Judaism loves looking back: Every holiday centers around a significant historical event. Our prayers speak to generational wisdom and promise; memory is a visceral part of Judaism. So why, in this week’s Torah portion, Vayeira, is someone punished for looking back?
Idit, better known as Lot’s wife (we first see her named in Midrash Tanchuma), is among the few allowed to leave Sodom as it is destroyed by divine forces. Although she hears the instruction not to turn back, she cannot resist. As she gazes back at the burning city, Idit is turned to a pillar of salt.
It’s impossible not to look back and wonder what might have been, so why was Idit punished?
The rabbis of Midrash explain that Idit and Lot had been “a house divided” on the subject of whether they should welcome strangers into their home with hospitality. Idit was so displeased with her partner that she alerted the neighbors to the presence of strangers by asking them for salt, explaining that she had enough for her family but not the guests. Because of this action, the people of Sodom knew about the presence of visitors and attacked according to their selfish ways (Gen. Rabbah 51:5).
Idit looks back in anger, blaming others for her circumstances — her husband for welcoming guests, her neighbors for their violence, even Abraham for setting the example of hospitality. Perhaps this blame is what causes her to become “salty.” When we focus on remembering only the negative actions of others that have led to the present circumstances, we can fail to see the ways we have missed the mark ourselves. A heart crowded with blame has no room for the introspection needed for self-improvement.
May Idit’s story remind us that, as we look back on our lives, seeing only others’ mistakes will just make us salty. Instead, may we take the opportunity to reflect on our own actions and contributions to circumstances with introspection and compassion. May the stories we carry with us inspire us to be our best selves. PJC
Rabbi Emily Meyer is an educator and the founder of Doodly Jew on Facebook. This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.