Shabbat VaYera: Community

Sodom and Gomorrah was a community too…

תָּנֵי רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן בֶּן יוֹחָאי, מָשָׁל לִבְנֵי אָדָם שֶׁהָיוּ יוֹשְׁבִין בִּסְפִינָה נָטַל אֶחָד מֵהֶן מַקְדֵּחַ וְהִתְחִיל קוֹדֵחַ תַּחְתָּיו, אָמְרוּ לוֹ חֲבֵרָיו מַה אַתָּה יוֹשֵׁב וְעוֹשֶׂה, אָמַר לָהֶם מָה אִכְפַּת לָכֶם לֹא תַחְתִּי אֲנִי קוֹדֵחַ, 

Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai taught a parable: People were on a ship. One took a drill and started drilling underneath their seat. The others said: What are you doing?! The reply: What do you care. Is this not underneath my area that I am drilling?!  

– VaYikra Rabbah 4.6

Does your community help you find light in darkness?

Does your community expand your understanding of what it is to care?

Does your community offer you support when you can’t go it alone?

We all need it as a natural condition of human existence. What is it, then, that makes human community so difficult? Is it the devastating flood of the evil we do, or the babel of misunderstandings as we each seek the language of our personal identity? Is it exterior forces that dominate us, or is it our own incompleteness that makes us feel overwhelmed? Is it that we follow the wrong leader, or that we don’t let ourselves learn?

In the parashat hashavua this week we see Sarah establishing her household in a grove of trees, representing a certain kind of community – it takes a forest. Yet she sees clearly when a situation of too many conflicting needs must be resolved. Abraham sits alone in his tent, but recognizes multiplicity in the holiness he encounters when three strangers bring him one holy word. 

What the philosopher Emanuel Levinas called the “difficult balance” between freedom and belonging, between loneliness and the search for others with whom one can feel safe, is a lifelong effort. In this parashah, Abraham’s brother Lot chooses to join a community in which he may be safe, but is not safe for all. Behind his securely locked door he can pretend not to see that which is done with his tax dollars, but when the community’s evil destroys it, he no longer has a door at all.

הוּא הָיָה אוֹמֵר, אַל תְּהִי בָז לְכָל אָדָם, וְאַל תְּהִי מַפְלִיג לְכָל דָּבָר, שֶׁאֵין לְךָ אָדָם שֶׁאֵין לוֹ שָׁעָה וְאֵין לְךָ דָבָר שֶׁאֵין לוֹ מָקוֹם

Ben Azzai used to say: do not despise any one, and do not discriminate against anything, for there is no one that does not have their hour, and there is no thing that does not have its place.  (Pirke Avot 4.3)

What community are you a part of? How does it help you to find your distinct language of existence, and with whom do you share enough of that language to feel safe, at least for today? But that’s not enough, we’ve learned – now, apply the Sodom and Gomorrah test: is your safety sustainable? Or does it despise – ignore – certain people and ideas, to its own detriment?

On this Shabbat, take a step deeper into meaningful community. Discern what that means for you. Choose to accept the support offered you, and decide what resources you will offer of your own.  

And when you take that step, may you find to your delight that in seeking to answer your own need, you have become part of someone else’s answer to theirs.

That is the holy community we all deserve, and that we can build together – by sharing your holy light with that of others, we can learn to discern a good path.


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