by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek
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Parashas Vayera(66)This week's sedra is an integral link in the series of parshios that describe the formation of the People of Israel. It includes the birth of Isaac, to the aged Abraham and Sara, the destruction of Sodom and the Binding of Isaac. Let us look at a few verses in the section that describes the destruction of Sodom, Abraham's pleading on their behalf and saving of Lot.
And Hashem said 'Because the outcry of Sodom and Amorah is great and because their sin is heavy.
21. I will go down now and see if they have done according to the cry , which has come to me - extermination, and if not , I will know.
22. And the men turned from there and went to Sodom, while Abraham was still standing before Hashem.
18:20 And Hashem said: Rashi: To Abraham, He did as He had said, that he would not conceal anything from him (Abraham). (see verse 18:17).
What would you ask on this brief comment?
A Question: Why does Rashi tell us the obvious? What else could "Hashem said" mean other than He said these words, that He communicated them to Abraham?
An Answer: Rashi is telling us that "Hashem said" means He verbalized these words and actually spoke them to Abraham. The words could have meant Hashem conceived the idea of destroying Sodom. . As in "And G-d said 'Let there be light." In the case of creation Hashem did not speak to anyone, rather "G-d said" means He conceived the idea of creating the light and it was created. But Rashi tells us that in our verse the words are to be taken as an actual communication to another - to Abraham.
He confided His plan of destroying Sodom to Abraham because He knew Abraham's greatness and love of justice and He had said that He would not conceal His plan from Abraham. (verse 18:17, 18) and destroying Sodom was an act of enforcing justice. And we see immediately that Abraham's thirst for justice impelled him to question G-d's plan. Abraham did not let up until he was convinced that the destruction of the 5 cities was, in fact, a just act.
But if this is the beginning of G-d's conversation with Abraham (and not just a thought in G-d's mind), and you read the following verses (18:21 & 22) you should have a question on the Torah's sentences.
QUESTIONING THE TORAH'S WORDS
A Question: Why does the Torah interrupt G-d's communication with verse 18:22 which tells of the angels going to Sodom. That would seem to fit better after the conversation between Hashem and Abraham, at the end of chapter 18, or before the conversation begins.
This question leads to other questions about the angels point of going to Sodom, if the first place.
Why did they go there?
Simple, you say. They went to destroy Sodom and save Lot, obviously.
But did they? When we read the story closely, other questions arise.
If they went to destroy Sodom and save Lot, why did they say to Lot they preferred sleeping in the street instead of accepting his hospitality (19:2)? They should have told him then and there to pack his bags and leave the city because it would soon be destroyed! And why did they accept his offer and sit down to eat a meal before they told him what he must do to save his life? Very strange, indeed.
Can you explain this?
UNDERSTANDING THE TORAH'S WORDS:
An Answer: The verse we thought was out of place (18:21) "And the men turned from there and went to Sodom.." We can get a clue if we see the verse immediately before this one. There it says: ." I will go down now and see if they have done according to the cry , which has come to me - extermination, and if not , I will know."
G-d says He will go down to see the situation in Sodom. Did He?
The answer is He did. That is what verse 22 tells us. "And the men turned from there and went to Sodom.." This was G-d "going down now to see if they have done according to the cry..." These men (angels) were G-d's way of evaluating the situation in Sodom. That explains all our questions. That is why they preferred to remain in the street in order to do their sociological study of Sodom to see how they acted. But Lot imposed on them to eat with him. They did, but soon the house was surrounded. See verse 19:4 before they went to bed ( Note: the men were going to go to sleep and still had said nothing to Lot about destruction of the city!) all of Sodom "from lad to old man the whole city..." converged on Lot's house for their nefarious desires.
Only at this point (verse 19: 12,13) tell Lot to get ready to flee because "we are going to destroy this place." By this time they had the answer to all of Abraham's pleadings - there wasn't one righteous man in Sodom, for all the city completely had converged on Lot's home. Now what do they say to Lot? "We are destroying the place for its outcry has become great before Hashem ...and He sent us to destroy it."
Note the precision of the Torah's words. Above verse 18:20 said "Because the outcry of Sodom and Amorah is great." And now in our verse the same word is used "outcry." For the actions of the people of Sodom answered G-d's question whether or not to destroy the place The angles declare "We are destroying the place for its outcry has become great before Hashem ,and He sent us to destroy it."
Summary: Now we can understand why verse 18:22 was inserted into the middle of G-d's conversation with Abraham. It was the Torah's way of telling us how Hashem was going to verify if His judgment was fair ("I will go down and see") . When we finally hear what happened to the men in Sodom we understand the fairness of the destruction and that "the judge of the whole world does, in fact, act justly."
"What's Bothering Rashi?" is produced by the Institute for the Study of Rashi and Early Commentaries. The five volume set of "What's Bothering Rashi?" is available at Judaica bookstores.
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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