Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

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Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Parshat VaYera

The Fate of Mrs. Lot

You can't say she wasn't warned: "Flee for your life, do not look behind you, and do not stand in the entire plain. Flee to the mountain, lest you perish" (Bereshit 19:17). Essentially, Sedom was going to be destroyed. "Brimstone and fire" was going to rain down onto it turning into "soil devastated by sulfur and salt" (Devarim 29:22). The local bitumen pits would ignite and everything nearby would be destroyed. Therefore, the angel advised them to flee to the mountains, the high lands. There they would be safe.

Lot's wife fled but "she looked behind him, and she became a pillar of salt" (Bereshit 19:26). The angel warned her not turn around, she did and so faced instantaneous retribution. Or did she?

The Hizkuni would give low marks for this translation. He offers an alternative interpretation. The words" "
ותהי ניצב מלח" do not refer to Mrs. Lot, but to the site that she saw. "It (i.e. the city) was being turning into a block of salt."

This explanation is strange because:

  • The angel warned her not turn round and she did – surely she deserves punishment.
  • It implies that she survived the destruction, but she does not appear again in the story.

Indeed, it would be hard to argue that she survived, for Lot's daughters end up seducing their father. It is unlikely that they would have been able to do that had she been alive..

Nevertheless, is the legend that she was instantaneously turned into a pillar of salt correct? Well, it appears that none of the medieval exegetes actually say that.

The Rashbam explains that the reason the angel told them not to look back was because it would slow them down. You recall that Lot kept on delaying: "He tarried, so the men took hold of his hand and his wife's hand, and the hand of his two daughters, out of the Lord's pity for him, and they took him out and placed him outside the city" (ibid 16).

The angels had to physically remove Lot from the city as he wasn't leaving. Even after that, he kept on delaying despite the fact that the angels were urging him to leave.

Lot wasted so much time, that by the time he fled, he no longer had a second despair. Any further delay, if they slowed down even an instant, they would be swept up and covered by the fire and brimstone and then by salt, just like everyone else.

Therefore, when Lot's wife, who was already some distance behind Lot, turned around, she gazed and witnessed the destruction that was taking place. After a few minutes of gazing, she decided to continue her climb, but by then it was too late. The exploding bitumen pits and the rising sulfur eventually caught up with her. Perhaps earth tremors even he caused her to stumble and fall.

Her final fate therefore, was to become a pile of salt, just like everyone else in Sedom. However, it wasn't instantaneous – God rarely works like that.

Last year's Sedra Short for Parshat VaYera, entitled: "Yishmael the Impersonator” appears at

Another Sedra Short for Parshat VaYera, entitled: "She's my Sister – Again!!" can be found at

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Blogger smoo said...

I had the same concerns you did about Lot's wife, had she survived. I liked your approach. Thanks for the insight.

10:56 PM  

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