He overturned these cities [of Sodom and Amorah] along with the entire
plain, [destroying] everyone who lived in the cities and [all] that was
growing from the ground. (Bereshith 19:25)
The destruction of Sodom and Amorah took place in a most extraordinary
manner: they actually flipped over! As has been explained, all Divine
punishments are meted out to sinners measure for measure (1). When
someone becomes accustomed to falsehood, dishonesty becomes so much a part
of him that regardless of the circumstances, he will attempt to do the
opposite of what is right. This was the case regarding the inhabitants of
Sodom and Amorah, and they were punished in a way that reflected their
very nature: their cities were literally turned upside down (2).
This unusual form of retribution is actually alluded to in the Hebrew word
for falsehood – ù÷ø (sheker). The letters of this word are in the reverse
of their order in the Hebrew alphabet, and the deceitful person is
punished in a similarly “reversed” way that highlights the distorted
nature of his personality and behavior. This is in sharp contrast to the
Hebrew word for truth – ) àîúemeth), in which the letters appear in their
correct alphabetical order (3).
Such measure-for-measure punishment does not necessarily manifest itself
in as literal a fashion as it did in Sodom and Amorah. Alternatively, the
plans of the perpetrator of the falsehood may be “inverted,” so that the
very lies he was using to harm someone else are used against him. An
example of this is Haman’s plot to destroy the Jewish People in the
historical period of Purim. Haman fabricated lies about Mordechai and his
Jewish brethren in order to defame them in the eyes of King Achashverosh
and to convince the king to annihilate them. Haman was punished measure
for measure when Heavenly messengers appeared to King Achashverosh and
made the false claim that they had been sent by Haman to destroy
Achashverosh’s property and to kill the king. This is what motivated King
Achashverosh to order that Haman be hanged on the very gallows that Haman
had prepared for Mordechai.
1. See the article on Bereshith 18:15 entitled “The Punishment Fits The
Crime” (page 101).
2. Or Zarua commentary on the Hebrew alphabet, p. 6.
3. Commentary of the Vilna Gaon to Megilath Esther 7:7,9.