Vayera: The Sodom Characteristic

When minding your own business is sinful.

Aloh Naaleh,

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aliyah-r.jpg
Arutz 7

There are four types among people:

He who says, "What is mine is mine and what is yours is yours"- this is the common type, though some say that this is the type of Sodom. He who says, "What is mine is yours and what is yours is mine" - he is an ignorant man. He who says, "What is mine is yours and what is yours is your own" - he is a saintly man. And he who says, "What is yours is mine, and what is mine is mine" - he is a wicked man. -- Avot 5:13

Midrashic literature describes Sodom in the harshest of terms. Sodom is a city that tortures its guests, tramples
Midrashic literature describes Sodom in the harshest of terms.
its downtrodden, and punishes its citizens for the slightest degree of mercy and compassion. As Pirkei deRabbi Eliezer succinctly states: “It was declared in Sodom: ‘Whoever shares his bread with the stranger, orphan and the poor shall be set on fire.’”

Against the backdrop of Midrash depicting Sodom as the quintessence of evil, the description of midat Sodom (“the characteristic of Sodom”) as cited in Pirkei Avot (5:13) seems rather tame: “One who says, ‘My property is mine and yours is yours’ is an average character type, but some say this is characteristic of Sodom.”

Prior to reading Pirkei Avot, one could assume that if anyone were to be described as possessing midat Sodom, it would be the selfish person who declares, “My property is mine and yours is mine,” and not the mind-your-own-business person who chooses to keep his property separate from that of his neighbor’s.

In an attempt to answer this question, Rabbi Moshe Avigdor Amiel (1882-1945), former Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, provides a homiletic interpretation. If an individual says, “What is mine is mine and what is yours is yours,” in the singular, then that is an average character trait. But, if this statement turns into a communal norm, in the plural, then it becomes midat Sodom. There is a slippery slope between an individual citizen who adopts a mind-your-own-business stance and an entire society in which the “haves” refuse to share their bounty with the “have-nots.”

The modern State of Israel is a society in which the gaps between the “haves” and “have-nots” are becoming greater every year. We would do well to take the message of our parsha to heart - an unjust society is one in which people keep their distance and mind their own business; whereas, a just society is one in which people bridge societal gaps and are generous with their resources.
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Dyonna Ginsburg is the Director of Bema’aglei Tzedek, a nonprofit that uses education and advocacy to create a more just Israeli society informed and inspired by Jewish values.

The foregoing commentary was distributed by the Aloh Naaleh organization.





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