DEALING WITH DIVERSITY
After an apartment block burns down, the nearby school organizes a fundraiser to assist the victims. Aaron, a Jewish boy, refuses to offer help. The apartment block has many migrants. According to Aaron, they only moved to profit from a wealthier country, and are therefore undeserving of help.
Aaron’s reason for not helping has to do with a peculiar Torah story: the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. The burning down of the apartment block, like the burning down of Sodom and Gomorrah, is a punishment from G-d. Levi, a fellow Jewish student, doubts Aaron’s interpretation. Together they enter the story in search of its meaning.
1.2 The Downfall of Sodom and Gomorrah
1.2.1 Summary Genesis 18-19
1.3. Interpretation of the story
1.3.1 Hospitality - standing up for the other
ASSIGNMENT. Read the two texts from Gen. 18 and 19 and answer the following questions.
• Compare how Lot and Abraham treat strangers. Are there differences?
• In what ways are you and your family hospitable? What customs do you have for receiving guests?
• Do you think there is still a duty today to be hospitable to strangers? Why yes/no?
• Do you think there are people today who are in need of hospitality? Why yes/no?
The story provides an important lesson in hospitality. Abraham and Lot welcome absolute strangers into their midst, and stand up for their protection. Lot even resists the inhabitants of Sodom.This is not the kind of hospitality that receives friends for dinner, but the one that stands up for the stranger. Lot and his family are rewarded for this kind of hospitality and are allowed to escape the destruction of Sodom.
1.3.2 Abraham’s chutzpah
ASSIGNMENT. Read the text from Gen. 18 with the conversation between Abraham and the Lord. Afterwards, answer the questions
Abraham critically questions G-ds plan. His intervention fits within the Jewish tradition of the “chutzpah”, the critical frankness that cries out to G-d, against G-d, and in the name of G-d’s creation and the covenant. It involves a kind of candid sincerity with which a Jew, as a full partner of the covenant, enters into discussion with the other partner, G-d.
• How would you describe Abrahams attitude? Arrogant, humble, …?
• Describe Abraham’s plea in your own words.
• Right or wrong. Abraham proposes a compromise to G-d.
• Abraham reminds G-d that a plan to punish the guilty can also punish the innocent. Can you associate this with contemporary events or phenomena?
• G-d changes his plan through Abraham’s intervention. Do you change your mind easily?
1.3.3 Our environment
Lot’s reception is less extensive than Abraham’s. Moreover, Lot offers his daughters to the violent inhabitants of Sodom. His aim is to protect his two guests, but this passage remains shocking to contemporary readers. Some commentators therefore believe that Lot is not as benign a character as initially appears. The difference may have to do with their location. Lot lives in the city of Sodom; Abraham lives near Mamre, in a tent in the wilderness. The story can teach us something about the interaction between humans and their environment. The environment in which we find ourselves affects our behavior.
ASSIGNMENT. Answer the following questions about the relationship between our environment and our behavior.
• Do you think you sometimes find yourself in a culture (environment) that does not protect the poor, weak, or vulnerable? Why do/don’t you?
• To what extent do environmental factors determine our behavior? In other words, which is more important: personality or environmental factors?
1.3.4 the evil of Sodom and Gomorrah
After the incident at Lot’s home - where the villagers come looking for the two angels - G-d decides to destroy the city. Ten righteous people could not be found. But the story is not entirely clear about what the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah are. There are several passages in the Tanakh that mention the sister cities and their evilness. These passages may give an indication of what the sister cities are ultimately punished for.
ASSIGNMENT. Read the three passages and then answer the questions.
1.3.5 Ezekiel 16: 49-50
1.3.6 jeremiah 23:14
1.3.7 Amos 4, 11
• Try to summarize the three passages as precisely as possible. How do they describe the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah?
• Do you think the things the three passages describe still occur today?
• What could be another contemporary sin of Sodom and Gomorrah?
The word chutzpah is difficult to define. The meaning of this noun lies somewhere between the more extreme ‘insolence’ and the more moderate ‘impropriety’. Thus, someone with chutzpah is unafraid to do rather ‘daring’ things. This is also how we can describe Abraham’s intervention.
The word comes from Yiddish, and the Yiddish word in turn comes from Hebrew. In Yiddish it tends to have a negative connotation, such as ‘rudeness’ or ‘arrogance’, but this is not necessarily the case in the other languages! Within Judaism, chutzpah has the meaning of a critical but sincere discussion between the two partners of the covenant: G-d and a Jew. The Jew cries out to G-d, against G-d, and in the name of G-d’s creation and covenant.
In addition to Abraham, Moses also forms an example. In Exodus 32:11, Moses is at Mount Sinai when G-d informs him that the Jewish people at the bottom of the mountain are worshipping a calf. This goes against one of the Ten Commandments, so the Lord wants to destroy them all and start over with Moses. Moses thereupon enters into a discussion with the Lord, just as Abraham does in Genesis 18, and the Lord deviates from His plan. So Moses and Abraham both got chutzpah!
Righteousness has several meanings. First, justice is a legal concept. Whatever is in accordance with the law is just. Second, justice is also a moral concept. To act justly is to act ‘rightly’, in accordance with what is ‘good’ or ‘correct’. Justice also takes practice: no one naturally does the right or good thing all the time. We encounter this idea often in the Tanakh!
Anckaert, Luc, Burggraeve, Roger, Coillie, Geert. Abraham en Oddyseus: over belofte, nostalgie en
geweld. Scherpenheuvel-Zichem: Uitgeverij Averbode, 2013.
Carden, Michael. “Genesis/Bereshit.” In Guest, Deryn. The Queer Bible Commentary. Edited by Robert E Goss and Mona West. London: SCM Press, 2006. 21-60.
The Complete Jewish Bible. “Amos: 4:1, 11.” Accessed March 9, 2021. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=amos+4%3A1-11&version=CJB .
_ “Ezekiel 16: 49-50.” Accessed March 4, 2021. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Ezekiel+16%3A49-50&version=CJB.
_ “Genesis 18.” Accessed March 4, 2021. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis%2018&version=CJB.
_ “Genesis 19.” Accessed March 4, 2021. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis%2019&version=CJB.
_ “Jeremiah 23: 14.” Accessed March 4, 2021. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Jeremiah+23%3A14&version=CJB.
Levenson, Jon D. Inheriting Abraham: The Legacy of the Patriarch in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2012.
Loader, James Alfred. A tale of two cities: Sodom and Gomorrah in the Old Testament, early Jewish and early Christian traditions. Leuven: Peeters Publishers, 1990. 28.