by Rabbi Myer Kripke
Our Sidrah is startling and unusual. It includes the destruction of the wicked cities of Sodom and Gemorah. The Sacred Text identifies the source of the wickedness of the cities as inhospitable behavior on the part of its residents.
There is, however, the issue of men’s willingness and his right to question God. Is he a righteous God, a just God? Is he a sensitive and understanding God?
There is an unconcealed impudence in man’s questioning of God. Here are these two wicked cities where wickedness is specifically identified, but is there not a larger impudence in man’s questioning of God? Does God have the right to destroy two cities, and all the people in them? To bring down brimstone and fire?
It has been called a “glorious impudence” for it recognizes mankind’s humility before God, but it is not humility of total silence. Man has the right to question whether God’s power, limitless power, allows him to destroy the wicked cities without a trial. He is the prosecuting attorney, and he is the Judge. What gives Him the right? Has there been a proper examination of the principals involved, has God listened to mankind and made a just decision?
Man is humble, powerless, and yielding. Man’s impudence helps us understand the relationship between Man and God. For Man is impudent from one viewpoint only: he has no power against God, and still he has the right to question and intrude on God’s decisions.
There is a fascinating bargaining between Abraham and God. Abraham questions: “If there are 50 righteous people among the wicked, will you destroy them?”
And God answers: “No, of course not.”
Abraham continues: “How about 45? How about 40? 35?”
Until he gets to ten.
God does not consider this a matter of Abraham sticking his nose in affairs that are not his business. God realizes Abraham is trying to make sure the decision to destroy is thought through as a righteous decision. Our Sidrah is a lesson to see justice as apparent impudence. In every century and every generation we have to question whether there is justice or not. God’s limitless power must be accepted, but it is not immune to examination and questioning.
Man is not simply a piece of dust, of nothingness before God. If this is really impudence, it is a glorious one.