By the time God includes Avraham in the deliberations, the fate of Sodom has already been sealed. Or has it? God’s almost certain that the people of this city are so wicked that the city deserves to be destroyed. But before pulling the trigger, as it were, God has to check things out one last time: “I will go down to see whether they have acted altogether according to the outcry that has reached Me; if not, I will take note” (Genesis 18:21).
Since one of the primary purposes of a religious life is the emulation of Divine behavior, what’s called in Latin Imitatio Dei, what exactly is the practical lesson we’re supposed to apply when following in God’s path here? Here are two short options, one from Rashi (1040-1105), and the other from Sa’adiah Gaon (882-942). What’s the subtle difference between these two interpretations?
1. Rashi–“I will go down to see” teaches judges that they may not conclude capital cases without testimony (literally, seeing).
2. Sa’adiah–“I will go down” means I will bring down a command to frighten.
If Rashi understands this as Divine guidance for the prosecution of justice, how does Sa’adiah see it? The prosecution of war, perhaps?
We’ll use this text to trigger a discussion about the Jewish approach to war ethics, a fitting topic to explore on Veterans’ Shabbat!
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wise