This week’s portion, Vayera, contains the well-known tale of Sodom and Gomorrah. G-d informs Abraham through three visiting angels appearing as weary travelers that the cities will be destroyed for their wickedness.
Abraham cannot accept such an absolute and sweeping condemnation of the whole population and bargains with G-d through the angels that the cities will be saved if 10 righteous people can be found there.
Upon arrival in the city of Sodom, the angels are sheltered by Abraham’s nephew, Lot, and his family. Word of the new arrivals spreads in the city and a mob comes to Lot’s home and angrily demands that he turn them over to them. Lot comes out of his house to try to diffuse the situation but the mob cannot be satisfied. They attempt to break the door of Lot’s house down, only to be thwarted by the angels who repel the mob themselves through their own divine strength.
While there are several problematic issues here, we are only weeks away from an election so I will focus on just one: the mob mentality. Abraham and G-d strike a reasoned bargain to resolve a crisis. Ten righteous people can save everyone. The angels need only look for them. Unfortunately, no sooner are the angels in Sodom than they are set upon by the mob. The mob refuses to listen to reason, and the angels seemingly lose interest in finding any righteous people amidst all the wicked. The Midrash (Breisheit Rabbah 50:5) notes that the entire population of the town could not all have been part of the mob, but yet they were all condemned for not having at least protested the mob’s vile behavior.
In today’s caustic political culture, some might say that we are also in danger of being similarly condemned for kowtowing before a mob.
Our society has lost its sense of civility, propriety and, seemingly, reason lately. Many on the social and political “right” of our culture engage in a virulent practice of condemning anyone who does not agree with them regardless of whether or not there is any truthful basis to their position. Fox News pundits and talk radio hosts such as Rush Limbaugh have made an art form out of behaving disrespectfully and dishonorably toward any elected official who disagrees with them.
This has even spread to the Jewish community, where honest disagreement about Israel on any level will too often descend in to disgusting accusations of anti-Semitism, fascism and even Nazism.
It is no wonder then that little can get done to improve our society; the mob mentality has the Lots of our community afraid to stick their heads out of their doors.
If we cannot exhibit the courage of Lot to try and speak reasonably amongst those who are unreasonable, then we must exhibit the strength of the angels and demand it. We all must try to be counted as one of the 10 righteous people of our town and speak up for civility, integrity and honor. We can and should disagree, but if we continue to devolve to the point where adopting a mob mentality of fear, distrust and disrespect is the normative way of expressing our differences, then we will have no one left to blame but ourselves when there is no one left to condemn but a pillar of salt.
(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)