“Abraham came forward and said, ”Will you sweep away the
innocent along with the guilty?” (Genesis 18:23)
A theodicy is a defense of God’s goodness and greatness despite the existence of evil and suffering in the world. It’s a fancy word that addresses the eternal question of why bad things happen, often to good people. Parashat Vayera offers an interesting perspective on the concept.
When Abraham learns God intends to destroy Sodom and Gemorah, he challenges that decision. Abraham asserts it is unjust to destroy the righteous along with the wicked, and negotiates a settlement with God: a minimum of ten righteous people will save the city from destruction. Abraham makes the case the righteous shouldn’t suffer but God goes even farther: the wicked will be spared because of the merit of the righteous. Unfortunately for everyone involved, no minyan (a quorum of ten) is found, and the entire society is destroyed.
Hurricane Sandy surely felt like the end of the world to many and no doubt there are some who will interpret its destructive power as God’s punishment for a host of sins. Still, there is no satisfying explanation for why so many people, good or bad, suffered this past week. Vayera’s lesson is not that bad things don’t happen. Rather, Vayera reminds us we each bear individual responsibility to mitigate injustice, pain, and suffering whenever we see it, however we can. While no one could prevent Hurricane Sandy’s damage, the offers of shelter and food and other assistance coming from JCCs across the region (and beyond) are inspiring and as significant as Abraham speaking truth to power to “keep God honest.”
Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom