The Sin of the People of Sodom - Materialism
Rabbi Eliezer Melamed
12 - The Laws of 'Brit Milah'
13 - Break Free from Materialism!
14 - Rabbi Goren and the Temple Mount
On the other hand, the life of the poor was considered valueless, and as a result, the Sodomites made sure the poor would die, or at the very least, disappear from their country. Consequently,anyone who gave charity to the poor was severely punished, and considered a heretic and defiant of their gods of money and gold.
In contrast to the Patriarch Abraham, Avraham Avinu, who would seek out guests, the people of Sodom said: "Who needs these strangers? They come here only to take our money." They decreed not to host any more guests, and if by chance a wealthy passerby was found within their midst, they would find a legal pretext to kill him and take his money, as they had sought to do to the angels who came to visit Lot (see, Sanhedrin 109 a-b).
‘And Yet the Soul is not filled’
However, no matter how rich a person is – how much clothing he owns, how much furniture he has, or how many houses or cars he buys – his life will not be any better. His inner longing is for a life rich in spirituality and values. On the contrary, the pursuit after the incorrect challenge, which cannot lead to true satisfaction, will only make his life hollower. The subsequent destruction of Sodom expressed the true reality of those people whose entire lives revolve around materialism – they have no soul, and perish; even the ground they leave behind remains barren.
The Dregs of Sodom in Our Days
In this day and age, after the values of the Bible have spread throughout the world, there are virtually no wicked people who would dare make vicious declarations like the people of Sodom, nevertheless, a lot of dregs from the Sodomite way of life still remains. Today, many people believe that a person’s worth is measured according to his wealth, the house he lives in, the car he drives, and the brand-name clothing he wears. Flocks of sycophants and admirers surround the rich. The media publicizes the glittering events they organize, as if that was the real life. Most of our elected officials also worship them.
Later, when the tycoons cause damage to natural resources and public interests, or oppress their employees - few dare to stand up and confront them. Thus, they can purchase state-owned companies for a quarter of the price, create cartels, prevent fair competition, raise prices, and continue to get rich at the expense of the citizens. This is the price the public pays for their foolishness of worshiping tycoons.
Living in Overdraft
Plenty of people say: ‘I don’t worship wealthy people, nor do I judge a person by his income level.’ Nevertheless, they also are enslaved to the culture of materialism. The proof is that at the end of the month, their bank accounts are overdrawn. They feel the need to constantly buy things, and no matter how much they earn – they will always find reasons to spend it all.
If they make 7,000 shekels a month, they think that if they could only make 8,000, they’ll be set. But lo and behold, when they earn 10,000 shekels, they claim they need another two thousand a month to get by; and even if their income rises to 15,000 shekels a month, it turns out they need more.
A life which revolves around materialism creates a sense of emptiness and incompleteness.
The Solution: Living a Spiritual Life
The solution to this problem is understanding that man’s true purpose in life is spiritual. Money and possessions are important tools to assisting a spiritual life, but they are not the objective. When a person is constantly engaged with his money and possessions, everything is reversed. The tools become his goal, and as a result, his life loses its true meaning.
If a person is fortunate enough to make an honest reckoning, he will realize that the majority of his money is spent on luxuries – while the important things, he neglected. He didn’t spend enough on strengthening his family and providing a meaningful education for his children, and did not leave himself time to learn and do good deeds.
The problem is that even someone who manages to fill his life with spiritual content, enjoys learning, is happy to help friends, contributes to society and participates in settling the Land of Israel - unwillingly, he is influenced by the materialistic culture surrounding him that dictates a standard of living in which a person who is unable to attain it, feels poor.
Society imposes too high a level of housing, and even in the field of religious education – society dictates excessively high costs. Only a society that sets for itself value-based ideals can create a solution to this problem. One of the principles that should guide such a society is that someone who earns a minimum wage should be able to live reasonably, without requiring charity and goodwill.
It doesn’t make sense that in a generation such as ours in which the standard of living has risen remarkably and even people earning a minimum wage can live as the rich did fifty years ago, there are so many people who feel they cannot buy a house, raise children, and provide them with a quality education.
In order to completely break free from the bondage of materialism, it is necessary to build a society which places its spiritual values at the forefront; a society which understands the great importance of the material as a tool, but does not turn it into a value which shoves aside and stifles spiritual values. This is the mission placed on the Nation of Israel – to be an Am Segula (Unique People), to reveal the Divine Presence in the world, and to be a role model for all nations – ‘until the earth is filled with the knowledge of Hashem as the waters cover the sea.’
On the Shabbat in which we learn about the mitzvah of hachnasat orchim (hospitality), I thought to add a nice story about it.
My wife, Rabbanit Inbal, initiated a nice custom in the community of Har Bracha. On Chol HaMoed Sukkot, the women gather for a holiday party, and anyone who has a good, enriching story about something that happened during the chag (holiday) or throughout the year, shares it with her friends. It was not by chance the holiday of Sukkot was chosen for this party, because Sukkot is the festival of harvesting where we gather all the good things that happened to us throughout the year, and therefore, it is a particularly joyous holiday.
At the party the women tell very nice stories, and within a few days, the men in the community also hear the stories, and pass them on.
This year, a woman in her thirties related the following story:
"My father passed away 15 years ago, about a month after the holiday of Sukkot, which he loved dearly. Since then, my siblings and I have tried to fill our mother’s void. My older married sisters always invited my mother to stay with them, but she preferred to stay at home. Being the youngest daughter in the family, I was left with my mother to celebrate the holiday at home. In order to fulfill the mitzvah of eating in the sukkah, on Chag (holiday) and Shabbat we would go to the nearby synagogue and eat in the sukkah there. Like my sisters, after I got married I too would routinely invite my mother to stay with us for chag, but as usual, she refused. So was the case this year, as well.
As the youngest daughter, I did not feel it was my responsibility to try and change her custom, but after lighting the holiday candles, my heart was flooded with grief. On the one hand, it is a mitzvah to be happy on the chag, but on the other hand, my thoughts drifted to my mother, who was home all alone. Before my husband returned from prayers, I sat down and read the article by Rabbi Melamed in his column ‘Revivim’, which, among other things, dealt with our enormous mitzvah to cheer orphans and widows, and that hosting them in the sukkah is the true fulfillment of the mitzvah of ushpizin (a custom of "inviting" one of seven "exalted guests" into the sukkah).
I discussed this with my husband and we decided we would make every effort to invite my mother for Shabbat Chol HaMoed (the Sabbath that falls in the Intermediate days of the holiday), so she could celebrate with us in our sukkah. We realized that what might have prevented her from coming were the difficulties of traveling, and also the problem of leaving her two best friends. These women are two neighbors and good friends whom I've known since childhood, and are also widows. One is over the age of 80, and the other is in her 60’s and was recently widowed. The three of them support each other, and eat most of their Shabbat meals together.
Immediately after Motzei Chag (the conclusion of the first holiday), I called my mother and invited her and her friends for Shabbat, and I told her that in order to avoid the problem of travelling for them, I would come pick them up by car, and take them back on Saturday night. My mother tried to dissuade me from my decision because of the difficulty of the trip and the hassle of preparing for Shabbat in one day (the Chag was on Thursday) – on top of having to taking care of my young children.
However, I remained steadfast in my decision. She admired this very much, and after realizing I was serious about inviting her two neighbors as well, she was pleased, and agreed to pass on the invitation to both of them. Her friends were also very happy, and before long, she told me they would be coming. My husband and I immediately began organizing the house and the cooking, so that the Shabbat would be full of joy and all the best, with every one of the traditional salads and dishes immigrants from Morocco customarily eat. On Friday morning we continued with the numerous preparations, and in the afternoon, I left my husband and kids, and went to pick them up.
Even as I arrived at my mother’s house, the women’s excitement and great joy was apparent. The closer we got to Har Bracha, the joy and happiness grew, as they gazed at the landscape of Samaria and could not stop admiring the mountains and the Jewish settlements appearing along the way, and happily looked forward to sharing Shabbat with us.
We got to Har Bracha, and I rushed to finish the preparations for Shabbat. Candle lighting arrived, Shabbat entered, and with it, a feeling of serenity, warmth and love enveloped us all.
Throughout Shabbat, they were amazed by everything – the scenery, the fresh mountain air, our children who were also excited to have them as guests, the smell of the cooking, and the friendliness between neighbors. In the morning, as I lingered in bed for a while, all of a sudden I heard the guests talking to each other in the living room, amazed at the peace and quiet and that they were able to get a full night's sleep. One of them said: ‘In my house, I always wake up at four in the morning, and here, in the quiet of the community, I slept till seven!’
In their honor, my husband took them to the Moroccan minyan in the Yeshiva (instead of his usual Yerushalmi minyan), and they were so overwhelmed by the exact version of the prayers, and by the nice young boy who sang along with Cantor; they said that for decades, they had not heard such beautiful prayers – exactly like they remembered from their childhood – and this, despite the fact that they pray in a Moroccan synagogue every Shabbat.
When Shabbat was over, they could not stop praising the wonderful atmosphere. Thus, they drove back with my husband, whom they could not stop blessing all the way home, as well. Of course, they did not forget to tell everyone – their children and family members – about the joyous Shabbat they had.
After Shabbat departed, we were overjoyed by the great privilege we were fortunate to have had. And without a doubt – more than we benefited from pleasing them – they pleased us."
This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.