SALT - Wednesday, 15 Cheshvan 5779 - October 24, 2018

  • Rav David Silverberg
Please pray for a refua sheleima for
Michael Yaacov ben Chava Dvora
            The Torah in Parashat Vayera tells of the destruction of the wicked city of Sedom, a story preceded by an account of the experiences of the two angels who arrived in the city after visiting Avraham.  These angels, who appeared as ordinary travelers, were welcomed by Lot, Avraham’s nephew who resided in Sedom.  As word spread through Sedom the Lot had extended hospitality to visitors, the townspeople gathered around Lot’s house and demanded that the guests be handed over.  Lot went outside to try advocating for his guests, and when his efforts failed, the angels pulled him back inside, and struck the Sedomites with blindness, whereupon, the Torah writes, “va-yil’u li-mtzo ha-patach” (19:11).  The common explanation of this phrase is that the people of Sedom were unable to find the door, now that their vision was impaired.  This is the interpretation given by the Rashbam, who, with uncharacteristic elaboration, cites several prooftexts showing that the word “va-yil’u” refers to a lack of ability.
            Seforno, however, explains differently, claiming that the word “va-yil’u” refers to the Sedomites’ persistent, futile efforts to find the door so they could enter Lot’s home.  Even after losing their sight, the people refused to give up, and continued trying to find Lot’s door.  Citing the Gemara’s comment in Masekhet Eiruvin (19a), “The wicked – even by the entrance of Gehinnom do not repent,” Seforno notes the extraordinary persistence of the people in Sedom, how despite being struck with impaired vision, they still endeavored to reach the guests welcomed by Lot.  Commenting to the previous verse, Seforno writes that the angels specifically orchestrated this scene – of the townspeople of Sedom persisting in their efforts to banish Lot’s guests, even after losing their vision – to publicize the extent of their evil.  As the angels were now preparing to destroy the city of Sedom, they sought to demonstrate just how cruel and ideologically evil the city was, to the point where they relentlessly persisted in their attempt to banish visitors, even when this objective seemed impossible.  According to Seforno, it appears, this is the greatest demonstration of evil – persisting in one’s efforts to perpetrate evil despite the formidable practical obstacles that stand in the way.
            Seforno’s comments are perhaps instructive with regard to the converse situation – persisting in our attempt to do the right thing, even when the odds are stacked against us.  Just as the Sedomites’ determined attempts to break into Lot’s house demonstrated the extent of their sinfulness, we demonstrate the extent of our religious commitment by untiringly attempting to break through the barriers that stand in the way of proper religious observance.  We show our love and devotion to God, and the priority we afford to Torah values, by struggling to follow them even when they seem too difficult for us.  The scene of the blind people of Sedom trying hopelessly to find Lot’s door should perhaps serve for us as a model of persistence and resilience, of the kind of determination with which we are to pursue our religious goals, and to continue trying and struggling to maximize our potential despite the challenges we face and our previous unsuccessful attempts.