What is the deeper connection between Lot's wife's sin and her punishment?
“And his wife looked behind him, and she became a pillar of salt.” (Bereishis 19:26)
he Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 51:5) explains that because Lot’s wife had sinned with salt, this punishment was particularly fitting for her. When Lot brought the angels home, his wife circulated to all of her neighbors, asking if any of them had salt to lend to serve her guests. Although her behavior seemed innocent, in reality, her secret objective was to publicize that she had guests, so the townspeople of Sedom would converge on her house and demand that the guests be handed over to them, which is indeed what occurred. (Rabbi Ozer Alport, Parsha Potpourri)
It was one of those situations where you just had to be there. Or rather, you had to be here. A pure Only-in-Israel special.
My son-in-law and daughter were driving to his parents one broiling hot Erev Shabbos this past summer. After they packed the suitcases and the kids into the car (in that order; kids’ patience to sit is limited), they pulled out to make the half-hour drive. My daughter handed out an Erev Shabbos treat — bright orange popsicles — hoping to alleviate the heat, and maybe even the are-we-there-yet chorus from the back seat.
This story is difficult to understand for two reasons. First, how is it possible that a self-respecting housewife ran her kitchen without an essential condiment like salt? Second, why is the fact that Lot’s wife didn’t have salt a reason that she was transformed into a pillar of salt? Had she not been stocked with potatoes, would she instead have become a potato? What is the deeper connection between her sin and her punishment?
As they sped along, they pulled up to a checkpoint right outside our city. Although it’s manned by soldiers, the checkpoint is more for show than for serious security concerns, and usually you can just wave and drive on by.
This time, though, a burly soldier in full gear approached the car and motioned to my son-in-law to open his window. Still holding his popsicle, my son-in-law did so, wishing the officer a Shabbat Shalom and assuming he’d let him be on his way. I mean, what could be suspicious about a guy and his wife, both frantically licking melting orange popsicles? But surprisingly, the soldier motioned to him to open the back windows as well.
Rabbi Chaim Zvi Senter explains that salt is a food that, if eaten by itself, lacks good taste and nutritional value. Paradoxically, it’s also an essential ingredient in countless recipes, and if omitted, its absence is clearly detectable. Even though salt seems to lack value when viewed in a vacuum, in reality it’s an extremely versatile condiment with the ability to enhance the flavor of other ingredients. Salt can be described as a food whose entire purpose is to serve other foods.
In light of this insight, it’s completely understandable that Lot’s wife, who was so steeped in the self-centered and stingy mindset that permeated Sedom, viewed salt, a food whose very essence is dedicated to benefiting others, as an alien product that had no place in her home. Similarly, her punishment of turning into a pillar of salt was particularly appropriate. Because she spent her life focused solely on her own selfish needs with an utter lack of concern for the less fortunate, she was transformed into an eternal monument of chesed by being forced to exist in the form of a food that serves no function other than assisting others.
My son-in-law was getting a bit nervous, especially when the soldier motioned something to another soldier who approached as my son-in-law opened the window. The soldier leaned into the back window, coming face-to-face with my three-year-old grandson, who eyed him warily from behind his orange pop.
Then a big smile broke over the soldier’s face, and from behind his back, he whipped out a packaged ice cream cone, replete with syrup and sprinkles.
“Here, chamudi,” he said to my grandson, “take this one. It’s yummier than the orange one.”
And with that he waved the car on.
Only in Israel. It’s a land of soldiers and checkpoints, unfortunately. Yet it’s also a land of love and kindness toward our fellow Jew, where the people are the salt of the earth.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 817)
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