Vayera: Regret and Courage

Copyright 2011 Neal Joseph Loevinger

Torah Portion: Vayera

Such a rich Torah portion this week! Vayera mixes the personal
and political; most of the portion is about Avraham, Sarah, and
their complicated family life, but we also encounter the wicked
cities of Sodom and Gemorrah, and God’s intention to destroy
the cities for their evil. One problem is that Avraham’s nephew,
Lot, is living there, and is warned to get out before the day of
judgement. Lot is able to escape with his wife and two
daughters, but his wife doesn’t make it too far:

“And his wife looked from behind him, and she became a pillar
of salt. . . .” (Genesis 19:26)

Apparently, in the middle of her flight to safety, Lot’s wife looks
behind at the destruction, and gets “frozen” in that moment.
Rashi, the 11th century French commentator, adds only that she
was looking from behind Lot himself. Now, from a strictly
historical perspective, it’s easy to imagine that the Torah is
offering up an explanation for some natural phenomenon- you
can see colorful mineral deposits which look like “pillars of salt”
near the Dead Sea, which are identified with Lot’s wife to this
day.

Yet there is such literary and spiritual power in this image: a
person frozen in the moment of looking back, never able to move
on, spiritually or psychologically, from their regrets at things left
behind. What’s so interesting is that Sodom and Gemorrah are
portrayed as fairly nasty places- places that most people would
be glad to leave forever! Maybe Lot’s wife knew that Sodom was
a terrible place, but could not imagine a better life for herself, or

maybe some part of her was still “stuck” in the patterns of life
there, and thus she looks back in regret for her loss.

Rashi, as noted above, says that Lot’s wife looked out from
behind Lot himself- this seems to be a hint that she wasn’t
looking at the future (represented by her husband and children,
going to a better life), but at the past, represented by the
destruction of the city she must leave. Perhaps the insight of this
tragic image is that sometimes a bad situation still feels safer
than change and further growth.

Sometimes people get frozen and immobile- not physically, like
a pillar- but spiritually, on the inside, which is probably worse.
The key here is choice and courage- the choice to look ahead
and fearlessly grow, accompanied by the courage to leave
behind ways of being and thinking that may not be working
anymore. That’s the choice which God gives Lot and his family,
and gives to each of us, every day.

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