Rav Kook Torah

VaYeira: Don't Look Back


The depravity of the inhabitants of Sodom was so monstrous that it was beyond all hope of reformation. God decreed that the city be destroyed. He send angels to save Lot’s family — not in their own merit, but for Abraham’s sake. The rescuers warned Lot and his family not to watch as the city was leveled. Unfortunately, Lot’s wife did look back, and she was turned into a pillar of salt.

Why did Lot’s wife need to pay such a heavy price for her curiosity? Why weren’t they allowed to observe the destruction of the city?

The Misguided and the Incorrigible

Just as there are levels in righteousness, so too there are levels in wickedness. Some unscrupulous individuals are in fact good people who came under the influence of unprincipled acquaintances and a milieu of crime and corruption. These misguided individuals are receptive to change. If they witness the punishment of the wicked, their innate goodness is awakened, and they are encouraged to return to the proper path.

On the other hand, some people are so incorrigibly evil — sociopaths and hardened criminals, for example — that they cannot be redeemed. The only thing restraining their evil excesses is fear of punishment. This was the state of the inhabitants of Sodom, who were perfectly happy with their evil ways.

When the incorrigibly wicked witness the downfall of evil, it has the reverse effect on them. It actually reduces the fear that holds their vices in check, since imagined punishment is more frightening than the real thing. When they observe havoc and devastation, they become less inhibited and pose an even greater menace to society.

Lot’s Wife

Lot’s family did not deserve to be saved. They lacked moral resolve; they were attracted to the malevolent and degenerate ways of their neighbors. Only fear of Divine retribution kept their immoral tendencies in check.

Lot and his family were commanded not to watch the destruction; this would maintain their dread of Divine justice. This fear was the only means by which they could escape the influence of Sodom. When Lot’s wife willfully looked back, she lost some of her fear of judgment. She became like the other residents of Sodom, who were destroyed because they were irredeemably corrupt.

Lot’s wife shared the severe punishment of her fellow Sodomites — “brimstone and salt.” She too was turned into an inert pillar of salt, an apt symbol of her immutable and irreparable state of evil.

(Adapted from Ein Eyah vol. II, p. 250)

Illustration image: ‘Lot Flees as Sodom and Gomorrah Burn’ (Gustave Dore, 1875)