GrowTorah Core Value: Reimagining Tzedakah

Lesson Title: The Selfishness of Sodom

Avraham learns that Hashem plans to destroy Sodom and Gemorrah. Avraham argues with Hashem, and though Hashem ends up destroying the cities, Lot and his household are given an opportunity to escape. Sarah gives birth to her son Isaac. Hagar and Ishmael are sent away, though Hashem promises Hagar that Ishmael will become a great nation.

(יז) וַֽיהֹוָ֖ה אָמָ֑ר הַֽמְכַסֶּ֤ה אֲנִי֙ מֵֽאַבְרָהָ֔ם אֲשֶׁ֖ר אֲנִ֥י עֹשֶֽׂה׃ (יח) וְאַ֨בְרָהָ֔ם הָי֧וֹ יִֽהְיֶ֛ה לְג֥וֹי גָּד֖וֹל וְעָצ֑וּם וְנִ֨בְרְכוּ ב֔וֹ כֹּ֖ל גּוֹיֵ֥י הָאָֽרֶץ׃ (יט) כִּ֣י יְדַעְתִּ֗יו לְמַעַן֩ אֲשֶׁ֨ר יְצַוֶּ֜ה אֶת־בָּנָ֤יו וְאֶת־בֵּיתוֹ֙ אַחֲרָ֔יו וְשָֽׁמְרוּ֙ דֶּ֣רֶךְ יְהוָ֔ה לַעֲשׂ֥וֹת צְדָקָ֖ה וּמִשְׁפָּ֑ט לְמַ֗עַן הָבִ֤יא יְהוָה֙ עַל־אַבְרָהָ֔ם אֵ֥ת אֲשֶׁר־דִּבֶּ֖ר עָלָֽיו׃ (כ) וַיֹּ֣אמֶר יְהוָ֔ה זַעֲקַ֛ת סְדֹ֥ם וַעֲמֹרָ֖ה כִּי־רָ֑בָּה וְחַ֨טָּאתָ֔ם כִּ֥י כָבְדָ֖ה מְאֹֽד׃
(17) Now the LORD had said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, (18) since Abraham is to become a great and populous nation and all the nations of the earth are to bless themselves by him? (19) For I have singled him out, that he may instruct his children and his posterity to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is just and right, in order that the LORD may bring about for Abraham what He has promised him.” (20) Then the LORD said, “The outrage of Sodom and Gomorrah is so great, and their sin so grave!
(י) וַיִּשָּׂא־ל֣וֹט אֶת־עֵינָ֗יו וַיַּרְא֙ אֶת־כָּל־כִּכַּ֣ר הַיַּרְדֵּ֔ן כִּ֥י כֻלָּ֖הּ מַשְׁקֶ֑ה לִפְנֵ֣י ׀ שַׁחֵ֣ת יְהוָ֗ה אֶת־סְדֹם֙ וְאֶת־עֲמֹרָ֔ה כְּגַן־יְהוָה֙ כְּאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרַ֔יִם בֹּאֲכָ֖ה צֹֽעַר׃
(10) Lot looked about him and saw how well watered was the whole plain of the Jordan, all of it—this was before the LORD had destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah—all the way to Zoar, like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt.
(כד) וַֽיהוָ֗ה הִמְטִ֧יר עַל־סְדֹ֛ם וְעַל־עֲמֹרָ֖ה גָּפְרִ֣ית וָאֵ֑שׁ מֵאֵ֥ת יְהוָ֖ה מִן־הַשָּׁמָֽיִם׃ (כה) וַֽיַּהֲפֹךְ֙ אֶת־הֶעָרִ֣ים הָאֵ֔ל וְאֵ֖ת כָּל־הַכִּכָּ֑ר וְאֵת֙ כָּל־יֹשְׁבֵ֣י הֶעָרִ֔ים וְצֶ֖מַח הָאֲדָמָֽה׃
(24) the LORD rained upon Sodom and Gomorrah sulfurous fire from the LORD out of heaven. (25) He annihilated those cities and the entire Plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities and the vegetation of the ground.
(כב) גָּפְרִ֣ית וָמֶלַח֮ שְׂרֵפָ֣ה כָל־אַרְצָהּ֒ לֹ֤א תִזָּרַע֙ וְלֹ֣א תַצְמִ֔חַ וְלֹֽא־יַעֲלֶ֥ה בָ֖הּ כָּל־עֵ֑שֶׂב כְּֽמַהְפֵּכַ֞ת סְדֹ֤ם וַעֲמֹרָה֙ אַדְמָ֣ה וצביים [וּצְבוֹיִ֔ם] אֲשֶׁר֙ הָפַ֣ךְ יְהוָ֔ה בְּאַפּ֖וֹ וּבַחֲמָתֽוֹ׃
(22) all its soil devastated by sulfur and salt, beyond sowing and producing, no grass growing in it, just like the upheaval of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboiim, which the LORD overthrew in His fierce anger—


How is the character of a community reflected in its land in the story of Sodom?

  • agricultural community connections
  • what does good communal agriculture symbolize?

How can we use our garden to improve our character?

  • working together, donating produce....
(מט) הִנֵּה־זֶ֣ה הָיָ֔ה עֲוֺ֖ן סְדֹ֣ם אֲחוֹתֵ֑ךְ גָּא֨וֹן שִׂבְעַת־לֶ֜חֶם וְשַׁלְוַ֣ת הַשְׁקֵ֗ט הָ֤יָה לָהּ֙ וְלִבְנוֹתֶ֔יהָ וְיַד־עָנִ֥י וְאֶבְי֖וֹן לֹ֥א הֶחֱזִֽיקָה׃
(49) Only this was the sin of your sister Sodom: arrogance! She and her daughters had plenty of bread and untroubled tranquillity; yet she did not support the poor and the needy.


Looking back to the first source, how does Sodom's reputation contrast with Avraham's?

  • giving sustenance to others
  • Avraham becomes a nation, what does that say abt the importance of Tzedakah?

Living the Lesson

(יז) מַלְוֵ֣ה יְ֭הוָה ח֣וֹנֵֽן דָּ֑ל וּ֝גְמֻל֗וֹ יְשַׁלֶּם־לֽוֹ׃
(17) He who is generous to the poor makes a loan to the LORD; He will repay him his due.


How does this verse from Mishlei relate to Sodom's punishment?

  • excess of bread without helping the needy

(א) חַיָּבִין אָנוּ לְהִזָּהֵר בְּמִצְוַת צְדָקָה יוֹתֵר מִכָּל מִצְוֹת עֲשֵׂה. שֶׁהַצְּדָקָה סִימָן לַצַּדִּיק זֶרַע אַבְרָהָם אָבִינוּ שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (בראשית יח יט) "כִּי יְדַעְתִּיו לְמַעַן אֲשֶׁר יְצַוֶּה אֶת בָּנָיו" (בראשית יח יט) "לַעֲשׂוֹת צְדָקָה". וְאֵין כִּסֵּא יִשְׂרָאֵל מִתְכּוֹנֵן וְדַת הָאֱמֶת עוֹמֶדֶת אֶלָּא בִּצְדָקָה שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (ישעיה נד יד) "בִּצְדָקָה תִּכּוֹנָנִי". וְאֵין יִשְׂרָאֵל נִגְאָלִין אֶלָּא בִּצְדָקָה שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (ישעיה א כז) "צִיּוֹן בְּמִשְׁפָּט תִּפָּדֶה וְשָׁבֶיהָ בִּצְדָקָה":

(1) We must be especially careful to observe the mitzvah of tzedakah, more so than any other positive mitzvah, for tzedakah is a sign of the righteous [tzadik] lineage of Abraham, our father, as it is said, (Genesis 18:19) For I have singled him out, that he may instruct his children and his posterity [to keep the way of the LORD] by doing what is just [tzedakah].175See Babylonian Talmud Yevamot 79a. The throne of Israel is established and the religion of truth stands only on tzedakah, as it is said, (Isaiah 54:14) You shall be established through righteousness [tzedek]. And Israel will only be redeemed through tzedakah, as it is said, (Isaiah 1:27) Zion shall be saved in the judgment; her repentant ones, in the retribution [tzedakah].176See Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 139a.

בְּפֻנְדָּק, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: וַיִּטַּע אֵשֶׁל (בראשית כא, לג). רַבִּי נְחֶמְיָה אוֹמֵר, אִילָן שְׁאַל הֵן הָאוֹתִיּוֹת, שֶׁהָיָה אָדָם נִכְנָס אֶצְלוֹ וְהוּא אוֹמֵר לוֹ: מָה אַתָּה מְבַקֵּשׁ, שְׁאַל וַאֲנִי נוֹתֵן לָךְ. וְעָשָׂה פֻנְדָּק בְּפָרָשַׁת דְּרָכִים.

Hospitality. For it is said: And he planted a tamarisk tree (ibid., v. 33). R. Nehemiah stated: “Tamarisk tree” (alef-shin-lamed) contains the same letters as the word “ask” (shin-alef-lamed).23On this word-play, see Bereshit Rabbah 54:6. Whenever a man approached him, Abraham would say: “Ask what you desire, and I will give it to you.” And he built an inn at the crossroads.


Just as Avraham plants a tree representative of his values, how can we use our garden to emulate Avraham's righteousness rather than Sodom's sin?

  • what can our plants symbolize?