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S.A.L.T. - Thursday

Rav David Silverberg

           In Parashat Nitzavim, Moshe warns of the calamities that God would bring upon Benei Yisrael if they breached their covenant with Him by worshipping foreign deities.  He foresees the Land of Israel being destroyed “like the overturning of Sedom, Amora, Adma and Tzevoyim, which the Lord overturned in His wrath and rage” (29:22).  This refers, of course, to the annihilation of Sedom and its surrounding cities, which the Torah describes in Sefer Bereishit (19:24-25).  Moshe then predicts that the other nations, upon witnessing the devastation, will wonder, “For what reason did the Lord do such to this land?”  The answer will then be given, “On account of their abandonment of the covenant of the Lord, God of their forefathers” (29:24).

          Rav Shmuel Aharon Yudelevitz, in Me’il Shemuel, offers an insightful explanation of the sequence of these verses.  He suggests that the question, “For what reason did the Lord do such to this land?” will be asked in response not to the land’s desolation per se, but rather to its resemblance to the annihilation of Sedom.  Those who ask this question will surely understand that God exiled His people on account of their wrongdoing, but they will fail to understand why Benei Yisrael deserved the same fate as the wicked city of Sedom and its neighboring towns.  Benei Yisrael’s sinfulness would not fall to anywhere near the level of evil which characterized the population of Sedom.  The other nations will therefore wonder why God would deliver upon His nation the same calamities that befell the degenerate people of Sedom.

          The answer to this question is, “On account of their abandonment of the covenant of the Lord.”  While Benei Yisrael’s misconduct was far less grievous than the crimes of Sedom, nevertheless, they bore the same degree of guilt, because their misdeeds – relatively mild as they were – constituted a breach of their covenant.  They betrayed God with whom they had forged a special relationship.  We might draw an analogy to wrongs committed against a spouse, with whom one had entered into a “covenant,” a formal bond whereby the two parties mutually committed to treat one another with special love, care and respect.  Mistreating a spouse is a far graver wrong than mistreating somebody else, by virtue of the betrayal involved.  Likewise, even though Benei Yisrael never fell to the depths of depravity that characterized the society of Sedom, nevertheless, they deserved the same fate because their wrongdoing marked a breach of their covenant with God.

          Rav Yudelevitz concludes his discussion by noting that these verses perhaps serve as a warning not to feel content meeting the standards of other societies.  We must always remember that we have entered into a covenant with God, such that even relatively mild infractions comprise a breach and a betrayal.  We are to hold ourselves to a higher, stricter standard of conduct, to the standard set for us by the Torah, without ever setting the bar according to the standards deemed adequate by other societies.



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