What spoilt them was the vice and godlessness which gave God no choice but to rain down destruction upon them.
Rabbinic commentary piles up criticisms of the way of life that permeated the cities: they were inhospitable towards strangers, they had no concept of justice, the locals did not even trust one another.
But there is also a rabbinic principle: “There is no punishment without admonition” (Sanh. 56b). So Abraham tried to get God to delay punishing the cities in the hope that they would recognise their sins and repent, but to little avail.
In time Sodom and Gomorrah became a byword for Divine chastisement; Amos reports God as rebuking Israel who failed to learn the lesson of the twin cities – “You were like a brand plucked out of the burning, yet you have not returned to Me, says the Lord” (Amos 4:11).
Israel’s enemies would be overthrown like Sodom and Gomorrah and will become “a breeding place of nettles, and saltpits, and a desolation for ever” (Zeph. 2:9). But in typical Jewish fashion, that is not the end of the story.
According to the Tanchuma (Vayyera 50a), “God destroyed Sodom, but in time to come when He heals Israel He will heal her too”. At that time Sodom and Gomorrah will change their tune and sing songs of justice and righteousness.
It is part of the messianic belief that the world will be mended and sin will be unthinkable.
A lovely dream? We can help it become a reality if we work on ourselves and our neighbourhood and gradually eradicate the causes that delay and obstruct the coming of Mashi’ach.