Sunday, October 24, 2010

Rethinking Lot's wife

Yesterday in shul, we read the story of the destruction of Sodom. As Lot's family left the burning city, his wife disobeyed the instruction of the angels, who had told them not to look back, and was instantaneously turned into a pillar of salt.

Traditionally, Lot's wife is villainised. She was disobedient, a rebel - and the midrash goes out of its way to emphasise her negative traits, explaining that in common with the other residents of Sodom, she was inhospitable to her guests.

But why did she turn round? Why did she have to take that last look at her burning home? A lovely piece by Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson forces us to reconsider Lot's wife's essential character.
Actually, we know one other fact about Lot’s wife: she is the mother of four daughters. Two were married, as we know from the fact that Lot consults his sons-in-law, “who had married his daughters” and they refused to take his warning seriously. In addition to those two married daughters were two others, the “two remaining daughters.”

When the angels came to take Lot and his family out of the condemned city, they actually left two of Lot’s daughters behind with their husbands.....

But the mother’s heart could not let go. Mrs. Lot couldn’t choose between her children, couldn’t bear that two of her daughters were trapped in the flames. Her head knew it had to fight to live for her surviving children, but her mother’s heart tugged her toward Sodom, toward the children left behind.

“Just one more look, maybe it’s not to late to help them,” she might have reasoned. And so, imperiling her own life, like countless mother’s have done for their children throughout the ages, she stopped, and she looked back, desperately trying to see her children one last time.

And that moment of turning cost her her life—the advancing sulfur, the streaming lava, immediately engulfed her.
In this reading, the angels' words to Lot - “Do not look behind you, nor stop anywhere in the Plain; flee to the hills, lest you be swept away” - are less of an order and more of an exhortation. Lot's wife was not being punished for disobedience, she was paying the price of motherhood.

Read the whole thing here.

(Via Uri Cohen)

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