In the Torah portion of Vayera, Abraham is told of God’s plan to destroy the wicked city of Sodom.
Abraham could have simply listened to God, accepting God’s will.
However, Abraham understood that his relationship with the creator was not meant to be passive.
Abraham had expectations of God and if God failed to live up to those expectations that was a problem.
So Abraham put God to the test and questioned God: Will the God of justice destroy the innocent along with the guilty?
And so begins a negotiation between Abraham and God over the fate of the city of Sodom.
Will God spare the city if 50 innocents are found? Yes, for the sake of the 50, the city will be spared. And for the lack of five will God destroy the city? No, for 45 Sodom will be spared. And for 40? Sodom will be spared. For 30, for 20 and finally for 10 righteous souls the city will be spared.
But alas, not even 10 righteous people can be found within the city and so it is destroyed.
The critical issue is not the destruction of the city, tragic as it may be, but rather, the willingness of Abraham to question God, argue with God, in the first place.
This is a pivotal moment in Jewish history: Abraham, as the first Jew, established a pattern for all future generations to follow. We became a people willing to question God, willing to argue with God.
Consequently, our relationship with God has never been passive.
We see this later in the relationship that Moses, our teacher, developed with God. It too was interactive.
Moses questions God, argues with God and is at times even successful. After the Golden Calf incident, God announces that the Children of Israel will be destroyed and God will start over with Moses. Moses then reminds God that there is a previous promise to Abraham to be upheld and further points out how it will look to the nations of the world if God fails to bring the people into the Promised Land. God relents and the people are spared.
Later, the Talmud (Baba Metzia 59b) tells the famous story of the tanur shel achnai, a rabbinic dispute between Rabbi Joshua and Rabbi Eliezer. Rabbi Eliezer calls upon God to testify for him, which God does, but the position of God and Rabbi Eliezer is rejected. And the proof text is from the Torah (Deut. 30:12) – lo bashamayim hi, The Torah is not in heaven. And in response God laughs in delight at their success.
We have a God who wants us to think for ourselves, who wants us to ask questions and who wants us to challenge that which seems wrong to us.
We thrive in a tradition that is self critical, ever growing, changing and developing. We are partners with God in an endeavor that spans millennium. We are part of a sacred covenant that calls upon us to help improve the world around us, to be a part of a community, to be a mensch. As you listen to the words of the Torah this week may you be inspired to join the conversation that Abraham began and we have inherited.