city]” – sur­rounded Lot’s house. They de­manded that he send the guests out of the house, be­cause they wanted to abuse them.

What mo­ti­vated them? Why were they so op­posed to host­ing passersby? The Prophet Ezekiel an­swers th­ese ques­tions when he ad­mon­ishes the peo­ple of

Pride was at the root of all the Sodomites’ evil deeds

Judea in the fifth cen­tury BCE for their sins, com­par­ing them to the peo­ple of Sodom:

“Be­hold this was the in­iq­uity of Sodom your sis­ter: pride, abun­dance of bread, and care­less ease were hers and her daughters’, and she did not strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they be­came haughty and did abom­i­na­tion be­fore Me .... ” (Ezekiel 16:49-50).

Pride was at the root of all the Sodomites’ evil deeds. This pride was ex­pressed by their im­moral lifestyle. The peo­ple of Sodom not only re­frained from help­ing the poor or passersby, but they viewed such self­ish­ness as an ide­ol­ogy. They en­acted laws that for­bade help­ing the poor, and they se­verely pun­ished those whose con­science led them to have com­pas­sion for oth­ers, thus vi­o­lat­ing their evil de­crees.

If we want an ex­am­ple of this Sodomite ide­ol­ogy, we do not have to go far. We still have liv­ing among us those who lived un­der the Nazi regime, one that made evil and ar­ro­gance into an ide­ol­ogy that man­i­fested it­self in both leg­is­la­tion and hor­rific acts. If Jew-ha­tred and the “Fi­nal So­lu­tion” stemmed from clas­sic an­tisemitism, what led to the evil that brought about the chill­ing ex­e­cu­tions of dis­abled peo­ple? It is hard to fathom, but the story of Sodom makes us con­front this phe­nom­e­non and re­minds us of the depths to which man can sink if he nur­tures his pride and ar­ro­gance, his evil in­cli­na­tions and in­dif­fer­ence.

In the Chap­ters of the Fa­thers, we find a dis­agree­ment among the Tan­naim:

“One who says: ‘Mine is mine, and yours is yours’ – this is a com­mon­place type, and some say this is a Sodom type of char­ac­ter” (Mishna, Chap­ters of the Fa­thers, Chap. 5).

How can this dis­agree­ment be so ex­treme? In one opin­ion, the at­ti­tude that “mine is mine and yours is yours” is com­mon­place, even clas­sic; but in the op­pos­ing opin­ion, this at­ti­tude rep­re­sents the ut­ter evil of Sodom? Truth­fully, both th­ese opin­ions are ac­cu­rate. When the at­ti­tude stems from hu­man weak­ness, it is com­mon­place. So, though it is not an ad­mirable one, it is not so ter­ri­ble. But when this at­ti­tude be­comes an ide­ol­ogy to live by, then it is con­sid­ered an evil of Sodom that should not ex­ist.

The dark­est abyss into which hu­man­ity can fall is not when man ca­pit­u­lates to his in­cli­na­tions, or when some­one acts cor­ruptly with­out con­science. Sit­u­a­tions like those are repara­ble. The worst is when a so­ci­ety proudly adopts evil as an ide­ol­ogy. Sit­u­a­tions like those are ir­repara­ble. ■


‘THE WORST is when a so­ci­ety proudly adopts evil as an ide­ol­ogy.’

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