Parasha Vayera

פרשׁת וִיַרְא

Every week, a portion of one of the five books of Moses, known as the Torah, is read in the synagogue. The reading that I wanted to share some of my insights, and questions regarding is the portion known as Parashat Vayirah. The part of the portion that I discuss in this piece, consists essentially of Genesis, Chapter 18 & 19.

It is, to put it mildly, a heck of a text. It has three angels visiting Abraham, to tell him and Sara, both approaching their 100th year of life, that she was going to have a baby. It contains the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, with Lot's wife turning into a pillar of salt. Then we have Abraham's lying about Sara being his sister, and finally the binding of Isaac.

As much as I would have liked to have completed the whole chapter, at this stage, I am sharing just up to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorroh and Lot's ending up in a cave in the mountains with his two daughters.

Whenever I approach these texts more closely, I keep in mind the environment in which this story takes place, which, I have to admit, was probably something a lot different from that which we are accustomed to today. Ignoring the lack of “modern technology”for the moment, let us note some of the strangenesses that were spoken of from those days. Let that strangeness allow us to open our minds to the non-rational, or perhaps the supra-rational.

Using shaman methodology to investigate this story, I look at what part of it could be a journey, and what part of it could fit into my understanding of what I will refer to, as the “3D” or“consensual” reality in which we live. I do that because I take the journey to be one that will take me to a non-material realm. And the non-material realm is where the spiritual begins. For it is the realm of the ideal, of the vow, of the Brit.

“HaShem appeared to him”

Approaching it from the English rendering, in which the Parasha begins with the nameless aspect of G!d, HaShem, the one we refer to as the Name, because It has no name, being beyond the realm of naming. Part of creation’s emergence was the need for Adam to name everything. HaShemthen is beyond this realm being the source of creation, the “One” that exists before creation. Now, this could alert us to the fact that this portion is starting in the presence of the Divine, “For HaShem appeared to him”, thus he must be in sacred space. We could say that he was visited by the Divine.

In the Hebrew, the first word is not HaShem, but is וירא Vayirah. It is also the name of the chapter, and can be rendered as “It (HaShem) will be seen,” a form of looking that is the looking into the future, “You will see”, and hence “appeared”, because of the biblical future tense being rendered as the past.

I find this straddling, this con-fusion of the past and the future fascinating. It generally occurs in reference to the Divine though. It is as if She acts in the future, that is, exists as the future, as pregnant with possibilities. The “past” is what has been actualised, been made manifest. But HaShem remains the only possible, potential, action.

In the Hebrew, HaShem is not the second word either – it is the third. Thus it intimates that first there needs to be the act of seeing, which requires also looking. In order for it to appear, he must have been looking for it, and then found, i.e. seeing, it. And this requires astillness, an ability to hear, to receive.

And he sat at the entrance to the tent. והוּא ישׁב פתח־האֹהל

Upon this appearance of the Divine, we find Abraham sitting “at the entrance”. Why is he sitting there in the first place? In the heat of the day, would one not want to be in coolness of the tent itself?

Perhaps it is representative of the beginning of a journey. Every journey will begin “at the entrance” – as it is for me. As I approach the Shabbat, during which time the portion will be read, it becomes a journey that unfolds with the story and the reading. This one is particularly lovely, because it starts, as I mentioned, with the “appearance of HaShem” – vayirah elav HaShem וירא אליו יהוה

So in the "heat of the day" – Pitom ha’yom פתוֹם היום "He lifts his eyes” – ve’yeseh einav va’yaar וישׁא עיניו וַיַרְא whilesitting at the entrance to the tent. This is another clue to his state, for why is it referred to as the tent? Why is Abraham not sitting at the entrance to his tent? There may be a reference to what later became to be called “the tent of meeting”.

The lifting of his eyes is also perchance a code phrase for something occurring, especially considering the context in which this phrase is used. Normally it would be referring to something of the Divine,as in: “I lift up my eyes to the heavens”, etc. Is there a usage of it other than that context? And is it not a strange turn of phrase – lifting my eyes? Can I lift my eyes without lifting my head? And how do I lift my eyes? Is it a simple turning upward of my eyeballs? Or is it something more metaphorical? Say I close my eyes, and lift my consciousness, ascending to a “higher” plane...

A lot of Jewish literature, especially of the more esoteric nature, focuses on these journeys of ascent, in full realisation of their spiritually uplifting nature. Events in which you are encouraged to strive for the highest you can reach. That is the greatness of many of these stories and their continued fascination for us all.

One last point, the word use for “lift” here is נשׂא which also means to arise, heighten, to carryfrom one place to another. So the subtlety of “carrying your eyes from one place to another”, implies lifting them from this place, the shifting of vision from this reality to another, in which, you ... will see – וירא.

The moment I see, things start happening. We could think of “seeing” as conscious looking, for until you become conscious of what you are looking at, you cannot see anything! Otherwise what you see, is not what you are looking at, but something in your imagination.

A moment here, please. In the beginning there was light. But unless there are beings who could see the light, of what use, purpose or significance is the light? Remember, the Parashah starts with the world “and he saw - it will be seen” translated as “appearance”, as if he had nothing to do with this visitation. But he “saw”, first the presence of HaShem, and now the three men/angels.

What comes next is lovely. “Behold!” thunders forth. First the act of seeing, then the act of “be-holding” – היני – behold. The moment is here. It has arrived and is producing the here and now and you are commanded to behold, be present! Again, what we are looking at needs to be-held in order to have any meaning, otherwise, it comes and goes, merely flitting through our consciousness.

he ran to meet them from athe tent door, and bowed down to the earth

Now there “appear” three men, standing over him – נִצָּבִים עָלָיו. Yet he subsequently rises and goes to greet them. How can the two be reconciled? Again, we have vayirah – he saw, he perceived (here again the future is the past). What did he perceive exactly that caused him, sitting in pain after his recent circumcision, to rush out and tend to these people? Though nowhere does it mention his pain. Perhaps it was taking place in another context, not quite this 3d one. He was in fact, sitting there, tripping his brains out – in modern day parlance. I mean, just reading this jumble is causing my brain to beat like an excited boy’s heart.

He approaches these men in the most regal fashion, bowing down to the, referring to them as “my lord”, and begs them to stay with the poetic phrase: “Please pass not away from your servant” – אַל–נָא תַעֲבֹר מֵעַל עַבְדֶּךָ. How come he refers to them as “my lord”? Surely he should have used the plural. How much of an expression of the many manifest as one, was he dealing with here?

So, I propose that we are engaging with another realm again. For this is the arrival of the manifest aspect of the Divine. The non-incarnate represented by HaShem while the angels are the incarnate. They represent the function of the Divine ego manifesting here – and perhaps in the whole of creation.

It is almost like we have entered the Abrahamic realm again. It exists as a strange admixture of the physical and the non-physical, where the people and the angelic realm are intertwined in the story. They existed in such symbiosis that they are more closely connected to this realm, and the “group” slipped in and out together.

It is the sort of merging that happens when a number of people are practising together. Whether tripping on entheogens, or in love, or fighting a war together, there can be moments where there is a knowing, and an ability to act as one. They can know at moments what the other is thinking and act accordingly.

In essence, whatever life was for these people, whether this is an imaginary tale of the times, or a real one; whether it was written during those times, or recorded later from stories and tales that had survived the age, it was different in ways we cannot even imagine. I mean, for a start, some people guy lived for about 900 years or so. Abraham and his wife were about to conceive as they approach their 100th years and Sara was so beautiful, even then, that Avimelech falls in love with her.

And now she begins to share his experience, when he runs back to the tent and tells her to make some cake for the guests. Cake in those days also could have referred to a sweet bread.

There is an interesting note here on diet. The diet is meat, and milk and cream and bread. That would be a nomadic feast, because if you are moving, you cannot carry that much grain. Animals can walk and thus can be used for food and milk. It makes sense in the time when animals could be thought of as mobile food carriers.

Why does Abraham stand over them while they are eating? Does it have any connection with the men standing over him when he saw? The verb used for the angels standing was nitzav – ניצב, which implies some sort of structure. Whereas in Abraham’s case, the more common omed עומד is used.Surely a good host would sit and eat with his guests and not “stand over” them?

They then “call to Sara”.

Here is an interesting twist to this tale. Perhaps the three men came for Sara. They needed to be physically manifest, because there was something they needed to “do” to her to enable her to conceive. That is why they ask for Sara specifically. And Abraham says, “She is in the tent”. Where else would she be? In her tent? No, she is waiting in the tent. Then she stands at its entrance but behind him, listening to the conversation.

When she laughs scornfully at the news that she will conceive, it is HaShem that is upset by her reaction, her lack of faith – not one of the angels. He rebukes her, addressingAbraham.It was as if He, HaShem, was there all the time. One could take a more sophisticated look at the landscape we are referring to here. HaShem enters, then sends down the angels. Now it seems that he has been there the whole time. For it does not say that he appeared again. This is why I think that this tale is unfolding in the two worlds simultaneously. The divine, sacred world of HaShem, and the denser world of this physicality. In the same way the future is rendered as the past in the readings.

Referring to the Chumash: Note 11, p80, באים בַּיָמים "Well on in years:".

‘The Zohar comments that each day in a person’s life carries with it its own challenge and mission. What is to be accomplished today cannot be postponed till tomorrow, because tomorrow has its own set of things to do. In the normal course of events, people go through life with their “spiritual calendars” marred by countless days and hours that were wasted or, even worse, misused. But the greatest people, like Abraham and Sarah, come through life with all their days intact, all of them utilised properly and purposefully. This is the significance of the expression בָאִים בִַּיָמים.
Literally, they came with days: They reached their old age with a rich harvest of days that truly mattered.

The men must have sojourned there a little while, for at least half a day, asAbraham had enough time to slaughter a calf and prepare its meat.Unless, of course, it was happening in a non-spatial/temporal realm. Now they are ready to go, having delivered the message. Abraham will escort them, and while he is doing that, HaShem is talking to Himself, debating whether to tell Abraham that He is going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. Why would He feel obligated to share this information with Abraham? How does it affect their relationship? There is a note which says that He did not want anyone to talk badly about the way He handled the scene, in relation to Abraham. Why does He care? Why is it so important to have this balance? Was it because of the covenant with Abraham?Basically it said, if you obey my will, you will inherit this land. So, it is indicative of a very close relationship with the two. Of how important Abraham was to HaShem.

The men/angels then continue to Sodom, while Abraham remains behind with HaShem to negotiate the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah. Which further speaks of HaShem’s continued presence during this whole incidence. And that gives some credence to my theory that perhaps the angels needed to do some actual work on Sara to enable her to conceive.

Chap 19: This is a turbulent chapter.

They (Abraham and HaShem) conclude their negotiations having reached an agreement that if there are 10 good people in Sodom, G!d will not destroy it.

From that we could extrapolate that what one needs to keep a town alive is just ten good men. And also that Abraham has some pull regarding Ha’Shem. I pray that we would all have such a gift. The men of G!d arrive at Sodom at nightfall, and by morning, they are ready to destroy the cities. This does not give Abraham much time to find his ten good men. Or was Ha’Shem going to send an angel to scan the city? Did He not already know the tally? This negotiation is not mentioned again. So, what was its real purpose? And what was the meaning of righteous in this context? It is often said that the issue that Sodom and the cities suffered that caused their destruction was sexual impurity. The other was their renowned inhospitability was also a sin in G!d’s eyes. Which included not caring for the sick and the weak.

Perhaps the next events, hectic as they are,chased out any more thoughts of the ten righteous.

Now what is interesting here too, is that three men appear to Abraham. After delivering their message, they get up and “gaze towards Sodom” and Abraham escorts them! Once again we have a mixup of the visual and the actual. It does not say that they walked or travelled to Sodomonly that they “gazed”. So how could Abraham then accompany them? Once again we might be in the journey world.

The men now turn from there, and go to Sodom, while Abraham stands before HaShem and “two arrive in Sodom” – whereas 3 men arrived at Abraham’s. This introduces the notion that one of the 3 was HaShem! For remember, it was HaShem who became angry at Sara! And in “Beholders of Divine Secrets” by Vita Daphne Arbel it says “The central truth is the ability of G!d to assume a form and let it be seen by man” a quote from J. Barr, “Theosopy and Anthropomorphism in the Old Testament”, p32.

When the men arrive, Lot is sitting at the entrance to the city,just as Abraham was sitting at the entrance to his tent. How come Lot “hangs out” at the entrance to the city? Has he nothing to do all day, but hang around and greet the people who come and go from Sodom? Again we encounter the significance of the entrance as a placement of the story.

Now Lot too ran up to them and fell on his face when he saw them approaching, just as Abraham did when he saw them.One could say it was because Abraham was so hospitable, but then here Lot reacts in the same way. They both must have seen or recognised them. This says in some form or fashion the angelic can be “seen”.Which gives some credence to the Christian and Moslem belief that Lot was a holy man in his own right?

It is interesting also to note that it is said that Abraham was still recovering from having circumcised himself, whereas Lot did not circumcise himself. So he is a progenitor of the uncircumcised races.

Lot invites them to stay at his place. Where they will “wash their feet”. Remember that is what Abraham said to them too. What is the significance of the washing of the feet? Is it just a form of greeting, of hospitality from those times? They respond that they will not stay with Lot, but will stay ברחוב at the “broad“place or “street”. Why do they say that? Are they just being polite? What is their reticence?

and he made them a feast, and did bake unleavened bread, and they did eat. וַיַּעַשׂ לָהֶם מִשְׁתֶּה, וּמַצּוֹת אָפָה וַיֹּאכֵלוּ

Lot insists they stay with him.Yet he does not bake them cakes (as did Abraham). Instead he offers them מִשְׁתֶּה which could be drink or feast, and matzoh – the unleavened bread we eat on Pesach. The accepted line of reasoning here is that it was Pesach time and thus Lot ate matzoh.

This does not make sense for a number of reasons. Firstly, why was Abraham not eating matzoh at the time then? Perhaps, you could respond, that Pesach began only that night. But then would Abraham not have insisted that his guests stay with him for the Passover Seder for a man of his hospitability to have guests at his Seder table would indeed have been a great honour? Secondly the Jews had not yet left Egypt. That was only to happen many hundreds of years later.

Perhaps matzoh was a type of bread that was made in those days. It was like crackers, good for travelling, as it was less bulky.

Another reason that he offered them matzoh could point to his concern about them staying there, as it was known that Sodom was not hospitable to guests. Something that was as much of a sin as their licentiousness. So, although he insisted on them staying, he was concerned, and offered them some drink and some matzoh. The matzoh speaks of his concern, because from the Exodus, we know of matzoh as abread of affliction and of journeying, as it was prepared by the Jews for their flight from Egypt. For he must have known that offering to let them stay overnight was going to upset his neighbours

The men of the city, even the men of Sodom, compassed the house round, both young and old, all the people from every quarter. וְאַנְשֵׁי הָעִיר אַנְשֵׁי סְדֹם נָסַבּוּ עַל-הַבַּיִת, מִנַּעַר וְעַד-זָקֵן:  כָּל-הָעָם, מִקָּצֶה

And his concern was justified, because טֶרֶםיִשְׁכָּבו even before they lay down “the men of the city, the people of Sodom... both young and old... from all the quarters” had surrounded the house. This sounds like quite a riot just because a couple of men came to stay at Lot’s house? Every single man and boy, old and young, from every part of the house, gathered around Lot’s house, wanting to “know” them? And why is there a repetition here?

"Where are the men that came in to thee this night? Bring them out unto us, that we may know them." אַיֵּה הָאֲנָשִׁים אֲשֶׁר-בָּאוּ אֵלֶיךָ הַלָּיְלָה; הוֹצִיאֵם אֵלֵינוּ, וְנֵדְעָה אֹתָם

Does no one think this is bizarre?

Now, as is the wont of the commentators, to always think about this thing in a certain way. Sodom was sinful, because of what was said previously.

Verily, their sin is exceeding grievous וְחַטָּאתָם--כִּי כָבְדָה, מְאֹד

Of course, we are not told of what their sin is, but we learn that it is sufficient for this city, and four others, to be completely annihilated. In fact, the Lord says:

"They have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come unto Me; and if not, I will know." הַכְּצַעֲקָתָהּ הַבָּאָה אֵלַי עָשׂוּ כָּלָה; וְאִם-לֹא, אֵדָעָה

Which is a strange turn of phrase: “And their cry (the cry of the city) has come to me”S עָשׂוּכָּלָה is a also strange phrase, literally meaning to make like a bride, and "if not I will know", says the Lord. I mention this, because the people of Sodom, all the men, want to “know” the strangers. In the biblical sense is this is used sexually, that is true. But, to there is also לשׁכב which is to “sleep” with someone. And to know someone, is more than to have sex with them.

How strange that every man, young and old, wanted to “know” these men?

Here they say “bring these people out to us that have come to you this night, so that we will know them.” According to the Rabbinic reading, it shows how evil the Sodomites had become. The whole city had risen up (though it at first says people, it then does not include the women) and they wanted to “know” these men. Was the city so desperate for new flesh that it needed to sodomise two men? That surely indicates soemthing, if not the sinful state of affairs of Sodom.

I want to go out on a limb here and speak of the Angelic nature of the two men visiting Lot, and that this might be an, albeit perverse, desire for these people to be closer to the Divine. That even in the depths of their depravity, they in their brutish way, did desire to taste of the Divine made flesh.

For they have not yet lain down”,and the people are freaking out. It did not take long for the news of their arrival to spread. But this is not surprising, for surely Lot was not the only person at the entrance to the city at the time of their arrival, and they had to accompany him to his home.

Though there is the midrash regarding Lot’s matzoh – which speaks of Lot’s wife having to go out to the neighbours to ask for some salt to bake the matzoh and that this is what alerted them to the presence of the quests. However, if Lot was sitting at the entrance to the city, would not others have seen him run out and bow to these men, then take them to his home? Unless this tale is taking place on a non-real plane.

Upon them gathering in front of his house, and demanding to know the visitors, he wants to protect these men of G!d, and so Lot steps outside and closes the door behind him, then pleads with the men, offering his two virgin daughters instead. Now this is something that is hard to swallow. And there are a number of ways to look at it.

It could speak of Lot’s amorality in him offering his daughters to the mob. However, he is being virtuous on one hand in his sincere desire to protect these men of G!d, albeit to the detriment of his daughters. It could also point to the lack of value attributed to women in those days, as just possessions of the men. As is also perhaps represented in the previous verse, when they first speak of וְאַנְשֵׁי הָעִירthe people of the city, and then say מִנַּעַרוְעַד זָקֵן – “from the youth to the elder” (both masculine).

Also, he offers his virgin daughters here, but he himself ends up having sex with them in the cave to which they flee, after they offer themselves to him.

How strangely convoluted this tale is.

However, there is perhaps another expression of this. And it is that these men are under my protection, and it is as if you would be raping my home, my very daughters by abusing them. It is as if you violated my home, my house, my family בְּצֵלקֹרָתִי under ”the shadow of my roof”.

This one fellow came in to sojourn, and he will needs play the judge הָאֶחָד בָּא-לָגוּר וַיִּשְׁפֹּט שָׁפוֹט

And the reaction of the mob, how can you, merely “a sojourner” in our land, judge us, provides further credence to this idea, because by his offering of his daughters to keep the men safe, it sounds to them like a judgement of their behaviour, and angers them even more. Here again they break the code of hospitality, and say that in response “We will deal even more harshly with you” נָרַ עלְךָ מֵהֶם. This of course, is the rallying call of all Xenophobia. “You, who are the sojourner, cannot judge me nor my actions”.

And they pressed sorely upon the man וַיִּפְצְרוּ בָאִישׁ בְּלוֹט מְאֹד

Then they use a particularly interesting turn of phrase, quite biblical, I would say, “and press sorely upon the man”, upon Lot – as if there could have been someone else? Or is it just a “literary” technique. But to dismiss it in this way would be denying the basic concept of the Torah and its perfection. That each letter, is perfectly placed, by the creator of the world, blessed be his Holy Name.

And the men put forth their hand וַיִּשְׁלְחוּ הָאֲנָשִׁים אֶת-יָדָם

They press against him, ready to break down his door, then something strange and magical occurs. The men (of G!d) stretch out their hand – a note the singular – the men (plural) put out their hand (singular). Perhaps this is referring to a collective action. But it also is reminiscent Abraham addressing the men in the singular, as “My Lord”. Or perhaps it was that there was one amongst the three who was the Lord, blessed by His name, and the other two were angels.

They bring lot inside and close the door. Now there is no mention of them opening it! Aaah, isn’t poetic license so welcome in a story. And if they had, would not the people have streamed into the house?

And they smote the men... with blindness ... so that they wearied themselves to find the door. הִכּוּ בַּסַּנְוֵרִים

And in their blindness they still sought the entrance, until they wearied of this. How long did the blindness last? If one assumes that it lasted till they wearied and went back home, would they then have decided to give up this quest to know the men? Would they forget and forgive and go onto something else, till the morning? If it was so important to them that they all gathered at Lot’s house, would they just wander off after being blinded? Or did they realise they were dealing with forces that were magical and this scared them off. But if that was true, then why did they continue to seek the entrance even after being struck blind?

And interesting line to note is that the angels made manifest an inner state of blindness that already existed in these men. Theyjust allowed the truth of what was inside to emerge on the outside. So can angels do that without G!d’s bidding, as in this case. Whereas there seem to be other times (e.g. Job) where G!dacts according to whims and laws that are beyond our ken. In addition, human character, when enraged, becomes blinded by rage or righteousness. [ i.e. mother who threw acid in daughter’s face, waiting two days before taking her to hospital ] continue on blind, often destructive, or cruel and violent paths... “continuing to seek the entrance”.

At dawn, the angels urge Lot to leave – yet he lingers. It is like someone comes along and tells you that a tsunami is going to occur and you linger. Would you believe him? So they take him, his wife and his two daughters בְּחֶמְלַת יְהוָה עָלָיו “in the Lord’s mercy” out of the city. Now obviously Lot had more than 2 daughters, for he had sons-in-law, and 2 virginal daughters. And when he tries to convince his married daughters to leave with them, it says וַיְהִי כִמְצַחֵק בְּעֵינֵי חֲתָנָיו “He seemed to his son-in-laws as one who was in jest”. Which meant that his betrothed daughters could not leave with him, as was the custom of the day. There is no mention of any boys though.

Then they say: הִמָּלֵטעַל נַפְשֶׁךָ – "Flee for you life" or rather “Save your soul”...

Do not look behind you, do not tarry on the plains, escape to the mountains. אַל-תַּבִּיט אַחֲרֶיךָ, וְאַל-תַּעֲמֹד בְּכָל-הַכִּכָּר:  הָהָרָה הִמָּלֵט

But Lot objects! אַל נָא אֲדֹנָי “Not so, my Lord”. Who is he addressing here? And he says something strange:

"I cannot escape to the mountain, lest the evil overtake me, and I die." אוּכַל לְהִמָּלֵט הָהָרָה--פֶּן-תִּדְבָּקַנִי הָרָעָה, וָמַתִּי

What evil is he referring to? And how can it overtake him if he has fled (or is fleeing) to the mountain? So instead he asks to take refuge in the small city that is close by וּתְחִי נַפְשִׁי “and my soul shall live”. It is interesting again that it is not “I shall live”, or “you shall live”, but that it is your soul, your נֶפֶש is the one that shall live.

And He agrees. who is he addressing? Can the angels make such a decision, or does it require HaShem’s agreement? So in it seems that Lot might also have access to HaShem. Which is interesting as he is not looked at in a very positive light by the Jewish tradition, though in both the Muslim and Christian, he is revered as a prophet?They have a point, for would one not revere the brother of Abraham to whom HaShem also appeared, who was saved from the destruction wrought on Sodom and Gomorrah, who also negotiated with G!d, and was responded to?

Anyways, the response is “Hurry...”

For I cannot do anything till you get there כִּי לֹא אוּכַל לַעֲשׂוֹת דָּבָר, עַד-בֹּאֲךָ שָׁמָּה

Again attesting to the importance of Lot in this particular part of the saga. Let us spend a moment on why that is – not that I can necessarily answer that question. But it is a question in my mind. What is so important about Lot that HaShem has to wait till he is safe before he can rain terrible destruction upon these evil cities?

Just note that everyone is taken as evil in these cases – even the young ones, the children too. How can children be tainted?In what fashion are they tainted? Do they carry the sins of their fathers? Is it that they will become evil because they are the spawn of those that behave abominably?

because of this, the city was called Zoar עַל-כֵּן קָרָא שֵׁם-הָעִיר, צוֹעַר

He asked to be allowed to take refuge in the small city nearby that was then named Zoar, from the root of the word צער meaning youth or cadet.


The sun had risen upon the earth הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ, יָצָא עַל-הָאָרֶץ

I love this turn of phrase. The biblical Hebrew can be so poetic. It speaks here of the sun having emerged upon the land. In English, we say the sun rises upon the land.

Lot arrives at Zoar. Now we have an interesting sequence of events. The popular version of the tale is that as Lot and his family were leaving the city, his wife looked back and was turned into a pillar of salt. However, that here it is added as an afterthought. For this is how it goes. Lot arrives at Zoar, and the fire and brimstone rain upon Sodom and Gomorrah and destroy all the inhabitants and all that grows there. Then only does it say:

his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt וַתַּבֵּט אִשְׁתּוֹ, מֵאַחֲרָיו; וַתְּהִי, נְצִיב מֶלַח

Remember, nothing could happen until he arrived at Zoar. And this sequence confirms this. Did she gaze at the destruction from Zoar? Did she linger? In our rational view of a non-rational event, we fit it nicely into the sequence that this must have happened when they were leaving. However here, it is inserted only after Lot has arrived at Zoar.

Now we turn to the question of what would turn someone into salt. She was not vapourised like the rest of the people, but remained as a pillar of salt. There is also an interesting note from Tanchuma thatit came down from the heavens as rain and turned into sulphur and fire as it approached earth. There are also many that say that Lot’s wife turned around to see whether her married daughters were following her, and that she was a Sodomite, so she could not resist a last glance at the city of her birth and saw the LORD about to start destroying the cities, and that is why she turned into salt. But would not the others in Sodom and Gomorrah also have seen the LORD and thus also have been turned into sand?Perhaps it is because those that are steeped in the ways of evil cannot see the LORD even when he is present. A kind of cognitive dissonance. “None so blind as those who cannot see?”. Even more radical is the notion that she needed to be taken out of the picture so that Lot’s daughters would then sleep with him to procreate and to continue the unfolding of our history. Finally, on a scientific note, there are many metallic salts, though it might be even more intriguing to consider what would turn her into a metallic salt.

Abraham rises the next morning and sees the destruction, and we are reminded that the only reason that Lot was saved was because of Abraham’s righteousness. In other words he was saved in Abraham’s name. Though as mentioned before, both the Christians and the Moslems disagree, and believe Lot to be a holy man and a prophet in his own right.

for he feared to dwell in Zoar כִּי יָרֵא, לָשֶׁבֶת בְּצוֹעַר

Lot now leaves Zoar and goes(or does he “flee”) into the mountains with his daughters. He was afraid to remain there, understandably so, as I cannot imagine that his reception could have been that warm, considering that the other 4 cities had just been wiped out, and he and his daughters were the only survivors. In fact, not only did he survive, but he left before the event occurred. That must have made the inhabitants of Zoar very suspicious of him. That is perhaps why he “feared ..”

there is not a man in the earth to come in unto us after the manner of all the earth וְאִישׁ אֵין בָּאָרֶץ לָבוֹא עָלֵינוּ, כְּדֶרֶךְ כָּל-הָאָרֶץ

Then the elder daughter tells the younger that there is no man left on earth to make babies with them, so that she needs to sleep with her father to continue the human race. This is from a commentary which says that she slept with her father, because she believed that everyone on earth had been wiped out. But they had just left Zoar, which had been spared – so how could this have been true?

But what I have to say, and wonder if the commentaries deal with this topic at all, that it dealing with a deep, urge that lies buried in the human race. Many daughters would like to sleep with their fathers, and many fathers would like to sleep with their daughters. Incest has occurred in most societies, and is rampant in some. It is a very sexual themethat is being “mentioned” here, a deep, dark sexual urge. Nor does it say that it should not happen at this point of the unfolding of the human story. In fact, it is somewhat justified as necessary in the light of the future, as Ruth the Moabite ancestor of David Ha’Melech was born from the offspring of the younger daughter’s son, Moav, and the wife of Solomon descended from the loins of the elder daughter’s son, Ammon.

There is no judgement of the incident. In fact, most commentaries do not fault the daughters, but say the Lot was the immoral one in the story, as he was aware of his elder daughter leaving his bed, and did not take heed when the younger began plying him with wine that night.

There is very little discussion regarding the moral and sexual implications of this act of the two virgin daughters. Neither from the point of view of the feminine depths, nor from the deep sexual urges of both the male and the female. Considering the occurrence of this in societies in general, one would have expected some manner of discussion in dealing with it.

I dedicate this piece to my love of the Divine, as an expression of my ongoing dialogue with the Divine in me and in my surroundings and especially as I wrestle with It in the form which i encounter in my tradition.

ב”ה B’Shem Elohim


Another Jewish legend says that because Lot's wife sinned with salt, she was punished with salt. On the night the two angels visited Lot, he requested of his wife to prepare a feast for them. Not having any salt, Lot's wife asked of her neighbours for salt which so happened to alert them of the presence of their guests, resulting in the mob action that endangered Lot's family.[4]

In the Midrash, Lot's wife is given the name Edith.[2]

Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible

But his wife looked back from behind him, That is, the wife of Lot, whose name the Jewish writers (x) say was Adith, or as others Irith (y); and, according to the Targums of Jonathan and Jerusalem, she was a native of Sodom: now, as they were going from Sodom to Zoar, she was behind Lot, his back was to her, so that he could not see her; this was a temptation to her to look back, since her husband could not see her; and this she did, either, as the above paraphrases suggest, that she might see what would be the end of her father's house and family, or whether her married daughters, if she had any, were following her, after whom her bowels yearned; or being grieved for the goods and substance left behind, and for the people of Sodom in general, for whom she had too much concern; however, be it on what account it may, she was severely punished for it:

and she became a pillar of salt; was struck dead at once, either by the immediate hand of G!d, or by the shower of fire and brimstone; and her body was at once changed into a metallic substance, a kind of salt, hard and durable, such as Pliny (z) speaks of, cut out of rocks, with which houses were built, and hardened with the sun, and could scarcely be cut with an iron instrument; so that she did not fall to the ground, but stood up erect as a pillar, retaining very probably the human form, Josephus (a) says, this pillar continued to his times, and that he saw it; Irenaeus (b) and Tertullian (c) speak of it as in their times, a thing incredible; and Benjamin of Tudela says (d), it stood in his times two parsas from the sea of Sodom; and though the flocks were continually licking it, yet it grew again to its former size. Rauwolff (e) relates something of the same kind by information, but not on his own testimony; that the pilgrims who visit it used to beat off some small pieces, and yet was found whole again; nay, which is beyond all credit, that they once knocked off a whole hand and took it away, and when they returned found it whole again: and one (f) that travelled in those parts in the beginning of the sixteenth century affirms, that almost in the midway to Zoar is seen to this day the pillar of salt into which Lot's wife was turned; he does not say indeed that he saw it, but leaves his reader to think so; and the Jerusalem Targum says, it will remain until the resurrection; but modern travellers of credit and intelligence could never see it; and when they have inquired of the country people about it, they either tell them there is no such thing, or say it stands in the mountains, where it cannot be come at, because of the Arabs, or because of wild beasts (g): but no doubt there was such a statue, but how long it continued cannot be said; nor should it be thought incredible, when there are similar facts affirmed by authors of the best credit and reputation: Aventinus (h) reports, that in Bavaria, in 1348, more than fifty peasants, with the cows they had milked, at the time of an earthquake were struck with a pestilential air, and stiffened into statues of salt, and which he himself saw, and the chancellor of Austria: and Bisselius relates (i), that Didacus Almagrus, who was the first person that with his army penetrated through the cold countries from Peru into Chile, lost abundance of his men, through the extremity of the cold and a pestiferous air; and that, returning to the same place five months afterwards, he found his men, horse and foot, standing unmoved, unconsumed, in the same situation, form, and habit, the pestilence had fastened them; one lying on the ground, another standing upright, another holding his bridle in his hand, as if about to shake it; in short, he found them just as he left them, without any ill smell or colour, common to corpses: indeed, the very fables of the Heathens, which seem to be hammered out of this history, serve to confirm the truth of the whole of it: as the fable of Jupiter and Mercury coming to a certain place in Phrygia, where they were hospitably entertained by Baucis and Philemon, when the doors were shut against them by others; wherefore they directed their guests, after being entertained by them, to leave the place and follow them to the mountains, when they turned the town into a standing lake (k): and also that of Niobe being changed into a marble stone while weeping for the death of her children: and of Olenus and Lethaea, turned into stones also (l). But, leaving these, and passing by other instances that might be observed, we are directed to remember this wonderful case by our Lord himself, Luke 17:32; and it should be an instruction to us not to look back nor turn back from the profession of the true religion we have made, but to follow Christ, and abide by his truths and ordinances.

(x) Pirke Eliezer, c. 25. (y) Baal Hatturim in loc. (z) Nat. Hist. l. 31. c. 7. (a) Antiqu. l. 1. c. 11. sect. 4. (b) Adv. Haeres. l. 4. c. 51. (c) In Carmine Sodoma. (d) ltinerarium, p. 44. (e) Travels, par. 3. c. 21. p. 313. by Ray. (f) Baumgarten. Peregrinatio, l. 3. c. 12. p. 96. (g) Universal History, ib. p. 124. Witsii Miscellan. Sacr. tom. 2. p. 195. (h) Annal. Bojor. apud Heidegger. Hist. Patriarch. tom. 2. exercitat. 8. p. 270. & Witsii Miscellan. tom. 2. exercitat. 7. p. 201. (i) Argonaut. Americ. l. 14. c. 2. apud Witsium, ib. p. 202. (k) Ovid. Metamorph. l. 8. fab. 8. (l) Ib. l. 6. fab. 4. & l. 10. fab. 1. Apollodor. de Deorum Orig. l. 3. p. 146.

Christians and Muslims revere Lot as a righteous man of G!d.[2] According to Christianity, Jesus is a descendent of Lot through David's great-grandmother Ruth, who is descended from Lot's son Moab. The Qur'an does not include any references to Lot's drunkenness and incestuous relations. He is regarded as a prophet of Islam.

Only Lot and his family will be saved. There is one condition. Don't look back. But the temptation is too great. And Lot's wife looks. And she is turned into a pillar of salt.

So I too am often that pillar of salt. Stuck and hardened between where I never should have been and where I need to go. If only I could have the strength to let go. I try to reason, to rationalize why certain things are good for me. And even if they aren't good for me, they are good for someone, right? At least one person, right? Wrong. There is no good there. There is nothing to be redeemed. It must be destroyed. The relationship cannot exist. The only thing that can be saved is me. And only if I leave and don't look back. Never look back.

Yet I can't help it. I take the first step away. I leave where I never should have been towards where I must go. If only I can make it there and leave this behind. Truly leave behind me what aims to bring me down and destroy me with it. If I can keep going it will be gone forever. If I can let go, it will lose its power to hurt me. And yet, time and time again, I look back. And I am once again as frozen as that pillar of salt.