Self-Correcting Cities

What makes Sodom such a sinful city?  Torah tells us that the people would gather into a mob to abuse visiting strangers.  Our Sages add that only the wealthy were welcome as guests in Sodom. The poor were abused, humiliated, expelled or killed.

Midrash Pirkei d’ Rabbi Eliezer (3rd century) teaches that under the laws of Sodom, sharing wealth with the transient poor was a criminal squandering of the city’s wealth. Worse, this law reflected the majority view, as not even ten righteous people lived in the city. Thus, Sodom did not have the resources to fix its moral problems.

Like Sodom, Canada also prefers its strangers to be wealthy. Immigrants must possess a certain amount of property (or at least the power to earn it) in order to become residents. But, unlike Sodom, we balance these policies with our moral resources: social critics, groups that support the poor, and advocates for individual immigrants in difficult circumstances.  We have the ability to judge and correct ourselves.

Torah teaches in many places that a commitment to care for immigrants and the poor is essential. Countries that fail to care fall apart when inequality and rage become too great. But it’s important to recognize that the Torah does not require perfection. Instead, it reminds us to use deliberation, legal systems and personal example in a constant social process of moral improvement.

Inspired by Rabbi Steven Pik-Nathan

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