What Really Happened?

When terror and violence break out in Israel, I frequently ask visitors from Israel if the situation was as bad as the media makes it sound. They were never surprised by my questions; they knew that as a human I could only know what I was told and it was only logical to ask someone with first hand knowledge for a more detailed and accurate account.

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It is somewhat more surprising when G-d asks this question. Can you imagine G-d asking a visitor from Israel if the situation was as bad as it sounded? If anyone would know the real facts it would be G-d, why should He ask anyone else? Yet that is precisely what G-d did before he punished Sodom.

The people of Sodom were terribly corrupt; they passed laws against rendering assistance to wayfarers and passersby. On one occasion a young maiden took pity on a vagabond and gave him some food. In punishment the people covered her body in honey and tied her down near a beehive for an entire night. She lay crying from the terrible pain and by the time they reached her she had died; her little body gave out.

G-d was prepared to punish the Sodomites and said so to Abraham, but before he made his final decision he said, I will descend and see if they caused the outcry that has reached me.

Is G-d so near sighted that He needs to descend to get a better view? Furthermore, what does it mean that G-d descends; does G-d not already fill all space both above and below?

Two Modalities Below

We can gain a glimpse into this mysterious concept by considering the ways in which we interpret events that occur in our vicinity. Say I walk into the Synagogue one day and find my friends poking fun at me. My reaction would likely depend on my mood. If I woke up on the expansive side of the bed I would be tolerant, if I woke up in the grumpy side of the bed I would take offense.

In an expansive mood I don’t take offense at such things. I respond with a wry smile and tell myself that my friends surely don’t mean to demean me; they are just having fun at my expense. I shrug it off and let them be. If I am in a stern, no nonsense, mood I take offense. Some friends, I grouch, now I know what they really think of me. I turn away in a huff, determined to never speak to them again.

Now consider, in both cases I respond to the same set of facts. My friends are making fun of me. In one case I translate the fact of their friendship as a reason to excuse them. In the other I translate it as a reason to take offense.

The facts don’t change; my perception does. When I am feeling expansive my sense of inner contentment is not contingent on their validation; I am confident in myself and in their friendship; no petty infraction can disturb my contentment. Ah, let them have their fun, I muse, and I might even join in the sport. I don’t feel bruised or off balance because my balance does not require their validation.

When I am in a grumpy mood I grow sensitive and dependant. I become so small in my own eyes that I need you to prop me up. When I am mocked by those whose validation I crave and need, I am thrown completely off balance. My trust has been violated and I feel abused. My self confidence is shattered and I feel exposed. I respond in anger; not so much at the insult, but at the way it makes me feel.

Now, if I am self aware I know that my sense of vulnerability is self generated. Though I am engulfed in outrage a quiet voice in the back of my mind reminds me that I am responsible for my own vulnerability. My friends cannot shatter my sense of well being; all they can do is make sport. Only I can destroy my contentment and my angst should be directed inward.

If I am smart and have enough self control I will force myself to calm down and re-evaluate. I will look at the reasons for my anger from an expansive point of view. I am angry because my friends betrayed me, but how would the fact of their friendship affect me if I were feeling more confident? That is an honest way to measure the justice of my response.

Two Modalities on High

G-d also operates on two modalities. On one hand G-d is so infinitely exalted that nothing can impress or distress Him. On the other hand, G-d pays close attention to our behavior and metes out justice in accordance with our deeds.

A perfect example of this can be found in the saga of the flood. Just before the flood G-d regretted the creation of the human and nearly destroyed the entire human race because the human heart is evil. After the flood G-d proclaimed that humans cannot be faulted for their sins because they are born with evil in their hearts.

The very same argument, namely the evil in our hearts, resulted in a conviction and an acquittal. How can this be? The answer is simple. Before the flood G-d viewed the case through the stern lens of judgment. After the flood G-d viewed the case through an expansive and forgiving lens.

When G-d considered the sins of Sodom He wanted to give them a second chance. The outcry of Sodom’s sins had reached G-d; He was well aware of their sins and from the stern perspective of justice they deserved a stiff punishment.

However, before meting out punishment G-d proclaimed, “I will descend and see if they caused the outcry that has reached me.” G-d wanted to reconsider the arguments for conviction from the standpoint of tolerance and expansiveness. One who is feeling expansive functions on a higher plane of experience. One who is feeling grumpy functions on a lower plain of experience.

The same is true of G-d. His forgiving mode is exalted, where it is impossible to do something evil enough to distress Him. He therefore said, I will descend; I will bring this higher modality of function to bear on the lower modality, which is justice. With this perspective I will retry the case and see whether the very reasons to convict might become reasons to exonerate.

Yet G-d found no such excuse. Even on the lower plane of Divine function Sodom was found guilty. Indeed, it was time to convict.

From here we learn the importance of objectivity in consideration. We are never impartial when considering offenses directed against ourselves. We must review the offense from every perspective and give the offending party every benefit of the doubt before issuing a condemnation.

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