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Jewish World Review
Nov. 14, 2008
/ 16 Mar-Cheshvan 5769
The Power of Spiritual Inertia
Rabbi A. Henach Leibowitz
A lesson from Sodom about a psychological factor that affects our thinking and must be reckoned with when we try to make honest
assessments and decisions
He seemed like a jester in the eyes of his sons-in-law.
The angels, chronicles the Torah, warned Lot that Sodom would
be destroyed and that he should escape to the hills with
his family. When Lot told his sons-in-law the news and
begged them to flee with him, they did not take him seriously, according to the Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 50:9).
"The city is filled with laughter, song and happiness; how
can you say that it will be overturned?", is how they replied.
The sons-in-law's retort to Lot is bizarre, not
so much for what they said, but for what they did not.
did not mock Lot for believing that an all powerful G-d could utterly destroy their
city in an instant. It seems from the Midrash that they did believe in the Almighty and they understood that it was within His power to overturn Sodom. They merely could not believe
that such a merry city, its streets filled with the sounds of laughter and music, could ever be silenced.
But what difference
did the merry atmosphere in the city make? Why did laughter
in the air convince Lot's sons-in-law that the Divine would not destroy
The Midrash is exposing a weakness inherent in all humans;
we find it hard to believe that our status quo will ever change.
Even though the sons-in-law believed that their destruction was
theoretically possible and even though their very lives were at
stake they rejected his life-saving advice because they could
not believe that their wonderful situation would ever change.
This is an amazingly strong psychological factor that affects our
thinking and must be reckoned with when we try to make honest
assessments and decisions.
Too often we also trap ourselves in the cage
of our present situation both for good and for bad. When life
is going well for us, when our families are
healthy and we can pay our bills, we sometimes
forget that the next minute we could
receive a phone call from our doctor or a message from our employer
that could suddenly turn our world upside-down. We
sometimes forget that nothing is guaranteed to us. We must appreciate
the Source of our success and realize that He is granting
us these blessings anew, every second of the day.
Conversely, when things are not so rosy, we must constantly
strengthen ourselves to turn to Him in prayer, firm in our belief
that G-d can instantaneously change things for the better.
Every morning in their prayers Jews quote King David (Psalms 30:6),
"In the evening one lies down weeping, but with the dawn a
cry of joy!" If we fail to focus on the fact that life can improve
for us, we will drown in the quagmire of depression and despair
the lifeline just within reach, yet never seized.
Let us not allow the "static" of our situation to interfere with
our reception of any messages broadcast to us from Above. Lot's sons-in-law were too absorbed in their merry status quo and
could not tune in to receive the heavenly warning that would
have saved their lives. We can learn from their fatal mistake: in
good times, to be grateful and appreciative to the Divine for all He
bestows upon us; in dark times, to be optimistic for a better future,
hopeful for the Almighty's salvation that comes "in the blink of
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One of America's senior Torah sages, Rabbi A. Henach Leibowitz has been the dean of the Rabbinical Seminary of America, in Queens, New York for more than 50 years. The institution has branches and affiliates all across North America and Israel.
This article was prepared by two of the sage's disciples, Rabbi Aryeh Striks and Rabbi Shimon Zehnwirth, and excerpted from the just released book, "Pinnacle of Creation: Torah insights into human nature".
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© 2007, Mesorah Publications, Ltd.