The Torah in Parashat Vayera (18:20) tells of God’s decision to eradicate the sinful city of Sedom: He tells Avraham, “The cry of Sedom and Amora is so great, and their sin is so grave. I shall go down and see if its cry warrants its annihilation…” The Radak, among others, explains the “cry” (“za’akat”) mentioned in this verse as referring to the cries of the oppressed victims of Sedom’s cruel society. God announced that He would assess the level of cruelty in Sedom and its surrounding towns to determine whether the people of the region were deserving of annihilation.
Commenting on this verse in his Divrei Shaul (Mahadura Tinyana), Rav Yosef Shaul Nathanson writes that the “cry” of victims is often exaggerated. Occasionally, people who have endured a minor offense or sustained a small financial loss due to somebody else’s wrongdoing overreact and “cry” as though they endure a grave crisis. This, Rav Nathanson suggests, is the meaning of this verse, in which God informs Avraham of His considerations regarding Sedom. The piercing cries rising from the victims of Sedom were indeed significant, but these cries did not necessarily testify to severe oppression. God said He needed to “go down and see if its cry warrants its annihilation,” if the cries of pain truly signal that the society is overrun by cruelty.
Of course, as we know, God quickly determined that indeed, the cries arising from Sedom were genuine and a true testament to the society’s heartlessness, that the people were cruel and ruthless, and thus deserving of destruction. However, Rav Nathanson’s explanation of this verse reminds us that not all “cries” are accurate reflections of the injustice committed. Although God hears the pained cries of victims of torment and oppression (Shemot 22:22-23), this is true only of cries which are commensurate with the pain inflicted. We are to avoid exaggerated “cries” of victimhood. Not every injustice deserves the response of the victims of Sedom’s crimes. Some offenses can and should be handled with maturity and grace, without excessive “cries.” God reacts harshly to oppression, but pays no heed to false or exaggerated cries of victimhood. The fate of Sedom was sealed only after God determined that the victims’ cries were genuine and real, teaching us that not all “cries” are justified, and that we must avoid exaggerated responses to slight offenses.