Posts Tagged ‘Vayera’

For the sake of one…

Sunday, November 1st, 2009

“I will go down now…” (Gen. 18:21)

This midrash begins as G!d is about to travel down to Sodom and Gomorrah to mete out punishment to those two cities. Midrashim abound on what their crimes were; everything from the bizarre to the macabre is catalogued. For example, if a visitor didn’t fit the inn’s bed exactly, they would be stretched or shortened as needed! And if you struck someone, causing them to bleed, then they had to pay you for the privilege of being bled!

In the case of understanding this week’s midrash, it must be known that giving charity was a crime punishable by death. Listen to what the Sages tell us, and see what they might be teaching:

R. Levi said: [G!d said]: ‘Even if I wished to keep silent, justice for a certain maiden (ribah – Gen. 18:20) does not permit Me to keep silent.’

For it once happened that two damsels went down to draw water from a well. Said one to the other, ‘Why are you so pale?’

‘We have no more food left and are ready to die,’ replied she. What did she do? She filled her pitcher with flour and they exchanged their pitchers, each taking the other’s.

When the Sodomites discovered this, they took and burnt her.

Said the Holy One, blessed be He: ‘Even if I desired to be silent, justice for that maiden does not permit Me to keep silent.’

Hence it does not say, WHETHER THEY HAVE DONE ACCORDING TO THEIR CRY; but ACCORDING TO HER CRY – the cry of that maiden.

Midrash Rabbah – Genesis XLIX:6

The play on words here is accomplished by changing the word describing the outcry of the citizens of Sodom from rabbah, meaning ‘great’ to ribah, meaning a maiden, managed by changing the (unwritten) vowel from ‘a’ to ‘i.’ What is the purpose of this maneuver? In order to understand this, we must ask (as always), what is the question?

The question is a bit convoluted in itself, but the lesson is sweet. Recall that Abraham negotiated that the cities should be spared if there were only 10 righteous men. If the call of the citizens was so great (rabbah), wouldn’t it seem as though there were at least 10 good men? So why didn’t Abraham win the bargain?

If, however, it was the cry of a single woman, then the destruction of the cities is warranted. Fair enough; but where is the sweetness of the lesson?

For me, it is that the recognition of the solitary voice of a single maiden in distress is enough to rouse the Eternal One, and compel the Divine to action! But, I hear you say, how many voices, male and female, cry out at injustice done to them? If this is true, where is G!d’s hand?

It is, my dear ones, at the end of our arms, yours and mine.

May we be blessed with the ears to hear, the hearts to feel, and the hands to lift up the fallen.