Here's the d'var Torah I offered on Friday evening at Shabbat Across the Berkshires, and in modified form on Shabbat morning at my shul. Crossposted to my From the Rabbi blog.
This week, in parashat Vayera, God decides to punish the wicked, declaring, "The outrage of Sodom and Gomorrah is so great, and their sin so grave!" And Avraham argues, "Will You sweep away the innocent along with the guilty?"
The two angels who had recently visited Avraham go to Sodom. They've hardly arrived when men swarm Lot's house and demand, "Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may be intimate with them."
Lot says, "I beg you, my friends, do not commit such a wrong." So far, so good. But then he becomes abhorrent in our eyes when he offers his two daughters instead.
This is the sin of these two infamous places. The next day the towns are destroyed.
This is one way we used to understand destruction raining down from the sky, and our responsibility for that destruction. People make evil choices, and God metes out punishment. In this story, all those who suffer are wicked. Avraham cannot find even the single minyan of righteous souls whose presence would have caused God to spare the towns.
This week too, destruction has rained down from the sky. Not sulfurous fire, but torrential rains and hurricane-force winds.
Here in the Berkshires, Hurricane Sandy toppled trees, leaving thousands without power. Many of us had to keep our kids home from school, brush our teeth with bottled water, eat all the ice cream in our freezers before it spoiled. We're the lucky ones.
The damage in New York and Atlantic City beggars belief. You've probably seen the same photos I have: water flooding subway tunnels, emergency vehicles submerged by the seas, buildings washed away or destroyed by fire.
There are those who interpret storms like this as the wrath of God striking down the wicked: the gamblers of Atlantic City, the queer community in New York. This is toxic theology, and when it is aimed at those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender it is as destructive to hearts and souls as the storm is to property.
What created Hurricane Sandy? A set of systemic causes, a welter of economic and environmental choices, made over time by wealthy nations and corporations. The water along the Atlantic coast this year is 5 degrees higher than average, which increases the likelihood of "superstorms" like Sandy. And yet climate change wasn't mentioned at all in this year's presidential debates.
A storm like this one is a reminder of God's infinite and awesome power -- and also of our own role in creating a planetary system where ice is melting, currents are changing, and a summer of searing drought is followed by wind and rain we can't help but fear.