Rush to Judgment

Rabbi Reuven Mann

In this week’s parsha, Vayera, we read about the destruction of the wicked cities of Sodom and Amorah.  Apparently, people are extremely stubborn and refuse to learn the lessons of history.  It was not long ago that Hashem had brought a flood to obliterate mankind because of the terrible sinfulness of that generation.  Only Noach and his family were saved because of his righteousness.  Hashem made a covenant with Noach that He would never again bring a flood to destroy the earth.  However this did not mean that He would thereafter turn a “blind eye” to the treacheries of people and simply leave them to their own devices.  G-d continues to oversee the affairs of mankind and to mete out justice when necessary.  This does not preclude the administration of harsh punishment as required.  G-d would not destroy the entire world but this did not provide immunity for particular societies whose deeds reached the level of absolute evil.  Thus, the Torah says, that Hashem took note of the corruption in the world and said, “The outcry of Sodom and Amorah is great and their iniquity is very severe.  I will go down and see if the outcry is commensurate with their evil deeds, and if it is I will destroy them, and if not, I will know.”  These verses present us with a great difficulty.  A fundamental principle of Judaism is that G-d is incorporeal and omniscient.  Thus, Hashem’s knowledge is absolute and the notion that He has to make a personal inspection in order to reach conclusions is essentially blasphemous.  Yet the Torah depicts G-d as “descending” to earth in order to get a clearer picture of the situation in Sodom and Amorah.  What is the meaning of this passage?

A similar statement is found in the story of the Tower of Babel where the Torah says that, “Hashem went down to see the city and Tower that the sons of man had built.”  Rashi maintains that we are not to take these words literally.  Rather, the Torah is employing a metaphor in order to convey a lesson.  Says Rashi, “This was not necessary except to teach judges not to convict someone until they see clearly and understand.”  The same lesson can be gleaned from Hashem’s words regarding the wickedness of Sodom.  He depicts Himself as descending to observe at close range in order to teach us an important lesson, i.e.. things are not always as they appear and we must do everything possible to avoid rushing to judgment.  This lesson has great moral and practical importance.  Very often we hear about things that bring forth powerful feelings and we reach conclusions without taking the time to get all the facts¸ hear both sides and contemplate the matter calmly and judiciously.  We sometimes allow ourselves to be influenced by one side’s version of events and take actions or make statements we later come to regret.  Pirke Avot teaches, “Be deliberate in judgment.”  This advice applies to all areas of life.  We should seek to remain calm and not be overly swayed by first impressions.  We should seek to give decent people the benefit of the doubt.  Most importantly, we should be able to discern when we are acting or speaking based on powerful emotions or from a state of calm and clear thinking.  We live in a world of instant communication where we can respond to things immediately via texting and emails.  This can be dangerous for it may lead us to issue statements which we haven’t had a chance to review.  Someone recently suggested that one should not send out “instant” emails.  After composing a statement in the heat of the moment one should refrain from clicking the send button.  Rather he should wait a while, until he has calmed down and reread what he has written.  There is no harm in delaying one’s response but after words are uttered or sent out they can’t be taken back.  Let us learn not to be hasty in judgment, avoid knee jerk reactions and to watch what we say, very carefully.  It will make for a much happier life.

Shabbat Shalom