Parashat Vayera

The Sin of Sodom and its Impact on Creation

Humanity's dominion over the earth must be for the sake of the Divine.

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Interestingly, the Sages of the Talmud did not merely draw attention to the relationship between the economic injustices of the generation of the flood and the social depravity of Sodom. The Torah narrative concerning Sodom reveals something deeper. "They called out to Lot, 'Where are the men that came to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we may know them!'" (Gen. 19:5) Indeed, the men demanded to relate to Lot's male guests sexually. According to the Midrash in Genesis Rabbah 28:8, the destruction caused by the flood also shared a similar cause:

"Rabbi Azariyah said in the name of Rabbi Yehoshua son of Simon, every creature had been corrupted in the generation of the flood. The dog would mate with the wolf, the hen with the peacock. For it is written, 'All flesh was corrupted.' 'All mankind was corrupted' is not written, rather 'All flesh was corrupted.' (Thereby coming to include all flesh, both human and animal.) Rabbi Luliyani son of Tavrin said in the name of Rabbi Isaac, 'Even the land became corrupt as they would sow wheat and the land would sprout degenerate wheat.'"

Sins Against the Environment

Until now, we have dealt with sins between people and God (sexual immorality) and between people and society (robbery, excluding the poor)--yet our Torah portion even makes references to sins between man and his environment. The Torah again uses the verb hashchata in relation to the wanton destruction of fruit trees: "When you besiege a city to seize it, do not destroy (tashchit) its trees by swinging an axe against them, for from it you will eat, and you shall not cut it down; is the tree of the field a man that it should enter the siege before you?" (Deut. 20:19)

A final example: the same Hebrew verb hishchit is used in regards to the widely accepted Law delineated in the Book of Mitzvot not to destroy any part of our world. Under the above-stated commandment not to destroy fruit trees in a siege, comes a further negative commandment where we are forbidden to waste.

For example, we must not tear or burn clothing or break or discard dishes for no reason. About all of these issues or any other issues of wanton destruction, the Sages of blessed memory said in the Talmud, "And he has transgressed the sin of being a wasteful man" (The Book of Mitzvot #529). 

Sodom's Unsustainability

What could be the connection between the corruption of the generation of the flood, the people of Sodom, and environmental sins? There are three basic answers. The first and most simple reason is that humanity itself is part and parcel of its environment and is not separate from it. Having been created in the image of God we may think that we are detached from creation. Further, our Torah-given obligation to preserve the world that God gave us may suggest to us that we are above it.

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Rabbi Yuval Cherlow

Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Hesder Petach Tikva, is a graduate of Yeshivat Har Etzion and a retired major in the IDF. Rabbi Cherlow was amongst the founders of the Tzohar Foundation, a central Modern Orthodox foundation which works to build bridges between the religious and secular worlds.