Tumbling in the Sand
“Then Abraham came near and said, ‘Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?'” – Genesis 18:23-25
I have read that there is a belief in the Jewish tradition (particularly the mystical traditions) that for the sake of thirty-six kind and just people (read “righteous”), God does not destroy the world. Apparently, no one knows exactly who these people are—not even themselves; and when one dies, another takes their place. These “righteous” people are called lamed vavniks (pronounced law-med vawv-nicks), after the Hebrew letters lamed and vav, which are the letters that put together make the number 36 (the Hebrew language doesn’t have separate letters and numbers the way English does). If you’d like to read more about the lamed vavniks, check out the Wiki Article on the Tzadikim Nistarim (another name for these righteous ones).
These people came to mind as I considered the story of Abraham negotiating with God and with the story of Sodom and Gomorrah as a whole. It seems so often in popular interpretations of this story (badly applied to our present day), the interpreters would have us focus on the evil of the cities—about what horrible sins they have committed. They try to pick apart the kind of horrible things that they must have done and therefore what we must avoid to avoid the same fate.
But, I think Abraham and the lamed vavniks invite us into a different way of looking at this story. I think they invite us into considering whether it would be less destructive for all if we searched for the kind and just things in this world rather than focused all our attention and energy on evil things.
What if rather than focusing on the bad stuff, we tried to find the good? What if rather than worrying about this sin or that sin, we tried to find the righteous ones? And, maybe, if we remembered that these righteous ones were hidden in plain sight, might we look a little harder?
What if we looked out for not the overwhelmingly good people, but the quietly good—the mundane, sort of everyday good? Like the good we pray for in the Lord’s prayer? You know, daily bread kind of good? Small acts of forgiveness kinds of good? Tiny acts of letting go kinds of good? And maybe even the kind of good that rejoices in the goodness and justness of others?
And would that make any difference in this world? In our lives? Maybe so.
Maybe focusing on what is good and just might lead us to be good and just in return. Maybe seeking the lamed vavniks in the world, we might find hope and healing where we don’t expect it. Maybe spending energy on seeking justice and peace will bring it forth from ourselves and others. And maybe the act of seeking, knocking, and asking may lead us to find the will of God being done on earth as it is in heaven.