Lesson 4 – The Sins of Sodom and Gemorrah

You will not find in this lesson a catalogue of the variety of possible sins which may or may not have been committed by the people of Sodom. Instead, what we will focus on is two verses, no, in fact, one or two words in these verses from the episode and a story (or different versions of a story) which the sages derived from this verse. This story, according to the sages, represented the proverbial “straw which broke the camels back”. After this particular sin, God could no longer tolerate the behavior of the Sodomites. What is more we will look at this story three separate times, in three different versions, in three different rabbinic works: Bereishit Rabbah, The Babylonian Talmud and Pirke deRabbi Eliezer to take note of how a story evolves in different forms.

Please note, dear reader, that we will not be looking at the story proper but what happens before the actual story of the destruction of Sodom. This, of course, does not preclude, reading over the whole story!

1. From the Torah

(טז) וַיָּקֻ֤מוּ מִשָּׁם֙ הָֽאֲנָשִׁ֔ים וַיַּשְׁקִ֖פוּ עַל־פְּנֵ֣י סְדֹ֑ם וְאַ֨בְרָהָ֔ם הֹלֵ֥ךְ עִמָּ֖ם לְשַׁלְּחָֽם׃ (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׃ (כא) אֵֽרֲדָה־נָּ֣א וְאֶרְאֶ֔ה הַכְּצַעֲקָתָ֛הּ הַבָּ֥אָה אֵלַ֖י עָשׂ֣וּ ׀ כָּלָ֑ה וְאִם־לֹ֖א אֵדָֽעָה׃ (כב) וַיִּפְנ֤וּ מִשָּׁם֙ הָֽאֲנָשִׁ֔ים וַיֵּלְכ֖וּ סְדֹ֑מָה וְאַ֨בְרָהָ֔ם עוֹדֶ֥נּוּ עֹמֵ֖ד לִפְנֵ֥י יְהוָֽה׃ (כג) וַיִּגַּ֥שׁ אַבְרָהָ֖ם וַיֹּאמַ֑ר הַאַ֣ף תִּסְפֶּ֔ה צַדִּ֖יק עִם־רָשָֽׁע׃ (כד) אוּלַ֥י יֵ֛שׁ חֲמִשִּׁ֥ים צַדִּיקִ֖ם בְּת֣וֹךְ הָעִ֑יר הַאַ֤ף תִּסְפֶּה֙ וְלֹא־תִשָּׂ֣א לַמָּק֔וֹם לְמַ֛עַן חֲמִשִּׁ֥ים הַצַּדִּיקִ֖ם אֲשֶׁ֥ר בְּקִרְבָּֽהּ׃ (כה) חָלִ֨לָה לְּךָ֜ מֵעֲשֹׂ֣ת ׀ כַּדָּבָ֣ר הַזֶּ֗ה לְהָמִ֤ית צַדִּיק֙ עִם־רָשָׁ֔ע וְהָיָ֥ה כַצַּדִּ֖יק כָּרָשָׁ֑ע חָלִ֣לָה לָּ֔ךְ הֲשֹׁפֵט֙ כָּל־הָאָ֔רֶץ לֹ֥א יַעֲשֶׂ֖ה מִשְׁפָּֽט׃ (כו) וַיֹּ֣אמֶר יְהוָ֔ה אִם־אֶמְצָ֥א בִסְדֹ֛ם חֲמִשִּׁ֥ים צַדִּיקִ֖ם בְּת֣וֹךְ הָעִ֑יר וְנָשָׂ֥אתִי לְכָל־הַמָּק֖וֹם בַּעֲבוּרָֽם׃ (כז) וַיַּ֥עַן אַבְרָהָ֖ם וַיֹּאמַ֑ר הִנֵּה־נָ֤א הוֹאַ֙לְתִּי֙ לְדַבֵּ֣ר אֶל־אֲדֹנָ֔י וְאָנֹכִ֖י עָפָ֥ר וָאֵֽפֶר׃ (כח) א֠וּלַי יַחְסְר֞וּן חֲמִשִּׁ֤ים הַצַּדִּיקִם֙ חֲמִשָּׁ֔ה הֲתַשְׁחִ֥ית בַּחֲמִשָּׁ֖ה אֶת־כָּל־הָעִ֑יר וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ לֹ֣א אַשְׁחִ֔ית אִם־אֶמְצָ֣א שָׁ֔ם אַרְבָּעִ֖ים וַחֲמִשָּֽׁה׃ (כט) וַיֹּ֨סֶף ע֜וֹד לְדַבֵּ֤ר אֵלָיו֙ וַיֹּאמַ֔ר אוּלַ֛י יִמָּצְא֥וּן שָׁ֖ם אַרְבָּעִ֑ים וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ לֹ֣א אֶֽעֱשֶׂ֔ה בַּעֲב֖וּר הָאַרְבָּעִֽים׃ (ל) וַ֠יֹּאמֶר אַל־נָ֞א יִ֤חַר לַֽאדֹנָי֙ וַאֲדַבֵּ֔רָה אוּלַ֛י יִמָּצְא֥וּן שָׁ֖ם שְׁלֹשִׁ֑ים וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ לֹ֣א אֶֽעֱשֶׂ֔ה אִם־אֶמְצָ֥א שָׁ֖ם שְׁלֹשִֽׁים׃ (לא) וַיֹּ֗אמֶר הִנֵּֽה־נָ֤א הוֹאַ֙לְתִּי֙ לְדַבֵּ֣ר אֶל־אֲדֹנָ֔י אוּלַ֛י יִמָּצְא֥וּן שָׁ֖ם עֶשְׂרִ֑ים וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ לֹ֣א אַשְׁחִ֔ית בַּעֲב֖וּר הָֽעֶשְׂרִֽים׃ (לב) וַ֠יֹּאמֶר אַל־נָ֞א יִ֤חַר לַֽאדֹנָי֙ וַאֲדַבְּרָ֣ה אַךְ־הַפַּ֔עַם אוּלַ֛י יִמָּצְא֥וּן שָׁ֖ם עֲשָׂרָ֑ה וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ לֹ֣א אַשְׁחִ֔ית בַּעֲב֖וּר הָעֲשָׂרָֽה׃ (לג) וַיֵּ֣לֶךְ יְהוָ֔ה כַּאֲשֶׁ֣ר כִּלָּ֔ה לְדַבֵּ֖ר אֶל־אַבְרָהָ֑ם וְאַבְרָהָ֖ם שָׁ֥ב לִמְקֹמֽוֹ׃
(16) The men set out from there and looked down toward Sodom, Abraham walking with them to see them off. (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! (21) I will go down to see whether they have acted altogether according to the outcry that has reached Me; if not, I will take note.” (22) The men went on from there to Sodom, while Abraham remained standing before the LORD. (23) Abraham came forward and said, “Will You sweep away the innocent along with the guilty? (24) What if there should be fifty innocent within the city; will You then wipe out the place and not forgive it for the sake of the innocent fifty who are in it? (25) Far be it from You to do such a thing, to bring death upon the innocent as well as the guilty, so that innocent and guilty fare alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” (26) And the LORD answered, “If I find within the city of Sodom fifty innocent ones, I will forgive the whole place for their sake.” (27) Abraham spoke up, saying, “Here I venture to speak to my Lord, I who am but dust and ashes: (28) What if the fifty innocent should lack five? Will You destroy the whole city for want of the five?” And He answered, “I will not destroy if I find forty-five there.” (29) But he spoke to Him again, and said, “What if forty should be found there?” And He answered, “I will not do it, for the sake of the forty.” (30) And he said, “Let not my Lord be angry if I go on: What if thirty should be found there?” And He answered, “I will not do it if I find thirty there.” (31) And he said, “I venture again to speak to my Lord: What if twenty should be found there?” And He answered, “I will not destroy, for the sake of the twenty.” (32) And he said, “Let not my Lord be angry if I speak but this last time: What if ten should be found there?” And He answered, “I will not destroy, for the sake of the ten.” (33) When the LORD had finished speaking to Abraham, He departed; and Abraham returned to his place.

Setting the scene

This episode occurs immediately upon the completion of the visit of the angels (men) to Abraham and Sarah to announce to them that Sarah will give birth to a son. As the angels are leaving, they contemplate discussing with Abraham the fate of the inhabitants of Sodom. In the midst of the discussion, God announces his concern with the behavior of the inhabitants of Sodom.

Two words caught the eyes of the sages. First take a look at the word ” רבה ” – “rabba” in verse 20. It means “great”, but its consonants can also be used for the word ” ריבה ” –”reeba” which means “young girl”.

Now, take a look at the word ” “הַכְּצַעֲקָתָה which is translated: “according to the cry of it”. There is a dot in the “hey” which I cannot get the computer to recreate. This dot is called a “mapik” which represents the word “it” or “her”. Thus, we might translate it “according to her cry”.

Question to Consider

  1. What is the “it” in this verse, according to the plain or “pshat” meaning of this verse?

With this question answered, we now want to pay attention to the fact that in the verse above, the “it” is not specified, even thought the reader can obviously guess what it is referring to. In the midrash, we will take advantage of this ambiguity. Now let the games begin:

Midrash 1

(ו) אֵרְדָה נָּא (בראשית יח, כא), תָּנֵי רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן בֶּן יוֹחָאי, זוֹ אַחַת מֵעֶשֶׂר יְרִידוֹת הָאֲמוּרוֹת בַּתּוֹרָה.

אָמַר רַבִּי אַבָּא בַּר כַּהֲנָא מְלַמֵּד שֶׁפָּתַח לָהֶם הַמָּקוֹם פֶּתַח שֶׁל תְּשׁוּבָה, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: אֵרְדָה נָּא וְאֶרְאֶה הַכְּצַעֲקָתָה הַבָּאָה אֵלַי עָשׂוּ כָּלָה, כְּלָיָה הֵן חַיָּבִין, וְאִם לֹא אֵדָעָה, אוֹדִיעַ בָּהֶן מִדַּת הַדִּין בָּעוֹלָם. אָמַר רַבִּי לֵוִי אֲפִלּוּ אֲנִי מְבַקֵּשׁ לִשְׁתֹּק, דִּינָהּ שֶׁל רִיבָה אֵינוֹ מַנִּיחַ אוֹתִי לִשְׁתֹּק. מַעֲשֶׂה בִּשְׁתֵּי נְעָרוֹת שֶׁיָּרְדוּ לִשְׁתּוֹת וּלְמַלֹאת מַיִם, אָמְרָה אַחַת לַחֲבֶרְתָּה לָמָּה פָּנַיִךְ חוֹלָנִיּוֹת, אָמְרָה לָהּ כָּלוּ מְזוֹנוֹתֶיהָ וּכְבָר הִיא נְטוּיָה לָמוּת, מֶה עָשְׂתָה מִלְּאָה אֶת הַכַּד קֶמַח וְהֶחְלִיפוּ נָטְלָה זוֹ מַה שֶּׁבְּיַד זוֹ, וְכֵיוָן שֶׁהִרְגִּישׁוּ בָּהּ נְטָלוּהָ וְשָׂרְפוּ אוֹתָהּ, אָמַר הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא אֲפִלּוּ אֲנִי מְבַקֵּשׁ לִשְׁתֹּק, דִּינָהּ שֶׁל נַעֲרָה אֵינוֹ מֵנִיחַ אוֹתִי לִשְׁתֹּק, הֲדָא הוּא דִכְתִיב: הַכְּצַעֲקָתָהּ, הַכְּצַעֲקָתָם אֵינוֹ אוֹמֵר אֶלָּא הַכְּצַעֲקָתָהּ, וְאֵיזוֹ זוֹ דִּינָהּ שֶׁל נַעֲרָה.


R. Simeon b. Yohai taught: This is one of the ten descents mentioned in the Torah.

R. Abba b. Kahana said: This teaches that the Holy One, blessed be He, gave them the opportunity of repenting.


they must be completely destroyed;

AND IF NOT, I WILL KNOW, i.e. I will teach them that the Attribute of Justice exists in the world.

R. Levi said: [God said]: ‘Even if I wished to keep silent, justice for a certain maiden (ribah) does not permit Me to keep silent.’

For it once happened that two girls went down to draw water from a well.

One said to the other, ‘Why are you so pale?’

‘We have no more food left and are ready to die,’ she replied.

What did she do? She filled her pitcher with flour and they exchanged [their pitchers], each taking the other’s.

When they [the Sodomites] discovered this, they took and burnt her.

Said the Holy One, blessed be He: ‘Even if I desired to be silent, justice for that young girl does not permit Me to keep silent.

Hence it does not say, WHETHER THEY HAVE DONE ACCORDING TO THEIR CRY [namely, the cry of the Sodomites]; but ACCORDING TO HER CRY ‘- the cry of that maiden.

Questions and Obervations

Notice here the role of the two words and how they are used to build the story.

  1. What does this story say about God’s sense of justice and compassion?
  2. What was considered a sin in Sodom?
  3. What was Sodom’s greatest sin according to this story?

Midrash 2

This second version comes from the Babylonian Talmud. Here I have brought more than just the parallel to the previous story because this selection is so interesting. Notice that the basic plot is similar but this midrash has different characters.

הויא להו פורייתא דהוו מגני עלה אורחין כי מאריך גייזי ליה כי גוץ מתחין ליה אליעזר עבד אברהם אקלע להתם אמרו ליה קום גני אפוריא אמר להון נדרא נדרי מן יומא דמיתת אמא לא גנינא אפוריא כי הוה מתרמי להו עניא יהבו ליה כל חד וחד דינרא וכתיב שמיה עליה וריפתא לא הוו ממטי ליה כי הוה מית אתי כל חד וחד שקיל דידיה הכי אתני בינייהו כל מאן דמזמין גברא לבי הילולא לשלח גלימא הוי האי הילולא אקלע אליעזר להתם ולא יהבו ליה נהמא כי בעי למסעד אתא אליעזר ויתיב לסיפא דכולהו אמרו ליה מאן אזמנך להכא א"ל לההוא [דיתיב] אתה זמנתן [אמר דילמא שמעי בי דאנא אזמינתיה ומשלחי ליה מאניה דהאי גברא] שקל גלימיה ההוא דיתיב גביה ורהט לברא וכן עבד לכולהו עד דנפקי כולהו ואכלא איהו לסעודתא הויא ההיא רביתא דהות קא מפקא ריפתא לעניא בחצבא איגלאי מלתא שפיוה דובשא ואוקמוה על איגר שורא אתא זיבורי ואכלוה והיינו דכתיב (בראשית יח, כ) ויאמר ה' זעקת סדום ועמורה כי רבה ואמר רב יהודה אמר רב על עיסקי ריבה

They had beds on which they would lay their guests; when a guest was longer than the bed they would cut him, and when a guest was shorter than the bed they would stretch him. Eliezer, servant of Abraham, happened to come there. They said to him: Come lie on the bed. He said to them: I took a vow that since the day my mother died I do not lie on a bed. When a poor person would happen to come to Sodom, each and every person would give him a dinar, and the name of the giver was written on each dinar. And they would not give or sell him bread, so that he could not spend the money and would die of hunger. When he would die, each and every person would come and take his dinar. This is what the people of Sodom stipulated among themselves: Whoever invites a man to a wedding, his cloak will be removed. There was this wedding, and Eliezer, servant of Abraham, arrived there and they did not give him bread. When he sought to dine, Eliezer came and sat at the end, behind everyone. They said to him: Who invited you to here? He said to the one sitting next to him: You invited me. That man said to himself: Perhaps they will hear that I invited him and they will remove the garment of that man, referring to himself. The one who sat next to him took his cloak and ran outside. And likewise, Eliezer did the same for all of them until they all left, and he ate the meal. There was a young woman who would take bread out to the poor people in a pitcher so the people of Sodom would not see it. The matter was revealed, and they smeared her with honey and positioned her on the wall of the city, and the hornets came and consumed her. And that is the meaning of that which is written: “And the Lord said: Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great [rabba]” (Genesis 18:20). And Rav Yehuda says that Rav says: Rabba is an allusion to the matter of the young woman [riva].

Comments and Questions

This midrash includes the use of one more word – ” זעקת ” – “cry” to form its midrash. Also note that this is a purely Babylonian telling of the story. We know this because it is told in Babylonian Aramaic.

  1. Compare and contrast this telling of the story with the previous story.
  2. What is the sin of the Sodomites according to this story?

Midrash 3

This version comes from Pirke deRabbi Eliezer. This is a later midrash which is different in form from the midrash in Bereishit Rabbah. That midrash is closely linked to textual interpretation. This midrash takes on more of the form of a retelling of the story. There are some who speculate that this midrash was influenced by the Moslem style of telling stories making it a midrash edited after the Moslem conquest of Eretz Israel.

(ד) ר' זעירא אומ' עשירי שלוה היו אנשי סדום מן הארץ הטמאה הטובה והשמנה שהיו יושבים עליה, שכל שצריך לעולם היו מוציאין ממנה זהב היו מוציאין ממנו שנאמר ועפרות זהב לו כסף היו מוציאין ממנה שנאמר כי יש לכסף מוצא אבנים טובות היו מוציאין ממנה שנאמר מקום ספיר אבניה לחם היו מוציאין ממנה שנאמר ארץ ממנה יצא לחם ולא בטחו בצל יוצרם אלא על רוב עשרם והעושר דוחה את בעליו מיראת שמים שנאמר הבוטחים על חילם.

(ה) ר' נתנאל אומר אנשי סדום לא חסו על כבוד קונם לשבור אוכל לאורח ולגר אלא סבבו את כל האילנות למעלה מפירותיהם כדי שלא יהיו מסורין אפילו לעוף השמים שנאמר נתיב לא ידעו עיט.

(ו) ר' יהושע בן קרחא אומ' הקימו עליהם שופטים שופטי שקר וכל אורח וגר שהיו נכנסים לסדום היו עושקים אותם בדינים ולוקחים ממנו המעות ומוציאין אותם ערומים שנאמר ואת הגר עשקו בלא משפט.

(ז) והיו יושבין בטח שאנן ושלו בלי פחד מלחמה מכל סביבותם שנאמר בתיהם שלום מפחד. והיו שבעים בכל תבואות הארץ ולא הוחזק ידם בפת לא לעני ולא לאביון שנאמר הנה זה היה חטאת סדום אחותיך גאון שבעתי לחם וכו'.

(ח) ר' יהודה אומר, הכריזו בסדום כל מי שהוא מחזיק בפת לחם עני ואביון ישרף באש פליטת בתו של לוט היתה נשואה לאחד מגדולי העיר וראתה עני אחד מדקדק ברחוב העיר ועגמה נפשה עליו שנאמר עגמה נפשי לאביון מה עשתה בכל יום היתה יוצאה לשאוב היתה נותנת בכד שלה מכל מזון ביתה ומאכלת לאותו עני אמרו אנשי סדום העני הזה מאין הוא חי וכשידעו בדבר הוציאו אותה להשרף אמרה רבון כל העולמים עשה משפטי ודיני מאנשי סדום ועלתה צעקתה לפני כסא הכבוד באותה שעה אמר הב"ה ארדה נא ואראה אם כצעקת הנערה הזאת עשו אנשי סדום אהפוך יסודותיה למעלה ופניה למטה שנאמר ארדה נא ואראה הכצעקתה הבאה אלי עשו כלה הכצעקתם אין כתיב כאן אלא הכצעקתה.

(ט) וכן הוא אומר (משלי יג כ) הולך את חכמים יחכם, למה הוא דומה לאדם שהוא נכנס לבית המרקחים אף על פי שלא לקח ולא נתן ריח טוב לקח ויצא כך כל מי שהוא מהלך עם הצדיקים לוקח מדרכיהם וממעשיהם הטובים לכך נאמר ורועה כסילים ירוע.

(י) ד"א הולך את חכמים יחכם זה לוט שהיה הולך עם אברהם אבינו עליו השלום ולמד מדרכיו וממעשיו הטובים אמר מה עשה אברהם אבינו עליו השלום עשה ביתו בית קבול לחרן וכל מי שהוא נכנס ויצא היה מקבלו ומאכילו ומשקיהו ואומר להם אמרו אחד הוא אלהי אברהם בעולם וכשבא לוט כך היה עושה וכיון שהכריזו בסדום כל מי שהוא מחזיק בידו בפת לחם לעני ולאביון ישרף באש והיה מתיירא מאנשי העיר מעשות יום ויעש לילה שנאמר ויבאו שני המלאכים סדומה בערב ולוט יושב בשער סדום ולמה היו יושב בשער סדום אלא שהיה מתיירא מאנשי העיר מעשות יומם וראה שני המלאכים מהלכים ברחוב העיר והיה סבור שהם אורחי הארץ ורץ לקראתם אמ' להם בואו ולינו בתוך ביתי ואכלו ושתו לכו לדרככם לשלום ולא קבלו האנשים עליהם והחזיק בידם שלא ברצונם לתוך ביתו שנאמר ויפצר בם מאד.

(יא) ראה אותם אחד מאנשי העיר ורץ והגיד לכל אנשי העיר ונקבצו כלם אל פתח הבית לעשות כמנהגם משכב זכור כנשים, שנאמר ויקראו אל לוט ויאמרו לו. ומה עשה לוט, כשם שנתן משה נפשו תחת העם כך נתן לו את שתי בנותיו תחת שני המלאכים שנאמר הנה לי שתי בנות ולא קבלו עליהם אנשי העיר. מה עשו להם המלאכים הכו אותם בעורון עד שעלה עמוד השחר וכשם שהחזיק לוט בידיו של המלאכים והכניסם לתוך ביתו כך החזיקו בידו וביד אשתו וביד שתי בנותיו והוציאו אותם מחוץ לעיר שנאמר ויתמהמה ויחזיקו האנשים אמ' להם אל תביטו לאחוריכם שהרי ירדה שכינתו של הב"ה להמטיר על סדום ועל עמורה גפרית ואש עירית אשתו של לוט נכמרו רחמה על בנותיה הנשואות והביטה לאחריה לראות אם הולכות אחריה אם לא (וראת אחרי) [וראתה אחריה] השכינה ונעשית נציב מלח, שנאמר ותבט אשתו מאחריו ותהי נציב מלח:

(4) Rabbi Ẓe'era said: The men of Sodom were the wealthy men of prosperity, on account of the good and fruitful land whereon they dwelt. For every need which the world requires, they obtained therefrom. They procured gold therefrom, as it is said, "And it had dust of gold" (Job xxviii. 6). What is the meaning (of the text), "And it had dust of gold"? At the hour when one of them wished to buy a vegetable, he would say to his servant, Go and purchase for me (for the value of) an assar. He went and bought (it), and found beneath it heaps of gold; thus it is written, "And it had dust of gold" (ibid.). They obtained silver therefrom, as it is said, "Surely there is a mine for silver" (ibid. 1). They procured precious stones and pearls thence, as it is said, || "The stones thereof are the place of sapphires" (ibid. 6). They obtained bread therefrom, as it is said, "As for the earth, out of it cometh bread" (ibid. 5). But they did not trust in the shadow of their Creator, but (they trusted) in the multitude of their wealth, for wealth thrusts aside its owners from the fear of Heaven, as it is said, "They that trust in their wealth" (Ps. xlix. 6).

(5) Rabbi Nathaniel said: The men of Sodom had no consideration for the honour of their Owner by (not) distributing food to the wayfarer and the stranger, but they (even) fenced in all the trees on top above their fruit so that they should not be seized; (not) even by the bird of heaven, as it is said, "That path no bird of prey knoweth" (Job xxviii. 7).

(6) Rabbi Joshua, son of Ḳorchah, said: They appointed over themselves judges who were lying judges, and they oppressed every wayfarer and stranger who entered Sodom by their perverse judgment, and they sent them forth naked, as it is said, "They have oppressed the stranger without judgment" (Ezek. xxii. 29).

(7) They were dwelling in security without care and at ease, without the fear of war from all their surroundings, as it is said, "Their houses are safe from fear" (Job xxi. 9). They were sated with all the produce of the earth, but they did not strengthen with the loaf of bread either the hand of the needy or of the poor, as it is said, "Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom; pride, fulness of bread, and prosperous ease was in her and in her daughters; neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy" (Ezek. xvi. 49). ||

(8) Rabbi Jehudah said: They made a proclamation in Sodom (saying): Everyone who strengthens the hand of the poor or the needy with a loaf of bread shall be burnt by fire. Peleṭith, daughter of Lot, was wedded to one of the magnates of Sodom. She saw a certain very poor man in the street of the city, and her soul was grieved on his account, as it is said, "Was not my soul grieved for the needy?" (Job xxx. 25). What did she do? Every day when she went out to draw water she put in her bucket all sorts of provisions from her home, and she fed that poor man. The men of Sodom said: How does this poor man live? When they ascertained the facts, they brought her forth to be burnt with fire. She said: Sovereign of all worlds ! Maintain my right and my cause (at the hands of) the men of Sodom. And her cry ascended before the Throne of Glory. In that hour the Holy One, blessed be He, said: "I will now descend, and I will see" (Gen. xviii. 21) whether the men of Sodom have done according to the cry of this young woman, I will turn her foundations upwards, and the surface thereof shall be turned downwards.

Questions and Comments

  1. What is the textual impetus for this drasha?
  2. How does it differ from the previous drashot?
  3. IS its lesson the same or different from those above.
  4. What details does it change? What details does it add?

General Questions

  1. What conclusions can you draw about the evolution of midrashic ideas from comparing these texts?
  2. What is the relationship between these variations?


Your insights into this set of midrashim were quite insightful. You plainly saw that the theme that was found in the first midrash in Bereishit Rabbah was developed in the two later sources in most creative ways. The textual jumping off point for all these midrashim focused on two words: 1. “its cry” – which the midrash understands as “her cry”, namely the outcry of the “young woman”. Where did the young woman come from? 2. the word “rabbah” has the same consonants as the word “ribah” which means “young woman” Now we have all of the basic components needed to turn to define the sin of Sodom into a heart wrenching economic crime. This is exactly what we see in the Bereishit Rabbah midrash where one young girls compassion for her friend is answered by communal cruelty.

This them is embellished in the Talmud Bavli’s version. I gave you here a little additional material to see how the Bavli plays with the theme but the bottom line is that the story of the compassionate young woman is the same but is played out a little differently. Her altruism is for a poor man in this version and her punishment is played out differently but the same textual impetus is at play. In other words, in Babylonia they knew the same basic midrash and simply used it with their own trimmings. I am not sure I see things in this story that I can identify as particularly Babylonian historical themes – such conclusions would require more than speculation.

The third story which is the latest is the most detailed telling. It gives the woman a name and an identity. It provides background for the episode. It spells out the themes of the story in a way that is only alluded to in the first two versions even though the Bavli alludes to these ideas in its parodies. It does not spell out the woman’s fate perhaps wanted to leave it open especially since her name spells out that she is a “refuge”.

In all of these stories, the crime of the Sodomites is economic. The people lack compassion for the needy and helpless. There is a sense of human Darwinism. The rabbis want to make it quite clear that such behavior is criminal. The Bavli makes a farce of people that think this way. As some of you have noted. This may be why Eliezer can ridicule them.

Why make drashot like these? I think it is because it is very easy for people to fall prey to this kind of “Sodom” behavior. These stories were intended to make people realize that this kind of behavior is horrible and will have terrible consequences for those who adopt it.