In this Perasha we find the destruction of the evil city of Sedom These people were even worse than the mafia leaders of Las Vegas.
The following is basically a translation of agadic material discussing the iniquity of Sedom. We will then analyze some of this information. While you are reading this please think about its bearings on today’s “Justice system” and society at large. All of this material is found in the tractate of Sanhedrin page 109.
Our rabbis have learnt: The people of Sedom only became proud because of the goodness which G-d gave them as it says (with reference to Sedom) in the Pasuk “The land from which bread came forth and its ground turned into fire it was a place with precious stones and dust of gold….” They said “If our land gives forth bread and gold dust, why do we need passersby? They only come to make us lose our wealth. Let us wipe out the concept guests in our land.
There were four judges in Sedom. Their names were Liar, Lying One, Falsifier, and Twister Of Justice. If someone hit a pregnant woman and she miscarried the judges would say that the woman must be given to the man who hit her so that he may re-impregnate her. If a man tore off the ear of his peer’s donkey the judges would command that the donkey be given to the perpetrator until the ear grows back. If a man wounded his peer the judges would make the wounded man pay since he has performed the service of blood letting. (this was a remedy for many maladies) When someone crossed the river in a boat he had to pay a toll of four zuz, if he swam across he had to pay eight zuz.
One time a launderer went there, they told him to pay four zuz. He told them that he had swam across. They said to him that if that was so he must pay eight since he swam across. He did not pay so they beat him.
He came in front of the judges. They told him to pay for the blood letting services and an additional eight zuz toll for swimming across the river.
Abraham’s servant Eliezer went there once, they beat him. He came in front of the judges and was commanded to pay for blood letting services. Eliezer took a stone and clobbered the judge. The judge said “What was that for.” Eliezer told him that the blood letting fees which the judge now owes him should be given to the man who beat Eliezer making everything even.
In Sedom they had a special guest bed. Whoever was too tall for it would be sliced down to the right size. Whoever was too short was stretched to size When Abraham’s servant Eliezer went there they told him to lay down on the bed. He told them that since the day his mother died he promised never again to rest on a bed.
Whenever a poor man was around each person would give him a dinar with his name written on it and no one would give the poor man bread. When he would die each person came and took back their dinar.
The residents of Sedom made a deal with each other: whoever invites a guest to an affair would have his clothing removed. When Eliezer was there they would not give him bread. When it was time to eat Eliezer sat at the end of the table. The person sitting next him asked him “Who invited you.” Eliezer answered “You invited me.” The man then said to himself that if the other people hear that he invited Eliezer, then they would confiscate his cloak. Before this happened he escaped. Eliezer then went all the around the table doing this to each individual. After they all escaped he ate all of the food.
There was a girl who lived in Sedom who would give bread to a pauper hidden in a jar. When she was discovered they smeared honey all over her and put her on the city wall. The bees came and consumed her. This is what is meant by the pasuk “The screams of Sedom and Gomorah are great.”
I have often said that such Rabbinic stories as we have just read are not there to give us a simple history lesson. Instead their deeper meaning should give us some kind of insight. This insight is generally on three levels. The first level is to take the simple meaning and apply it. Unfortunately, it is not far fetched when we realize that there are some really terrible dictators who have been known to run despicable societies, ie. Hitler. So we could take the above stories as a demonstration of what the people of Sedom were like and learn from this.
A second level is to view these as analogies. The rabbis of the Talmud who wrote down these stories were speaking to their own generation as well as those which would come later. In the Gemara we often hear about the city of which was inhabited primarily by rich Jews. Perhaps the rabbis of the talmud were projecting the current generation’s sicknesses onto the wicked city of Sedom. This can serve as a painless form of censure. After an entertaining class from the rabbi about the wickedness of Sedom, the people might have realized that the current state of affairs in our society are similar to sick ways of Sedom. An example of this could be the above story of the bed which was used to make sure that all guests were the same height. I have heard that this really refers to societal pressures on each individual. That is to say that the people of Sedom put pressure on each individual that forced him to conform to societal norms and beliefs, no matter how twisted these norms might be. A third level is to see this in each individual. Every person has inside of him the evil side which can be extraordinarily wicked.