Rabbi Reuven Mann

This week’s Parsha, Vayera, depicts G-d’s judgement of the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and illustrates the principle that the “Lord is Righteous in all His Ways.”  Hashem acceded to all of Avraham’s requests and agreed to spare the place if ten righteous people could be found.  However, that was not the case and Sodom was doomed to destruction.  Hashem’s compassion prevailed even in executing the punishment.  He sent messengers to rescue Avraham’s nephew Lot and his family.  The verse says, “When G-d destroyed the cities of the plain He remembered Abraham and sent forth Lot from amidst the upheaval…”  Some take this to mean that Lot was spared not because of personal merit but only because of his relationship to Avraham.  This idea may be troubling as it suggests that even in matters of Divine Judgement who you know can be as vital as who you are.  

There is, however, another way of understanding the salvation of Lot.  The Torah describes in great detail the extent to which he went in serving his guests and shielding them from the evil townspeople.  Lot had acquired great virtues due to his association with Abraham.  He deserves credit for joining him on his journey to Canaan and preserving the secret of Sarah during their stay in Egypt.  True, a dispute broke out between his and Abraham’s shepherds which prompted Abraham to request a formal “separation.”  However, Lot was a generous and compassionate person, who resided in Sodom but did not adopt its’ hateful philosophy.  He was saved from the destruction because he preserved his righteousness in the midst of a wicked socitey.

The fate of Lot’s wife is puzzling.  The angels had warned Lot and his family not to look back.  However, “his wife peered behind him and she became a pillar of salt.”  At first glance the meaning of this development is difficult to comprehend.  We are working with the assumption that Lot and his party were righteous people who resisted the evil of Sodom.  Why does the act of “peering behind”warrant destruction?

The Rabbis say that when serving her guests she withheld the salt and therefore was turned into a pillar of salt.  This is difficult as it seems to contradict the text which says that she was punished for looking back.  Moreover, the judgement seems unduly harsh. She welcomed guests to her house and served them food.  What is so egregious about the omission of salt?  A great Torah scholar offered an intriguing explanation.  There was, he said a difference between Lot and his wife.  He was completely unaffected by the wickedness of Sodom and practiced hospitality with a full heart.  The same was not true of his wife.  Withholding the salt indicated that she was in a state of conflict.  She performed the act of giving but did so begrudgingly.  The explanation of the Rabbis now corresponds to the text.  The messengers were aware of her ambivalence and exhorted her not to look back, which meant that she should sever her identification with the wicked people and disassociate from them emotionally as well as physically.  Looking back showed that she retained her connection to the corrupt society of Sodom.  Lot was attracted to Sodom because its lush pastures were ideal for his vast flocks.  He failed to recognize the spiritual danger of exposing his family to an evil cultural environment.  For this he paid a heavy price.  The Torah exhorts us to choose our neighbors and friends carefully and distance ourselves from morally harmful influences.  Above all, we should seek to establish relationships with wise and righteous people to learn from their wisdom and be inspired by their good deeds.