2000We read in Parshat Vayera that the cities of Sodom and Gomorra are destroyed because their crimes are too great to correct. What is their sin? Some say it is the sin of inhospitality to other people. The parasha opens as we watch Abraham and Sarah welcome the three strangers into their tent. When the strangers come to Sodom, Lot also tries to be hospitable to them. And yet, even as Lot brings the visitors to his house, the people of Sodom come to the house in a mob. We read in Genesis 19:9:
What's Mine is Mine
9. (The townspeople) said, "Stand back! The fellow (Lot)," they said, "came here as an alien, and already he acts the ruler! Now we will deal worse with you (Lot) than with them (the visitors)."
Your Genesis Navigator
1. What does this verse say about how the people of Sodom view new "immigrants?"
2. How do the people of Sodom behave toward visitors?
The Mishnah of Pirke Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) denotes four categories of behavior:
Pirke Avot 5:3
He who says "What is mine is mine, and what is yours is yours" is the average type, though some say this is a quality of Sodom;
He who says "What is mine is yours, and what is yours is mine" is ignorant;
He who says "What is mine is yours, and what is yours is yours" is righteous;
He who says "What is yours is mine, and what is mine is mine" is wicked.
Your Pirke Avot Navigator
1. How can "what is mine is mine, and what is yours is yours" be either average, or a sin like Sodom, depending on how you look at it?
2. According to Pirke Avot, what category of behavior do the people of Sodom possess?
3. What does Judaism say about how we treat guests or new immigrants?
4. What is your most memorable experience as a guest or newcomer to a community?
Hachnasat orchim, or welcoming guests, is an important value in Judaism, and takes as an example Abraham's behavior at the beginning of this parasha. Interestingly though, Judaism does not have specific rules as to how to welcome people, how to be a decent host or how to behave toward newcomers to a community. Often we might resent newcomers to our community. How could they come in and take away our jobs, friends, support? And yet one of the highest ideals in Judaism is to overcome this urge to separate ourselves from others and instead to reach out toward guests or newcomers and say, in our own small way, "What's mine is yours."
For more insights on this and every other parasha, please see Aryeh Ben David's wonderful book, Around the Shabbat Table: A Guide to Fulfilling and Meaningful Shabbat Table Conversations.
Prepared by Rabbi Andrea Lerner, Midwest Director of Hillel's Joseph Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Learning, University of Wisconsin, Madison