When the family of Lot was being urged to flee the destruction of Sedom, they were told, “Do not look back!” Lot’s wife looked back — and she was turned into a pillar of salt.
What was so terrible about looking back? Is it not natural to have a little curiosity? True, they needed to hurry. But why not sneak a peek? No looking at all! After the punishment had already begun, they would surely be taught a lesson by seeing it. Maybe they should actively look.
Many explanations are given, all of which are valid, but they are all on a deeper level. There is a simple explanation that rings true to all of us wherever we might find ourselves.
My Rosh Yeshiva once made a rule that if a boy is caught in the kitchen at night stealing food, he must be thrown out of Yeshiva. On Purim, in jest, the Rosh Yeshiva was asked whether his crime was the reason for his being thrown out or a symptom of his character, which was the real cause for his being expelled.
One of the faculty answered, “You missed a third possibility. The fact that he is in the kitchen means that he is not really in the Yeshiva. Yeshiva boys belong in the study halls or in their dorm rooms, and not in the kitchen. If he is not really part of the Yeshiva, he does not belong and should be expelled.”
Lot and his family were being informed that they did not belong in Sedom. They were a part of the family of Avraham. This was the reason that they were being spared. It was now time for them to leave. Leaving meant not looking back. True, they could not live too close to Avraham. They had to separate, for the reasons mentioned in last week’s parsha. But they did not belong here, in Sedom.
“Escape to the mountain! For if you do not escape, you will be caught up in the destruction of this place, where you really do not belong!”
Lot’s wife became a netziv, which is similar to the word matzeivah — a monument of salt. The Ibn Ezra explains what happened. There seems to have been a flow of hot sulphur and fire. This seems to have burned her body and converted it to a monument of salts. There must have been a miraculous narrow path through the river for the family of Lot to run. It was so close that it could easily grab them and pull them in.
The moment Lot’s wife looked back, she was grabbed by the river.
She showed that for her, at least, this was home. She considered herself a part of the local society. “Lest you are wiped out (together with the locals) in the sin of this city!” Therefore, she herself became a monument for them. They themselves had no monuments. But she, who did not belong but attached herself to them and was punished with them, became a monument for them.
Lot’s wife is a monument for all Abrahamic family members who become attached to societies that are antithetical to our values. They become so attached that when those societies go down and we are able to escape, they wish they could stay behind. PJC
Rabbi Shimon Silver is spiritual leader of Young Israel of Greater Pittsburgh. This column is a service of the Vaad Harabanim of Greater Pittsburgh.