15 Cheshvan 5771
Nov. 11-12, 2011
In this week’s Torah portion, we find God seeking to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, and Abraham negotiating with God as to the number of righteous persons living in the cities needed to justify not destroying them. Starting at 50, he eventually convinces God to not destroy the cities if there are 10 righteous persons living within them (a minyan). In the end, the cities could not produce even 10 righteous persons, and they were destroyed.
Abraham was willing to argue with God to save the lives of people he did not know.
While not the lesson traditionally gleaned from this Torah portion, which also includes the well-known story of the near sacrifice of Isaac, there is a powerful lesson with regards to the value and power of community contained within it.
Individual righteous actions are wonderful, but this Torah portion makes it pretty clear that even righteous individuals were not to be spared God’s wrath. Rather, only if there were at minimum a community of 10 such persons would God resist the temptation to destroy the cities.
We live in an era of hyper-individualization, despite the plethora of tools available to connect with others. In our society, self-fulfillment is king, and only after we ourselves are content do we begin thinking about the needs of others. Those of us who do find ways to give back often do so on an individual level, as many of our peers are still in the “self-fulfillment” mode, and are not interested in giving back when we are.
Given the emphasis placed on community in this week’s Torah portion, the question I need to ask is: What are we doing as a community to be righteous together?
Are we going out of our way to argue for those who maybe are not in a position to stand up for themselves?
Are we encouraging others to join us when we do acts that are considered righteous, such as community service?
Are we capable of putting aside selfish desires in favor of working towards the betterment of others?
The next time you’re inclined to do community service or a similar selfless activity, invite a large group of friends to join you. Make community building and communal involvement a central part of your personal Jewish journey. And never forget that while you are indeed important and special as an individual, you will never be more valued as an individual than when part of a community.