Pass the Salt

There is a Talmudic tradition that states that G-d interacts with the world through the method of “Middah Knegged Middah,” or “Measure for Measure.” When we demonstrate kindness, then in the future kindness comes our way. Conversely if we are unfriendly, then unfriendliness comes our way as well.

This teaching presents itself in our Parsha, Vayera when the dark cities of Sodom and Gomorrah are destroyed. After the population reaches the lowest possible state of morality, it is decided in heaven that these cities will cease to exist.

Abraham’s nephew, Lot, was dwelling in Sodom at the time. He was deemed righteous and, therefore, together with his family he is instructed by angels to depart from the city immediately. However, there was a caveat: Don’t look back. See the verse:                

Genesis 19:17

וַיְהִי֩ כְהוֹצִיאָ֨ם אֹתָ֜ם הַח֗וּצָה וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ הִמָּלֵ֣ט עַל־נַפְשֶׁ֔ךָ אַל־תַּבִּ֣יט אַחֲרֶ֔יךָ וְאַֽל־תַּעֲמֹ֖ד בְּכׇל־הַכִּכָּ֑ר הָהָ֥רָה הִמָּלֵ֖ט פֶּן־תִּסָּפֶֽה׃

When the angels had brought Lot and his family outside, one said, “Flee for your life! Do not look behind you, nor stop anywhere in the Plain; flee to the hills, lest you be swept away.”

Lot, his wife Idit, and his two unmarried daughters managed to escape. His older two married daughters remained behind and got caught in the destruction. On their way out, Idit chose to disregard the celestial instruction and turn around to look back. She then miraculously transforms into a pillar of salt. See the verse: 

Genesis 19:26

וַתַּבֵּ֥ט אִשְׁתּ֖וֹ מֵאַחֲרָ֑יו וַתְּהִ֖י נְצִ֥יב מֶֽלַח׃

Lot’s wife looked back, and she thereupon turned into a pillar of salt.

The Torah states that Sodom, Gemorrah, and the region became consumed by sulfur and fire. Why is Lot’s wife consumed by salt?

The Midrash Rabbah expounds that when living in Sodom, Lot asked his wife if she could bring some salt to the table for guests. She responded, “Oh no, you want to bring that custom to our home and neighborhood.” Therefore, since she ridiculed the kindness and sensitivity of welcoming guests and providing them with tasty and salted food, when tearfully and sensitively looking back on the destruction of her hometown where her two married daughters still resided, she was transformed into a pillar of salt. Since she was not generous with the salt and did not show sensitivity to the guests, when she did display sensitivity and concern for her daughters and her hometown, she was reminded of her lack of sensitive hospitality by actually becoming salt.

I believe there are two important lessons for us to glean from this biblical narrative:

  • When we choose to leave behind bad life choices, our task in to not look back, rather to look ahead and create a new tomorrow. When Idit looked back, it became her undoing.
  • As written above, “Middah Knegged Middah.” Our experiences in life are often inspired by our previous choices and behaviors. When we are generous and charitable, generosity will surround us. When we extend ourselves to others, we will find others extend themselves toward us.

From this perspective, we write our own script of what type of life we want to live. Our father Abraham was the pillar of kindness, and therefore his life was filled with kindness. Idit was miserly and unkind, and therefore she resulted in becoming a pillar of salt.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Epstein
Community Scholar in Residence