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Avoid Turning into a Pillar of Salt

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

“And it came to pass, when they took them outside, that he said, ‘Flee for your life, do not look behind you, and do not stand in the entire plain. Flee to the mountain, lest you perish….‘ And his wife looked from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt.” (Genesis 19:17,26)

In the above verses, the Torah describes how the angels hurry Lot and his wife out of the city of Sedom, warning them not to look behind them. Lot’s wife disobeys this instruction, looks behind them, and turns into a pillar of salt. This episode requires further understanding. Why are Lot and his wife instructed not to look back? The verse should have stated: ‘And his wife looked behind her.’ What does it mean that she looked “behind him”? Why is Lot’s wife turned into a pillar of salt?

Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim Luntschitz (Kli Yakar), a 16th century sage from Prague, suggests that the key to understanding this text is the following Talmudic expression: Melach Mamon Chesed/Chaser (Ketubot 66b), meaning that the salt for money is doing kindness with one’s money (diminishing one’s money through charity). Just as salt preserves food, charitable giving preserves one’s money. The world view of Sedom was the opposite. In Sedom, laws were established forbidding charitable giving. Lot and his wife were, essentially, being told by the angels that they were to leave behind this culture of attachment to possessions. They were to realize that it is God who blesses us with possessions and that our charitable giving places God’s blessing upon our assets. Lot’s wife looked “behind him”, because she was only concerned with what Lot would leave behind for her after his passing. She ignored the spiritual message of salt and, therefore, turned into a pillar of salt. This explanation is consistent with the Midrash quoted by Rashi that when Lot asked his wife to share salt with the guests, she berated him for importing foreign customs to Sedom.

Salt is a preservative, but salt also enhances flavor. Rebbe Nachman teaches that giving charity causes our remaining resources to shine spiritually. (Likutei Moharan Lesson 25) Let us use our resources to preserve them and cause them to glow with God’s splendor!