Looking Down on Evil – VaYera 5784

D'var Torah | Genesis

The building boom that followed World War II was very good for my family. My grandfather and two uncles started a business that prospered by supplying pre-made doors that went into the construction of the new suburban communities of Long Island, New York. Greenpoint-Friedland Steel Products was a leader in the field for a generation. What enabled its success was the fact that form and function of doors has not changed over millennia. The materials from which door frames were constructed have changed, but the essential design of a threshold below and lintel above with two parallel jambs on the side has been constant.

The purpose of the lintel was twofold. It kept fixed the width of the doorway and it kept the doors from swinging in and out. Effectively, the lintel was the stop against which the door would close with a thud (cf. RaShI on Exodus 12:7). Interestingly, the same word for the lintel (mashkof, in Hebew) is used as a verb in Genesis 19:28 (va-yashkef) to described how Abraham surveyed the area where the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were located. The shared root seems odd. What does a doorway have to do with making an observation?

The link is the location. The lintel sits above the doorway, giving it a commanding position. Hence, scanning the horizon is facilitated by looking from a prominent position. But there is more. Both Rabbi Ovadiah Seforno and Rabbi Hezekiah ben Manoah, two classical commentators, add that the verb form vayashkef suggests looking down upon – with scorn. When Abraham cast his eyes towards the plain of Sodom, he did so with contempt and disdain. He could not look at these evil cities without disgust.

Unlike the culture of today that advocates acceptance and praises those who are non-judgmental, Abraham represents a different breed. He was intolerant of evil; unable to look at it without distaste. He looked down on what he judged evil and, refreshingly, was unwilling to accept any of it.


Words to Live By

What lies behind you and what lies ahead of you pales in comparison to what lies inside you.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

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