Vayera – A Pinch of Salt

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The Angels told Lot and his family to flee Sodom in this week’s Torah portion of Vayera, because they were going to destroy the city with fire and brimstone. They warned them to not look back, and Rashi says the reason for this is because Lot and his family were wicked with them. It was only because of the merit of Avraham that they were saved, and they are not worthy to see others being punished while themself being saved (Rashi on Breishis 19:17).

The Torah relates that while Lot and his family were running for their lives, “But his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt” (19:26). Rashi gives a reason why she specifically turned into a pillar of salt instead of the same punishment everyone else got of fire or brimstone: “By salt she sinned and by salt she was punished. Lot said to her, ‘Give a little salt to these guests.’ She said to him, ‘This evil custom too you come to institute in this place?!'” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

Rashi is based on a Medrish at the end of Breishis Rabba 50:4, which took place when Lot brought in and took care of his two guests before they told him to flee the city. However, there is a medrish a bit later (Breishis Rabba 51:5), on this very pasuk that discusses his wife turning into a pillar of salt. This medrish in facts tells us why she was turned into a pillar of salt, “Rebbe Yitzchak said that she sinned with salt. That night the angels came to Lot, what did she do? She went to all her neighbors and asked them, ‘Give me salt, for we have guests.’ Her intent was for everyone in the city to realize what was happening and for that reason she became a pillar of salt. The Maharz”u adds that because she went around to her neighbors, she therefore became frozen as a pillar of salt that she could not walk. This was exact measure for measure for her wrongdoing. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

If that is the case, then why did Rashi quote an earlier medrish for the reason why she was turned into a pillar of salt, and why in fact does the Maharz”u in this medrish reference this previous medrish as a source where everything will be explained when in fact this medrish seems to be self-explanatory?

 To put, the severity of the issue  into proper context, it is known that one of the laws of Sodom was to not accept or treat guests nicely. Infact, it was a capital crime to take care of guests in Sodom, the Sodomites being worried about strangers taking advantage of them. Obviously, this is a very selfish mindset which was taken to an extreme. But Lot’s wife being from Sodom felt threatened by her husband for asking for salt for the guests to dip their matzah into, since it was Pesach time,  which was a show of hospitality. This in fact the Maharz”u points out on the medrish that Rashi quoted that measure for measure for sinning with salt Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt.

It would seem from the basic understanding of the second medrish that the reason why she turned into a stiff pillar of salt was because she walked around to each neighbor asking for a pinch of salt with the intent of informing on her husband. When following through on what happened, we see her plan worked and a wild group of people gathered in front of their house demanding the surrender of the guests. Only because the Angels blinded the people were they able to escape the city with Lot’s family. Why didn’t Rashi use this medrish which is more of an exact reason for her punishment measure for measure? Informing on Lot to the Sodomite citizens is much more of a severe sin than just arguing with him. There are very serious punishments for an informant in Jewish Law and one of the causes of the destruction of the second Beis Hamikdash was Bar Kamtza informing on the Jews to the Roman government. So, it would make more sense for Rashi to have quoted this medrish which more directly discusses the reason for her punishment and discusses a more severe sin she did then to quote the first medrish which was only the initial skirmish and disapproval she had with Lot?

We must say that the blame for the punishment was the initial sin of arguing with her husband which spiraled into informing on them and almost getting at least the guests but possibly everyone killed. But because she didn’t keep the initial reason for sin in check and she just escalated the problem, the blame was on the initial altercation and not for the more severe sin which ensued afterward.

We can learn from here a possible trick on how to stop ourselves from continuing to sin, for if one realizes that the blame of his or her sin was for the initial starting point which one allows to escalate and make worse than he or she would be sure to keep it in check out of embarrassment or fear of punishment so that the matter won’t get worse.

Realizing that the blame for sin is on the initial action even though the punishment is on the entire process might stop the whole process of the sin from happening.