Skip to main content

Greater Than the Sum of its Parts - Parashat Vayera 5780, November 15, 2019

In this week’s parasha, VaYera, Avraham Avinu is told of Hashem’s plan to destroy Sedom and its four sister cities. The Torah describes these cities as places of decrepit morals populated by denizens of corrupt values.

The Torah recounts that Avraham asked Hashem to preserve the cities on account of the 
tzaddikim – the righteous people – who lived in the cities. Avraham inquires whether Hashem would destroy the cities if there were 50 righteous people. Hashem responds that He would not. Avraham then inquires whether Hashem would destroy the cities if there were 45 righteous people. Hashem responds that He would not. Avraham then inquires about 40, 30, 20 or even 10 righteous people. Hashem responds that in any of these cases, He would not cause destruction.

chachamim address a number of issues related to this interaction between Avraham and Hashem. One question that they address is why Avraham chose to inquire about 50, 45, 40, 30, 20 then 10 righteous people. What was Avraham’s logic?

On our passage, Rashi comments that 50 righteous people represented 10 for each of the five cities. Ramban interprets Rashi to mean that Avraham’s first request was to preserve each of the five cities only if there were 10 righteous people per city. Avraham’s next inquiry concerned 45 righteous people – this request was to preserve each of the cities if there were nine righteous people per city with the Almighty Himself being counted as the tenth. Avraham then inquired about 40, 30, 20 and 10. With these requests, Avraham inquired whether individual cities would be saved if they each contained 10 righteous people. He inquired as to whether Hashem would preserve four, three, two or even one of the cities on account of its 10 
tzaddikim. This interpretation suggests that 10 righteous individuals create a merit for a society. However, Rashi does not explain what merit is created by 10 tzaddikim.

We know that a 
minyan is comprised of 10. The Torah calls ten people an eyda – a congregation. Ten people comprise a substantive group – a whole more than the sum of its parts. Apparently, the preservation of these wicked cities required the influence of a

righteous group. The presence of individual righteous people would not suffice to help the city change its nature. Even the presence of nine individuals with the Almighty being counted as the tenth was not sufficient. For this reason, Hashem agreed to preserve each individual city on the condition that a righteous group was present to help the city turn away from evil.

Groups influence people in ways that individuals cannot. The pervasive influences of the ambient culture. The power of group-think. The influence of a Jewish Day School, Yeshiva Gedola or Kollel on a city or on the individual members of the community. The influence of Shuls. The influence of other Jewish institutions. All are examples of the positive influence of a group on its individuals. We should certainly seek out righteous friends and neighbors. However, when we associate with righteous groups, we are influenced on a different level and with a qualitatively different power. Through Avraham’s inquiry we learn about the critical importance of associating not only with righteous individuals but with righteous groups.


Popular posts from this blog

Dwelling Securely - Parashat Behar 5779, May 24, 2019

Our seventh and eighth grade students returned this past week from the ten-day Junior High Israel Experience program. Mrs. Anat Kampf, Chazzan Ricky Kampf and I were honored to chaperone this inaugural program, and, on behalf of the students, we are very thankful to the parents, to the community and Lemsky Fund for their support of this endeavor.
Our students soaked up the land, the people and the Torah of Eretz Yisrael. At school, we learn Torah. In Israel, we experienced the Torah. At school we learn about the impact and significance of the State of Israel. In Israel, we experienced the geography, history and people of the State of Israel. In school, we learn Ivrit. In Israel, we spoke Ivrit.
Our students experienced the breadth and depth of the land. They had both an urban experience – sleeping in Yerushalayim for six days – and a more pastoral experience – sleeping in Kibbutz Lavi. They visited sites of destruction and death that now have renewed vitality and significance – the Ko…

The Antidote to Arrogance - Parshat Tazria 5779 - April 5, 2019

This and next week’s parshiyot are called torat hanegaim – the laws related to tzara’at – the Divine Punishment of an “eruption” – a nega – on the home, clothing and/or skin. Tzara'at is not a naturally occurring disease in the sense that its cause is not exposure to disease nor is it communicable. Rather, tzara'at is a Divine Punishment brought on by sin. Rashi explains that this punishment is prominently associated with two sins - lashon hara – sins of speech – and gasot haruach – arrogance.

Some averot – like not eating kosher food or having illicit relationships – typically stem from physical desire. Others – such as not believing in the existence of G-d – can stem from a philosophical mistake. But averot like lashon hara and gasot haruach are members of a unique class of sins. These are sins that stem from a character flaw – a problem in the person’s personality.

In next week’s parasha, Rashi teaches a foundational principle about tzara'at: the process of atonement fo…

Accepting Guidance - Parashat Shemini 5779 - March 29, 2019

This week’s parasha, Shemini, deals with the eighth and final day of the inauguration of the mishkan.
At the beginning of the parasha, the Torah presents a list of korbanot – sacrifices – that are to be offered on this inauguration day. Two of these sacrifices include a command for Aharon to bring a calf as a sin offering and for the People of Israel to bring a goat as a sin offering. Rav Matis Blum, in his sefer, Torah Le’Daat, discusses why, on the final day of the dedication of the mishkan, there was a command to offer not one, but two, sin offerings – Aharon’s calf and B’nei Yisrael’s goat.
Maimonides, in his Guide to the Perplexed, suggests reasons why specific animals were commanded to be offered in the mishkan and in the beit hamikdash. In discussing the calf and the goat as sin offerings, HaRambam explains that each of these animals has an association with a previous sin of the Jewish People. The Rambam suggests that the calf is connected to the sin of the Golden Calf. On this …