It is a part of life. Whether we wish to or not, we’re still constantly judging people and things. And for most of us, we like to think that we’re just “calling balls and strikes,” fairly and objectively calling the reality as it is.

But is that always the best way to go about it?

“Let Me Go Down”

Parshat Vayera tells the story of the infamous twin cities, Sodom and Gomorrah. These cesspools of corruption and cruelty were finally destroyed in a pillage of fire and sulfur.

But before G‑d decides to flatten them once and for all, we read:

G‑d said, “The cry of Sodom and Gomorrah has become great; their sin has become very grave. I will descend now and see, whether according to her cry, which has come to Me, they have done; [I will wreak] destruction [upon them].”1

It was as if the jury was still out, and G‑d needed to take a first-hand look to see whether or not the blood-curdling cries coming from below warranted their destruction.

But what does that actually mean? Why does G‑d need to “go down” and see? Does He not know from on High? What, exactly, was He trying to ascertain?

It’s not Just “Balls and Strikes”

Most things in this world can be viewed in different ways. It almost always depends on the observer and his or her natural tendencies.

Take the notion of determining whether or not someone or something is guilty or innocent: it’s almost never absolute. Rarely is there an objective verdict upon which all can unanimously agree. And it’s not only due to the ambiguity of evidence, or the defendants, or other external factors. Even in cases where it’s plainly clear what really happened, not everyone will agree to the verdict.

It boils down to the person’s tendency; are they naturally inclined to be forgiving, or the opposite? Those with a more naturally generous disposition will inevitably be inclined to be more lenient and render an innocent verdict. And of course, people born with a sterner, more disciplinary approach will more often than not decree, “guilty, no good!”

We convince ourselves that we’re objective arbiters of reality, but we’re not. If we’re “calling balls and strikes,” it’s based on how much we like the guy in the batter’s box.

That’s why the Torah is so keen against taking bribery. The moment a judge takes a bribe, their perspective changes. They are subjectively predisposed to the gift-giver, no matter how much they consciously convince themselves they’re trying to be objective. The subconscious takes over and automatically predisposes them to favor that person.

Climbing Down to Care

Back to the discussion about Sodom.

G‑d is, of course, beyond all descriptions, in every place in every time, and aware of all things. So when G‑d “descends” to “see,” it cannot be that he was previously not present and unaware. Rather, Torah is using this terminology to teach us a lesson on how to approach others.

One could view G‑d as aloof from this world, so to speak, far removed from the particulars of Creation. He doesn’t specifically care about what goes on here.2

So, when G‑d “hears about” Sodom and how evil they are, He is an objective party. In fact, G‑d is the ultimate objective party, for He is so far removed from the subject at hand, and of course, with no obvious “predisposition.” And from that perspective, the verdict is crystal clear: The citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah deserve to be obliterated.

But it’s easy to write a death sentence from afar. It’s easy to write off someone—an entire city!—as guilty without knowing them, feeling them, hearing them, or caring about them.

By "descending" G‑d was teaching us a major lesson. Don't simply write off an entire city without taking a walk through its Main Street and getting a feel for the actual humans who lived there.

So He said, “Let me go down and see. Let me climb down and become a subjective viewer, as it were, to go to a place where I begin to ‘care’ about these people and their fortune. Let me see if even in that place, the cries that I’m hearing are really as terrible and guilty as they sound.”

The sad news was that even in such an empathetic place, the citizens of Sodom deserved the death penalty. So that’s what they got—but not before G‑d taught us the importance of taking the time to relate to them.

Walk a Mile in Their Shoes

We are taught to emulate G‑d, and this is a prime example: Don’t pass judgment on someone before you take the time to care about them. Don’t be harsh or discipline too quickly before you walk a mile in their shoes and over the blocks of their Main Street.

If G‑d showed that He entertained the notion that perhaps the hair-rising cries he heard weren’t as guilty as they sounded once He “went down” to hear better, you should probably do the same.

Think again about that person you know who just seems to be off, the person who every day does another silly thing or says something to upset yet another person in your neighborhood. Take a second look at your spouse, children, siblings, parents, or other acquaintances who are doing terrible things, and take some time to actually care about them, to listen to their stories, their struggles, and their frustrations. Take the time and put in the hard work to climb down from your pedestal and put yourself in a space where who they are and what they dream of matters.

Quite possibly, once you do all that, you may not find them as guilty as you once thought they were.3