Solomon’s formula links an easement permitting carrying on the Sabbath (eruv) and ritual hand washing (n’tilat yadayim). Building an eruv is a collective act that creates community while n’tilat yadaim is the private act that highlights differences by holding up hands to view fingerprints. Twice in the Talmud we are told that this linkage evoked a heavenly voice expressing great joy at King Solomon’s wise action. Solomon’s formula teaches that community symbolized by eruv coupled with individuality symbolized by n’tilat yadayim leads to the highest good when human beings create community that honors what is unique in each individual.
The two mountain ranges look alike on the surface, mirror images masking differences between evil and goodness. Sodom is known for its bureaucratic idol of standardization that denies individuality. The Midrash tells us that when a traveler was unfortunate enough to seek hospitality among the Sodomites, official policy prohibited turning him away to spend the night in a forbidding wasteland. That would have been patently unforgivable. He was invited instead to enter the city and spend the night in a bed – a standard bed. If the guest chanced to be taller than average, his obliging hosts resolved the dilemma of long legs by cutting them off to fit the length of the bed. If he was too short, his arms and legs would be tied to a torturous mechanism that would stretch him until he fit. What was intolerable to the Dead Sea denizens was deviation from their arbitrary norm. It is this behavior in which the letter of the law is fulfilled while ignoring its true intentions and spiritual worth that the Talmud refers to as “acting in the manner of Sodom.”