One of my favorite scenes in the Torah is in the portion of Vayeira
which we read on Shabbat. God is about to destroy Sodom because it has become a despicable place. Abraham wants to try and save the people. To do this he uses real chutzpah
(behavior which oversteps any normal limits of behavior) and bargains with God. This is the dialogue between Abraham and God taken from Enjoying Genesis: The Bible in Rhyme
Abraham then saw the men go on their way,
Towards Sodom they went without delay.
God then decided to tell Abraham his plan,
To check Sodom one more time to see if anyone had become a better man.
And if the people were still bad,
God would destroy them all, even if this made Him sad.
Abraham wanted to know if God really could,
Destroy everyone even if some of them were good.
Abraham asked what God would do if there were fifty good people in the city,
As to destroy them all would be a pity.
God agreed that for fifty people that were good,
Save the whole city He would.
Abraham went on and asked what God would do if the fifty were missing five?
And God decided that for forty-five He would keep them all alive.
Abraham went on again to ask what God would do if there were forty good people to be found?
God decided that for forty people He would leave everyone around.
Abraham did not want God to be angry but again he asked,
What if thirty good people we could find fast?
Once again God did say,
That for thirty it would be okay.
Then Abraham asked what if twenty good people he could find?
God again said that for twenty he would save everyone even if most were unkind.
Abraham asked God not to be mad,
And for the last time he asked what if only ten people are not bad?
All the people in Sodom, God agreed to save,
If ten people were good and knew how to behave.
God left when Abraham had nothing left to say,
And then Abraham also went on his way.
This scene gives me hope and a feeling of empowerment. I will not say that Abraham was a “little guy” or a “Joe Shmo,” but he was an extraordinary ordinary person. He was born to an ordinary family of the time. He saw and understood God on his own.
When Noah was told that there was going to be a flood and the whole generation, except for his immediate family, were to die, Noah listened to God and built the ark. However, he did nothing to save anyone else. No pleading and no action.
In the scene above, Abraham decides on his own that he has the right, and perhaps the obligation, to not only speak to God, but to try and change His mind. The way that Abraham goes about this is brilliant. He doesn’t just ask God to spare the city of Sodom which he knows is wicked. He asks God to spare the city only if fifty good people can be found. Slowly, Abraham diminishes his request until he gets down to just ten righteous people.
God listens to Abraham and checks out the city and did not find even ten righteous people. But, until Abraham was finished talking to God, God did not leave him. Once God left, Abraham went on his way.
Abraham did not rant and rave. He accepted God’s decree. Abraham understood that sometimes we have to accept a decision that we do not like.
Could Abraham have done more? Perhaps you are thinking that he could have lodged a protest on the roads, or a Twitter campaign, but those are designed to get public and/or government attention. Abraham got God’s attention. And God listened to him.
So, what can we “normal” people take from this event? It is important for us to know that it is okay for us to question God. We can even plead with Him. But, that being said, it is also important to accept that we will not always get a positive reply. And if God can take the time to listen to a person, even more so should we listen and think about other people’s opinions and reasoning. Even if it seems like there is no chance of changing a situation, it is worth trying. Make a reasonable argument. Don’t be extreme, especially in the beginning. (Notice how Abraham started to ask for Sodom to be saved if there were fifty good people and then he worked his way down to ten.) Abraham did not save Sodom, but he was not defeated.
Marcia Goldlist is a regular contributor of blog postings on Jewish Values Online. She was the author of one of the blog postings selected for the Second Quarter 5779 Jewish Values Online Best Blogs.
Please note: All opinions expressed in Blog Postings and comments on the Jewish Values Online site and through Jewish Values Online are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views, thoughts, beliefs, or position of Jewish Values Online, or those associated with it.
My question is on the fear of G-d. I have always found this concept difficult to understand. For example, I try to keep as many of the mitzvot as I can because I want to, and I am a follower of Judaism for the same reason, not because of fear. I do not believe that G-d will destroy me if I do not follow a commandment. I believe in G-d and respect him, but I do not fear him. Is there a way to better understand this concept?
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