The residents of Sodom and Gomorrah were wicked sinners both before Abraham was circumcised and after the event. Was it a mere coincidence that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed right after Abraham was circumcised? I don’t think so. There is nothing coincidental in the text of the Torah. The leading TorahWas it mere coincidence? I don't think so! commentators leave this question unanswered. To answer this question let us put the prior events to detailed analysis. After Abraham came to the land of Canaan, the L‑rd promised to deliver this land to him on five occasions.

  1. Right after Abraham came to the land of Canaan, the L‑rd appeared to Abraham and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.
  2. After Lot parted from Abraham, the L‑rd said to Abraham, “For all the land which you see, I will give it to you and to your descendants forever.
  3. After the war with the four Kings, “I am the L‑rd, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.
  4. After a flaming torch passed between the pieces of animal bodies, “To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the River Euphrates.
  5. When establishing the covenant of circumcision, “The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you.

Please refer to the table below we made for convenience:

Instance Promised To What? Duration Circumstances
1. to “offspring “this land” not mentioned not mentioned
2. “to you and to your descendants” “all the land which you see” “forever” not mentioned
3. to “you” “this land” not mentioned not mentioned
4. to “your descendants” “from the river of Egypt as far as… the River Euphrates” not mentioned not mentioned
5. “to you and your descendants” “the whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner” “everlasting possession” Abraham’s circumcision

The table above leads us to conclude that only in the fifth case was there an explicit and binding covenant between the L‑rd and Abraham. What is particularly important is that only then was the covenant paid for (by circumcision).

As the Torah indicates later, a man comes into the rightful possession of anything only if such a man pays for this thing. We see this in the case when Abraham purchased the Cave of Machpelah. Abraham did not accept it as gift from Ephron and insists on paying for it, as he knew that the cave would come into his rightful possession only once paid for.

There was an explicit and binding covenant

It should also be mentioned that having entered into a covenant with Abraham, the L‑rd never returns to the matter of the land of Canaan.

Thus, we understand that having fulfilled the covenant of circumcision, Abraham and his descendants have received the land of Canaan into their rightful and eternal possession. To support this we may quote Rashi, who commented the following citation from the Torah: “the L‑rd said ‘Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?’” saying, “I should not do this leaving Abraham unaware. I gave him this land and five cities (that are to be destroyed)… May I exterminate the sons without letting know about this their father who loves Me?” Our men of wisdom (e.g. Bereshit Rabbah) say the same, quoting a parable telling about a king who wished to do certain things in the land owned by a nobleman and consulted that nobleman before doing those things.

However, Rashi in his comment does not provide an answer to the question why Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed specifically right after Abraham was circumcised. Nahmanides offers the following comment: “Know that the verdict to Sdom was delivered in consideration of the special status of the Land of Israel, which is the land of the L‑rd, and thus this land does not tolerate the evil-livers, so before that land expelled all the wicked Canaan tribes it also expelled the men of Sdom who were the most sinful of these tribes both against the Heaven and the people.

The comment by Nahmanides seems to leave a certain loose end. First, the whole Earth belongs to the L‑rd. Second, if the Land of Israel is some kind of special “land of the L‑rd,” when did it become so? If the Land of Israel was the special land of the L‑rd from the beginning of time, then why did the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah have to be tolerated before Abraham was circumcised?

The Land of Israel is named the Holy Land. Sacredness implies difference. Let us try to find out in what way the Land of Israel is different from other lands.

It is traditionally believed that the dust the L‑rd used to form the first man was taken from the Land of Israel. After the Great Flood, this land came to the possession of Canaan, grandson of Noah and his descendants. However, Noah had cursed Canaan, and Nachmanides believes that this gave legal grounds to passing this land into the possession of Abraham and his descendants. I believe that the main difference (sacredness) of the Land of Israel is that it is here thatSacredness implies difference the L‑rd and man established their first covenant. As a token of this covenant, Abraham and his descendants assumed a voluntary commandment of circumcision. The greatness of Abraham’s deed is that he gave to the L‑rd not a part of his belongings but a part of himself, a part that can never be returned or recovered.

The above reasoning leads to the following conclusions:

After the covenant of circumcision was established was the land of Canaan irrevocably and unconditionally passed into the eternal possession of Abraham and his descendants. At that time it was established that the Land of Israel became the special Land of the L‑rd.

This explains why the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah could no longer be tolerated within the sacred land. And this is why these cities were destroyed.