Rabbi Oury Cherki

Devarim (Haftarah) - Like Sodom

Translated from Hebrew. Published at the Noahide World Center website and in Shabbat B'Shabbato.

The strong words in the prophecy of Isaiah, son of Amoz, which include the harshest phrases ever to be used against the Children of Israel in the entire Bible, reach the peak of their sting when the prophet compares the nation of Israel to Sodom and Gomorrah: “If the G-d of Hosts had not left us a tiny remnant, we would have been like Sodom, we could have been similar to Gomorrah” [1:9]. The sages note that the very fact that the nation is described in derogatory terms can lead to a greater fall. “Rabbi Shimon Ben Lakish said, and the same was taught in the name of Rabbi Yossi: No man should ever open his mouth to give hints for Satan. Rav Yosef said, what is the source for this? It is written, ‘We would have been like Sodom’. And what did the prophet say immediately afterwards? ‘Listen to the word of G-d, leaders of Sodom’ [1:10].” [Berachot 19a].

In the wake of the comparison, “like Sodom”, the people actually do take on the traits of the evil city: “Listen to the word of G-d, leaders of Sodom, hear the teachings of our G-d, people of Gomorrah” [1:10]. From this we see that no matter how justified the criticism is, we must try to talk in a way that lifts up the spirits of the listener and not the opposite. The Rambam writes: “If one sees a colleague commit a sin or going along a path that is not good, there is a positive mitzva to bring him back to doing good, as is written, ‘Reprimand your colleague’ [Leviticus 19:17]” [Hilchot Dei’ot 6:8].

However, even in a situation of terrible failure such as this, there is still hope. The gates of repentance remain open. “Wash yourselves, clean yourselves, and remove the evil of your ways from in front of your eyes, cease the evil” [1:16]. It seems that in addition to the regular call of the prophets for repentance, this is also a hint that just when the people are at their lowest level their independent purity and internal unique traits are revealed. Sin is no more than external dirt which can be removed by washing. At the same time, it is important to look at the sin itself after repenting, as part of the general plan of Creation. “Rabbi Yitzchak said: The Holy One, Blessed be He, said to Israel, If your sins will be as many as the number of years that have gone by since the six days of creation, they will all turn white as snow” [Shabbat 89b]. This is a hint of the messianic process, which began at Sodom. “‘I found my slave David’ [Psalms 89:21]; where did I find him? In Sodom” [Bereishit Rabba 41]. The goal of this process is to lift up everything that has fallen down and to return it to its holiness by understanding the meaning of sin as an integral part of the progress that takes place when moving from one generation to the next.

Let us look at the first word of this prophetic rebuke by Isaiah: “Chazon” – a vision. A chazon is the highest form of prophecy. And indeed a very high and very deep level is necessary in order to follow the wondrous processes by which the nation returns from its failures. A hint of this can be seen in the law that on the Ninth of Av we do not recite the “Tachanun” (the prayer after the Amidah), because the day is called a “holiday”. The salvation will well up from the greatest depths of our tribulations.