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O My America: Listening to NPR

Lawrence Bush
March 23, 2017

by Lawrence Bush

I DO IT in the morning, dozing to the sound of NPR news, or just lying there thinking how I should be up and exercising while I listen, but I never work out, I just get worked up and pretend that this qualifies as physical activity.

Two days ago I heard one of the women commentators (Rachel, was it? Renee? Melissa?) discussing the three key political events of the week: the Comey-Rogers hearing, the TrumpCare law, the Gorsuch appointment to the Supreme Court. She commented that all three were important, but if you wanted to be talking about enduring effects, the Gorsuch appointment was most significant, hands-down.

I thought: This woman must have excellent health insurance. Then I got out of bed and put on my underwear, socks, and pants without even leaning against the dresser for balance.

Yesterday morning it was the Gorsuch hearing, and as I listened in bed to NPR I was reminded of the Midrashic passage (Genesis Rabbah) about judges in the awful land of Sodom:

Sodom had five principal judges: Follower of False Principles, Archliar, Archvillain, Perverter of Justice, and Flayer of Human Beings. . . . When a man struck his neighbor’s wife and caused her to miscarry, the husband would be told, “Give her to this man to impregnate again.” When a man cut off the ear of another man’s donkey, the aggrieved owner would be told, “Give the donkey to this man to keep until its ear grows back.” When a man wounded another, the victim would be told, “Pay the man a fee for having bled you.”

So I got up and read more Midrashim (anything not to exercise) about how law and custom worked in that doomed city:

“We live in peace and plenty,” Sodom said. “Food can be got from our land, gold and silver can be mined from our land, precious stones and pearls can be obtained from our land. What need have we to look after wayfarers, who come to us only to deprive us? Come, let us see to it that the duty of entertaining foot travelers be forgotten in our land . . .”

. . . When a poor man came to the land of Sodom, each Sodomite would give him a denar with the Sodomite’s name inscribed on it, but not one of them would sell him a morsel of bread to eat. Eventually, when the poor man died of hunger, each Sodomite would come to claim his denar. There was a maiden in Sodom who once brought a morsel of bread concealed in her pitcher to a poor man. When three days passed and the poor man did not die, the reason for his staying alive became clear. The Sodomites smeared the maiden with honey and placed her on a rooftop, so that bees came and stung her to death. Of this maiden’s anguish, Scripture says, “The cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great” (Genesis 18: 20).”

Then I did three push-ups.

Lawrence Bush edits Jewish Currents.

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.