Who among us has not wanted to yell at the heavens for the injustice in our world?
Who among us has not questioned their faith in the Divine who created the heavens and the earth, and along with it so much suffering?
This week's parsha, Vayera, captures Abraham shaking some proverbial sense into G?D. In short, G?D sees the transgressions of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah and threatens to destroy the entire city. And Abraham engages in holy protest, a moment so important that the rabbis use it as a model for prayer, of crying out to the Holy One. He argues: "Are you really willing to sweep about the innocent with the guilty? Will you not save the city if I can find 50 righteous people? Will you not save it for 40 righteous people? 30? 20? 10?" At which point Abraham explodes in holy outrage:
חָלִ֣לָה לָּ֔ךְ הֲשֹׁפֵט֙ כָּל־הָאָ֔רֶץ לֹ֥א יַעֲשֶׂ֖ה מִשְׁפָּֽט
"Shame on you! Shall not the judge of all the earth deal justly!?" (Gen. 18:25).
The midrashic imagination transforms Abraham's cry into a profound ultimatum: "The judge of the whole earth shall not do justice. As if to say, God, if it is a world You want, then strict justice is impossible. And if it is strict justice You want, then a world is impossible" (Bereishit Rabbah 49:9).
About which Avivah Zornberg clarifies, "Absolute standards of justice cannot be realized in this world as God has created it. To adhere to such standards is to destroy the world; in order to build the world, hesed, the generous perception of alternative possibilities, is necessary" (Desire, 110).
In my own heart, I feel so much compassion for both renditions of Abraham's plea. On the one hand, I want to believe in a forgiving God who would do anything to save the lives of the people of Sodom. And I am willing to beg God to remember that we are all made in the image of the Divine. And on the other hand, I am ever frustrated with the limitations of human beings and the injustice we perpetuate. I, like Abraham, wonder if we are compatible with a world that is just and whole. Underneath both readings is a desire to live in a world full of love and justice. And the question trembles, is it possible? And how do we get there?
Rabbi Ari Lev
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Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari brings Torat Hayyim, a living tradition, to Kol Tzedek through thoughts about prayer, justice, and community.