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Torah Commentary
Vayeira (October 19, 2013)

Elisa Schindler Frankel,
Managing Director, Skirball Center for Adult Jewish Learning at Temple Emanu-El

IN PARASHAT VAYEIRA, God seeks to destroy the corrupt and criminal cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, but Abraham stands up and speaks out in defense of those who are innocent: “Should the judge of all the world not act with justice?” (Genesis 18:25) And with the art of a skilled negotiator, Abraham bargains with God to save the lives of the innocent: “Let not my Lord be angry if I speak but this last time: What if ten should be found there?” And He answered, “I will not destroy, for the sake of the ten.” (Genesis 18:32)

Sadly, Sodom and Gomorrah have fewer than 10 blameless souls. It seems it takes at least 10 righteous people to bring righteousness into a city.

Unlike Noah, who in last week’s parashah does not stand up for anyone and builds his own ark when he learns that God will destroy the world, Abraham stands up for the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah. He stands up for the people, even though he does not know them.

Author Elie Weisel, the renowned Holocaust survivor and a man of incredible moral courage, tells the story of one righteous man of Sodom:

One day a Tzadik came to Sodom; He knew what Sodom was, so he came to save it from sin, from destruction. He preached to the people. "Please do not be murderers, do not be thieves. Do not be silent and do not be indifferent." He went on preaching day after day, maybe even picketing. But no one listened. He was not discouraged. He went on preaching for years. Finally someone asked him, "Rabbi, why do you do that? Don't you see it is no use?" He said, "I know it is of no use, but I must. And I will tell you why: In the beginning I thought I had to protest and to shout in order to change them. I have given up this hope. Now I know I must picket and scream and shout so that they should not change me."
(From: The Life and Work of Wiesel by Gary Henry, PBS)

Just as Abraham was a tzadik, a righteous soul, Judaism teaches that any of us can be a tzadik. According to the Kotzker Rebbe, “God has plenty of angels. What God needs are more holy human beings.” It is people who make the presence of God real in this world.

Here at Temple Emanu-El, we do just that. We bring God’s presence in the world by making a difference in the lives of others less fortunate. We bring food to those who are hungry or in need; we donate blood at our blood drive; and we do so through the works of our Tikkun Olam Committee.

May we continue always to walk that path through our actions and deeds of loving-kindness.

Kein yehi ratzon. May it be God’s will.

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