How can I use this label of contempt, “Sodomite,” against the President?
The Bible tells the story of the city of Sodom, destroyed by a Flood of Fire for its sins. (Gen. 18-19)
What was the sin of Sodom? Almost all Jewish commentary on the story makes clear that the sin of Sodom was not rampant homosexuality (as much of Christian tradition suggests) but rampant rage and violence toward foreigners, immigrants, and the poor.
That line of thought began with the Prophet Ezekiel (16:49-50) who said: “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.” This understanding has continued in rabbinic thought for two thousand years, till our own day.
There is another strand in the story: what might be called the sin of Lot. He was Abraham’s nephew, an immigrant to Sodom who like his uncle held as a high value the welcoming of foreigners as guests.
Faced with a mob of Sodomites enraged that Lot had made his home a nest of immigrants and refugees, Lot offered his own daughters to be raped by the mob, in order to calm their rage against his foreign guests.
At first and second and third reading of Lot’s offer to let the mob rape his daughters if they will leave his foreign guests unharmed. we are horrified. Horrified that in order to protect the foreigners he is willing to sacrifice and destroy his own family.
This is exactly Sodom turned upside down. The citizens of Sodom who surrounded Lot’s house and threatened to rape or kill him and his guests are so obsessed with protecting their own city, their own jobs, their own culture that they are willing to wreak havoc upon foreigners.
Lot, on the other hand, is so obsessed with protecting his guests that he is willing to wreak havoc on his own family.
Neither of these is a just or sacred solution to the tensions that often erupt between some "natives" and some "immigrants."
According to the story, once it becomes clear that not even ten just and decent people live in this hate-filled town, the Divine Breath of Life, the Wind of Change, becomes a Burning Hyper-Hurricane -- so incensed at Sodom’s hatred of outsiders that the city is destroyed.
Lot survives, but his lot is not so pleasant. His wife dies as collateral damage in the disaster. The daughters whom he had offered up as mere objects think that all the other men in the world have died in the Flood of Fire. So they turn Lot into an object – just as he had treated them -- by getting him drunk to make him father their children. Another kind of rape!
In the midst of this ugly story, does the Torah have any suggestion as to what a decent outcome might have been?
It does, in the bargaining between God and Abraham over whether Sodom should be destroyed in the first place.
In the underlying argument over whether to protect one's own city and own family at the cost of shattering the lives of immigrants and outsiders, or to protect the outsiders at the cost of shattering one’s own city, one's own family – – the famous tension between "particularism" and "universalism" – – Abraham’s challenge to God hints at a resolution.
And this is exactly what the Torah says God has in mInd. For God begins the process by letting Abraham in on the secret plan to punish the crimes of Sodom -- wiping out the city.
Why has God singled out Abraham? According to the Torah, precisely because God sees Abraham as both the progenitor of a sacred people and the bearer of blessings to all peoples.
And Abraham responds! -- by validating God’s Calling on him to become a blessing to all the families, peoples, cultures of the world. Abraham tries to protect and defend even this nasty foreign city. "What about the decent, innocent folk who live in Sodom? Should the innocent be punished with the guilty? Is that what justice means? Shall not the Judge of all the world do justice?"
The Abraham who is to be the progenitor of a “particular” community -- Yisrael, the "Godwrestling" folk, the Jewish people. – is the same Abraham who tries to protect a foreign city from God’s wrath.
This resolution does not call for a "balance" between the “particularism” of defending one’s own and the “universalism” of defending the others. Rather, it calls for a synthesis. The "particularist" hero becomes the "universalist" prophet. The "universalist" prophet becomes the "particularist" hero.
Each role, taken on in full commitment, empowers and enriches the other role. Or rather, they are one role, not two, not “other.”
Today, we face a White House that commits the “sodomite” sin of hating and subjugating foreigners, the poor, outsiders -- in order to benefit Ezekiel’s “arrogant, overfed and unconcerned.“ And this “sodomite” White House finds support from a social current that fears that “our city, “our jobs, “our culture,” “our family” will be shattered for the sake of Lot’s love of foreigners.
And we also house some who cannot listen to those who fear that our own home-grown family is being raped to nurture foreign guests.
How do we resolve this collision in the spirit of the Torah’s tale?
Open our ears to the pain at the heart of both positions.
And imagine a resolution that looks beyond collision. For example, our rich United States could invest in grass-roots prosperity creation in Mexico and Central America, through “maximum feasible decision-making” by Ezekiel’s “poor and needy” in making their own societies life-giving and abundant. Making it unnecessary for them to flee their own homes and neighbors and culture to the US for the sake of calm neighborhoods, of decent schools, of honorable and well-rewarded work.
Of course that will mean paying for these investments by increasing taxes on Ezekiel’s “arrogant, overfed and unconcerned” in the US. Of course it will mean importing far fewer peons desperate to work on profit-hungry US corporate farms at despicable wages and working conditions.
And of course it will mean taking to heart that if we let our country be consumed, like Sodom, with fiery hatred of outsiders, we will bring fiery destruction on our own heads.
Is it mere magical thinking to imagine that hatred of foreigners could bring a Flood of Fire on our own country?
Not magic, not at all. For the President’s Sodomite effort to inflame fear, contempt, and hatred of immigrants is the same attitude that inflames fear, contempt, and hatred for the people of North Korea – and threatens to engulf them in “fire and fury.” Would this Fire stop there?
And if we take the story as a serious teaching, it is also warning us not to behave like Lot by subjecting “our own” family, our own community, to humiliation and despair for the sake of “others.” If we behave like Lot in that way, we are liable to suffer as he did when some of “our own” turn bitterly against us and against the immigrants they think we are lifting up above our “daughters.” . Only by reaching beyond this seeming contradiction can we calm the fury that shocked us in Charlottesville.
So as Jews, and as Christians, and as Muslims; as Hindus, Buddhists, and Indigenes; and as Americans, we must learn to embody in one body our inward hearts and outward eyes.
Hear this, every people: your own unique way of breathing is a necessary part of the universal breath. The breath of many lives is the Breath of Life, and the Breath of Life is ONE.
With blessings of shalom, salaam, peace, paz -- Arthur