In this week’s Torah portion, we read the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. G-d sends angels to destroy their five towns because the sins and evil there have become untenable. But G-d gives Abraham an opportunity to intervene. Abraham argues, “How can you kill the innocent together with the wicked?!” And G-d responds, “There are no innocents.”
G-d agrees to save all the inhabitants — including the wicked — if there are just 10 innocent people to be found in all the cities of Sodom. But G-d says that even 10 don’t exist.
Later in the story, while Lot was escaping the destruction, he requested that the angels save one of the five towns. The angels acquiesced and saved the town of Tzo’ar, in the merit of just three innocent people: Lot and his two daughters.
Lot chose to live in Sodom and did not previously leave, meaning that the Sodomite lifestyle wasn’t abhorrent to him. So, can we truly consider him innocent? How do we measure innocence?
We can see, from the very criteria used by the angels to determine whom they should save and whom not to save, how to measure innocence: The deciding factor was simply that Lot wanted to leave! Lot’s sons-in-law and married daughters did not want to leave, while his two other daughters did. Just the very act of wanting to leave a place of evil results in the individual deserving to be saved, and — even more — an entire community can be saved and changed in that merit.
Today’s world is no Sodom or Gomorrah. The majority of our world decries and rejects evil. We have evolved and continue to evolve for the better. Yet, pockets of hate and evil still exist. And sometimes they rear their ugly head and break through our barriers of goodness and safety.
But our response must be clear. Even one individual who stands for the rejection of evil and the embracing of goodness has the strength and power to transform our world for the better.
Every one of us should strive to see the potential good in each individual, just as Abraham did so many years ago. But we need those individuals to take one step, one small step on behalf of mankind, to reject evil.
We all know the history of the world and of the Jewish people: Evil does not last, and ultimately self-destructs. Goodness will always prevail and become a place of strength and refuge.
In every generation, some try to find their refuge in a new idea or fad — a new social norm or world order. But the safest place for the Jew has never changed: It’s with his or her people and in our Torah and mitzvot.
No one in the entire world has a safe home like the Jewish people, so let’s stay in each other’s embrace.
Am Yisroel Chai! PJC
Rabbi Elchonon Friedman is the spiritual leader of Bnai Emunoh Chabad. This column is a service of the Vaad Harabanim of Greater Pittsburgh.