> Weekly Torah Portion > Beginner > 1 Minute Vort on the Parsha

Possession Obsession

Vayeira (Genesis 18-22 )

by Rabbi Eli Scheller

And Hashem said, "Because the outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah has become great, and because their sin has been very grave... (Gen. 18:20)

The people of Sodom were the richest in the world. Their soil was extremely fertile and they possessed natural resources of gold, silver and precious stones. In the selfish fear that their wealth might be diminished, they allowed no strangers in their country. Here are some of the laws they made:

  1. Anyone caught giving food to strangers shall be put to death.
  2. Any guest visiting Sodom is allowed to be robbed.
  3. If the guest is too tall for the guest bed, his legs shall be cut off. If he is too short then he shall be stretched out.
  4. A trip on the ferry across the river costs 4 coins, but if a person finds another way across he must pay 8 coins.
  5. Each individual has to watch the livestock of the whole city one day a year. However, a person who does not own animals has to spend two days a year watching the livestock.(1)

What was the reason for these interesting rules?

When a student moves into a dormitory, the school tries to accommodate him. If his bed is broken or he needs a dresser the school tries to provide it. A human being is intrinsically important, and therefore his needs are also considered important. However, in Sodom it was just the opposite; the material possessions were given utmost importance while the people themselves were trivial. The people had to accommodate the possessions. If someone was too tall or short for the bed, they had to make him fit - otherwise it was embarrassing for the bed! If someone didn't take the ferry across the river he had to pay double, since by finding another way across he had implied that the ferry was not important. If you didn't own an animal you had to watch over all of the animals two days a year, to convey the message: "Why don't you have an animal, are possessions not important to you?!"

Everything in the world was created to serve man. The car was made to help man get around, the house was made to provide shelter. When a person becomes overly involved in his car, house, or any other material possession, he is acting similarly to the people of Sodom. He is showing that the car itself is of intrinsic value. Similarly, if one refuses to allow people to walk on his carpet for fear 'maybe' it will get dirty, he is showing that the carpet is more important than man.(2)

Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman was once staying in the house of a wealthy man. One rainy day, as Rabbi Elchonon was nearing the house, he noticed that his boots were full of mud, and in order to avoid ruining his host's expensive rugs he went to use the side entrance. As he was entering the host noticed him and exclaimed, "You are destroying my home!" Rav Elchonon apologized, explaining why he was using the side entrance. The host said again, "You are destroying my home!" Then he explained, "My daughters see that a Rosh Yeshiva has to take the side entrance so as to not get some rugs dirty, they'll think that the rugs are more important than a Rosh Yeshivah! What will this teach them about Kavod Hatorah (the honor due the Torah)! Please go around and use the front entrance, with your dirty boots!" This message made a deep impression on the host's two daughters, who later on married the two Telshe Roshei Yeshivos.


1. Sanhedrin 109a.

2. R' Yaakov Eliezer Schwartzman.


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