After Hashem brings the Mabul and destroys most of the earth, he promises to Noach that He will never again wipe out civilization. Hashem promises (BeReishit 9:11), “VeHakimoti Et Beriti Itechem VeLo Yikareit Kol Basar Od MiMei HaMabul VeLo Yihyeh Od Mabul Leshacheit HaAretz,” “And I will confirm My covenant with you: Never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” As we all know, Hashem’s sign to us that this covenant is everlasting is the rainbow.
However, in Parashat VaYeira, only ten generations after Noach, we seem to find destruction once again. Hashem tells Avraham that Sedom and Amorah will be destroyed “because their sin has been very grave” (18:20). Avraham pleads with Hashem to spare the city, but after not being able to find even ten righteous people in Sedom, Avraham gives up. Hashem utterly destroys the cities, bringing sulfur and fire to wipe out all the inhabitants and all the vegetation (19:24-25). There are multiple issues that can be raised regarding this episode. To raise one, why does Hashem destroy this metropolis if He promised to humanity that He would never again destroy the earth?
Perhaps there are lessons that we can learn from this destruction. The punishment upon Sedom and Amorah is the first Heavenly disaster that Hashem inflicts upon humans since the Mabul (putting aside the destruction of the Migdal Bavel, which was destruction but did not involve mass-casualties). Hashem is therefore underscoring that while His covenant stipulates that “all flesh” won’t ever be destroyed again, certain communities that don’t heed God’s words can be wiped out. By showing that He means what He says, Hashem’s covenant is never again put to the test. As we see centuries later during the time of Yonah, when Yonah ultimately tells the inhabitants of Nineveih that they will be exterminated unless they do Teshuvah, they take his word seriously and return to the path of God.
But there is another lesson that we can learn from this story. When Hashem wipes out Sedom and Amorah, the Pasuk notes that the destruction is “Min HaShamayim,” “Out of Heaven” (19:24). Rashi (ad loc. s.v. Min HaShamayim) explains that this phrase is used not only here but also to describe the method that Hashem used to deliver the Man to the Jewish people in the desert. We can infer a crucial lesson from Rashi. On the one hand, Hashem sometimes brings disasters upon humanity, such as the Mabul during the time of Yonah and the destruction of Sedom and Amorah during the time of Avraham; when these things happen, it is easy to see that the destruction is from heaven. However, just as He brings destruction from heaven, He also brings salvation from heaven, like He did with the Man, something that fed the Jewish people in the desert when they had no other form of sustenance. While it is harder to recognize Hashem during these positive occurrences, Rashi is telling us that it’s imperative that we do.
When reflecting on the recent and ongoing damage from Hurricane Sandy, it is impossible to say why the disaster happened. However, as we look at the destruction, we are able to realize the awesome power of Hashem, who, for reasons not always entirely clear, has brought about similar destructions in the past. Let us not only properly comprehend that the bad is from Heaven; let us take that awe and inspiration and hold onto it for the future. If we are able to do this, we will, with God’s help, be able to recognize Hashem’s role in our everyday lives, obviously when times are bad, but even when times are good.