Salt and Ashes: Vayera 2017

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: Have there been occasions in your life when it was not advisable to look back at the past? What would have happened if you did?

In this week’s Torah portion, the cities of Sodom and Amorah are destroyed, but while she is being rescued from her home, Lot’s wife famously does not follow an important warning:

The Pitch: “Lot’s wife looked back, and she thereupon turned into a pillar of salt.” – Genesis 19:26

Swing #1: “This last remark is as terse as it is unexpected. In urging their escape when they brought them outside, he (note the switch to singular) said, ‘Flee for your life! Do not gaze behind you! Do not stand still in all the plain! Flee to the hills lest you be destroyed’ (Genesis 19:17). In context we sense this is no more than an effective way of saying ‘Get out with all haste,’ an urging made necessary by Lot’s apparent reluctance to leave and allow the destruction to begin. And we must observe that it is most immediately addressed to Lot alone. Were the others supposed to overhear it? Did he share it with his wife and daughters? He, after all, is the cause of the delay and makes necessary the men’s urging them on.” – W. Lee Humphreys, The Character of God in the Book of Genesis: A Narrative Appraisal

Swing #2: “We tend to interpret verse 26 to mean that God had turned Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt as a punishment, but what if she herself radically chose to become … a pillar, both of memorial and of direction? Memorial of what and direction to whom? Lot’s wife was a pillar to her daughters. Perhaps the most powerful message she could send to them, given her circumstances, was in her turning around, stopping, and setting herself up as such a unique memorial. As we fill in the silences, her message to them could have been, ‘This is where I come from, the only world I know. Remember that this too is a part of your heritage and will always be a part of who you are. Use the lessons it has taught you and build from them.’” – Rabbi Cynthia A. Culpeper, from The Women’s Torah Commentary, edited by Rabbi Elyse Goldstein

Swing #3: “Wisdom rescued a righteous man when the ungodly were perishing; he escaped the fire that descended on the Five Cities. Evidence of their wickedness still remains: a continually smoking wasteland, plants bearing fruit that does not ripen, and a pillar of salt standing as a monument to an unbelieving soul. For because they passed wisdom by, they not only were hindered from recognizing the good, but also left for mankind a reminder of their folly, so that their failures could never go unnoticed.” – Wisdom of Solomon

Late-Inning Questions: To our commentators, what does Lot’s wife’s punishment represent? A warning to listen to instructions? A warning to communicate instructions effectively? A memorial to a darker time? How should we regard Lot’s wife — an unfortunate victim, or a brave woman willing to defy what others tell her?

The Big Inning at the End: As I said on Facebook a couple of days ago: Congrats to the Astros and the city of Houston on a well-deserved World Series win. Thrilled to see another title drought disappear. Can’t wait ‘til next year …

Shabbat Shalom!