The denizens of Sodom, whose principal sin is usually taken to be the sexual predilection with which they have become synonymous, enjoy a more complex interpretation in rabbinic literature. True, the Midrash Rabbah to this verse dissects and interprets it as might be expected: "wicked" and "sinners" - they were wicked to each other; sinners in adultery; "against the Lord" in idolatry; while "very" refers to bloodshed.
But in the Talmud, the sages go much further in their consideration of the evils of the Sodomites, adding a depth and complexity not to be found in the Midrash. The Sodomites, they say, made a virtue out of perversity: their legal and social systems were perverse in the truest sense of the word, favouring the strong over the weak, punishing the kind-hearted, harassing and torturing visitors, over-turning the laws of hospitality and committing foul murder, the cruellest act of which finally caused the divine decision for their destruction.
It is all too easy and comfortable to allow the characters of Abraham and Sarah, Hagar and Ishmael, their travails and triumphs and their complex and ultimately poisonous family relationships, to dominate the portion of Lech Lecha in our minds, and yet that little verse about the inhabitants of Sodom, never mind the fact that it is the thirteenth verse in the thirteenth chapter (whether you are superstitious or not!), should stick out a not so gentle foot to arrest us on our way.
The way of the Sodomites is the way that has been practised countless times throughout history by dictatorial regimes and continues to be the norm in many nations today. And it is not just the dictators who turn what is right and just on its head; even democracies succumb to a lowering of standards of which they should be ashamed. In that little, apparently throw-away, verse lies a warning for us all.