Rabbi Irena Gritsevskaya takes us behind the scenes as she searches for the ‘real’ Lot’s Wife. Using Torah commentary and a 20th Century Russian poet, Rabbi Gritsevskaya explores identity and the midrash to unveil the reason for what befalls our un-named biblical figure.
Lot’s wife looked back, and she thereupon turned into a pillar of salt. (Genesis 19:26)
I always pitied this nameless disobedient woman
by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1921)
– from Anno Domini MCMXXI translation by D. M. Thomas
And the just man trailed God’s shining agent,
over a black mountain, in his giant track,
while a restless voice kept harrying his woman:
“It’s not too late, you can still look back at the red towers of your native Sodom,
the square where once you sang, the spinning-shed,
at the empty windows set in the tall house
where sons and daughters blessed your marriage-bed.”
A single glance: a sudden dart of pain
stitching her eyes before she made a sound . . .
Her body flaked into transparent salt,
and her swift legs rooted to the ground.
Who will grieve for this woman? Does she not seem
too insignificant for our concern?
Yet in my heart I never will deny her,
who suffered death because she chose to turn.
“Since they have come under the shelter of my roof.” Lot’s wife turned the house against them, saying to him [Lot]: ‘If you want to receive them, receive them in your portion’
(Bereshit Rabbah, Gen. 19:8)
His wife looked behind her – Rabbi Isaac said, for she sinned with salt. That night when the angels came to Lot, what was she doing? Going to all her neighbors and saying to them, give me salt, because we have guests. And her intention was that the men of the city would come to know of them. Therefore “she became a pillar of salt.”
(Bereishit Rabbah 19:17)
Lot’s wife Iddit, who was concerned about the fate of her married daughters, ignored the instructions, and, as a result, was turned into a pillar of salt.
(Tur on the Torah, Rabbi Yaakov ben Rabbeinu Asher (R’osh), trans. Eliyahu Munk, 2005)
Irith, Lot’s wife, had feelings of compassion for her married daughters whom she had left behind, and this is what caused her to turn around. She wanted to see if these daughters now followed them.
(Torah Commentary by Rabbi Bachya ben Asher, trans. Eliyahu Munk, 1998)
This is Lot’s wife, Edith, of whom it is stated: BUT HIS WIFE LOOKED BACK, AND SHE BECAME A PILLAR OF SALT. 38 The name Edith suggests the Hebrew ‘ed’, which means “witness”; and indeed, as a pillar of salt.
(Midrash Tanhuma, S. Buber Recension; trans. John T. Townsend, 1989)
Irina Gritsevskaya is the Executive Director of Midreshet Schechter. She holds an LL.B. from Hebrew University in Jerusalem, an LL.M., and was ordained by the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary. A native of St. Petersburg, Rabbi Gritsevskaya made aliya as a teenager and currently lives in Tel Aviv.