According to our Rabbis, a person who says “What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours” has the characteristics of someone from Sodom. (Pirkei Avot 5:13)
In this week’s Torah portion, Vayera, we learn about the destruction of the town of Sodom. Immediately before God tells Abraham he will destroy Sodom he informs him that “the outcry of Sodom and Gemorah is so great, their sins are so grave.”
Our Rabbis wrote countless commentaries on this story, seeking to explain why the people of this town were such evil sinners. Indeed, some stories describe awful and evil behaviors that went on in Sodom. However, some Rabbis also realized if descriptions of Sodom were so extremely evil, someone might say, “I am so far removed from the sort of behavior that went on in Sodom, I have nothing to worry about.”
Interspersed in the Rabbinic tradition we also have a different view of Sodom. The quote that I opened this blog with is perhaps the most famous. Our Rabbis asserted that the evil of Sodom was that they were self-interested and not interested in sharing or being generous towards one another. In the book of Ezekiel, we are told that the people of Sodom had everything they needed, but their sin was that they were not philanthropic towards one another.
At the core of our educational program at Wornick is an understanding that our students, teachers, families, and community members are interdependent. Walk into any classroom and you will see covenants between students and teachers posted on the wall. If you are lucky enough to join us on the first Friday of every month, it’s beautiful to see students from intergrade groupings, working together on a community building activity.
Most schools design their educational programs around the “ideal graduate,” a student who exemplifies certain characteristics and traits. Our school goes a step further, and our educators and leaders not only talk about the ideal graduate, but about the ideal learning community.
The philosopher Charles Taylor, who I had the privilege of learning from on a number of occasions, wrote about interdependent learning communities:
“We are not self-sufficient individuals, who develop our characteristically human capacities on our own; on the contrary, we develop those capacities—the capacities that we most value—only within communities or societies of certain kinds. Our obligation, therefore, is not merely to respect the rights of others, but to belong to communities that represent the values that we affirm, and furthermore to support those communities’ or societies’ continuation and flourishing—not only for the sake of others but for our own sakes as well.”
I want to encourage our entire community to avoid the “what’s mine is mine, what’s yours is yours mentality.” I want to encourage us to live generously, not only in terms of our possessions but in our orientation to learning and belonging in community.