The Boiling Point

DVAR TORAH: Goodness is a commandment, not an option


Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Email This Story






BP Drawing by Caroline Edry

By Sharon Khalil, 11th grade

Recently in my Tanach class with Rabbi Schwarzberg, we debated the following question: Is not doing good, while not being bad, a sin? We were discussing this in the context of the story of S’dom, a city God intended to destroy for its people’s sins. Most people are familiar with the story of Avraham and welcoming three strangers into his home, but many are not very familiar with the narrative that follows.

Three angels arrive at the city of S’dom, and Lot is quick and eager to invite them to stay in his home. The people of S’dom then come and say to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them to us and we will get to know them.”

What does “get to know them” mean?

The Hebrew in the verse is v’ned’a otam. Rashi, the Ibn Ezra and Rashbam all interpret this to mean rape or sodomy. The Ramban, however, takes a different approach, saying that the sin of S’dom was actually the people’s failure to help the needy, poor and vulnerable.

Ramban’s interpretation implies that not doing the righteous thing is as bad as or worse than doing that bad act, or at least it warrants the same response from God. At first I thought this couldn’t be true. How could God wipe out a city just because they kept to themselves? Surely they must have done something terrible.

Thinking about this, I noticed a possible answer in Parshat Kedoshim. In Kedoshim, Hashem lists a number of mitzvot for Bnei Yisrael to take upon themselves, several of which have to do with chesed, or acts of kindness. God says you should not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor and you should love your neighbor as you love yourself.

When we are kids we are taught that all these things are good deeds that we should do. They are mitzvot, and a mitzvah is a good deed. But a mitzvah really holds so much more strength.

A mitzvah is a commandment from God, and in Parshat Kedoshim God explicitly commands us to help others
and be kind to them. This establishes that doing the right thing or being charitable is not just something that is preferable, it is something you ought to do.

So the people of S’dom may not have been terrible for allowing others to hurt, but they definitely weren’t innocent either.

A person may do everything right halachically – keep Shabbat, keep kosher, daven three times a day, and so on – but still not be a religious person. Such a person forgets that kindness, too, is a commandment, and it is one that is so important.

You have to remember the purpose and meaning behind your actions, to help other people and to be the best person that you can in actions towards others. This principle runs throughout the Torah, in Bereishit and Vayikra and every place in between. It is a cornerstone of our understanding of God’s will, and of our religion.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Comment

If you want a picture to show with your comment, go get a gravatar.




*

Navigate Right
Navigate Left
  • DVAR TORAH: Goodness is a commandment, not an option

    Torah

    Teachers using ‘daf aleph’ give students a chance to check in

  • DVAR TORAH: Goodness is a commandment, not an option

    Torah

    MINIMESTERS 2018: Short electives explore anti-semitism, women’s law and more to combat senioritis

  • DVAR TORAH: Goodness is a commandment, not an option

    Torah

    Can it be for God when it’s for a grade?

  • DVAR TORAH: Goodness is a commandment, not an option

    Torah

    The chametz in your closet: Mitzvot of Pesach in an age of freedom

  • DVAR TORAH: Goodness is a commandment, not an option

    Torah

    Spotlight on Sephardic community with new Torah dedication

  • DVAR TORAH: Goodness is a commandment, not an option

    Torah

    PURIM: At the crossroads of chance and fate

  • DVAR TORAH: Goodness is a commandment, not an option

    Torah

    Under twinkling lights, Green Team offers learning, food from garden and live performances for Tu B’Shvat

  • DVAR TORAH: Goodness is a commandment, not an option

    Torah

    Parshat Bo: The message of a hardened heart

  • DVAR TORAH: Goodness is a commandment, not an option

    Torah

    Institute event explores power imbalance, modesty ‘in the age of #MeToo’

  • DVAR TORAH: Goodness is a commandment, not an option

    Torah

    School replaces aging Artscroll siddurim with new Koren-Sacks

Shalhevet news online: When we know it, you'll know it
DVAR TORAH: Goodness is a commandment, not an option