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S.A.L.T. - Tuesday

Rav David Silverberg
19.10.2021

          The story of the destruction of Sedom, which appears in Parashat Vayeira, begins by telling of the experiences of the two angels who came to the city.  Appearing as travelers, they were invited by Lot into his home.  News rapidly spread throughout the city that guests had arrived, and the townspeople angrily surrounded Lot’s home and demanded that he hand the visitors to them.  Lot asked them to allow them to stay, whereupon the people shouted at him, “Go away; this person [Lot] came and is giving judgment!  We will now hurt you more than them!” (19:9).  They accused Lot – who himself was relatively new in the city – of taking license to “give judgment” and tell them what to do.

          Keli Yakar raises the question of why and how the townspeople could protest Lot’s “giving judgment.”  Earlier (19:1), explaining the Torah’s description of Lot sitting in the entrance to Sedom when the angels arrived, Rashi writes that the gate was the seat of the city’s main court, and that day, the townspeople had appointed Lot has a judge.  This is why he was present in the city’s gate.  They themselves had assigned Lot to the city’s highest judiciary body, and we might thus wonder why they would now angrily object to his “giving judgment.”  Wasn’t this precisely what he had been appointed to do?

          Keli Yakar finds the answer in the expression “va-yishpot shafot” (“and is giving judgment”) in this verse.  According to Keli Yakar, the townspeople accused Lot of casting judgment – “va-yishpot” – on laws that had already been established – “shafot.”  He was appointed judge to apply the current laws, not to revisit them.  The city of Sedom had a longstanding policy forbidding the welcoming of strangers, and thus the townspeople derided Lot for “judging” the current laws, attempting to introduce changes into their system of laws.

          This response of Sedom shows us by way of contrast that we are, indeed, to continually rethink, revisit and reevaluate our “judgments.”  If Sedom insisted on the inviolability of current norms, practices and ideas, we must do just the opposite, and always consider if perhaps we are doing or approaching things incorrectly.  The fact that we have been acting a certain way or holding a certain position for a long time does not make it necessarily correct.  Whereas the people of Sedom considered “va-yishpot shafot” a crime, resoundingly forbidding the reassessment of their policies, we are to do just that, and humbly accept the possibility that the things we have been doing are incorrect and require change.  Of course, this does not mean that change is always warranted or appropriate.  We must, however, be prepared to “judge” our prior “judgments,” to question our previously held assumptions, as part of our lifelong effort to grow and improve and maximize our potential to its fullest.

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