Genesis 19:21 – 21:4
Edith’s Lament, by Tzvi Schnee
November 13, 2019 (15 Chesvan 5780)
“‘Escape for thy life; look not behind thee.'”
– Genesis 19:17, JPS 1917 Tanach
“And they said to them: Do not look behind you, for verily the Shekhinah of the Holy One, blessed be He, has descended in order to rain upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire. The pity of ‘Edith the wife of Lot was stirred for her daughters, who were married in Sodom, and she looked back behind her to see if they were coming after her or not.'”
– Pirkei DeRabbi Eliezar 25:11, sefaria.org
“The sun was risen upon the earth when Lot came unto Zoar. Then the L-RD caused to rain upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the L-RD out of heaven; and He overthrow those cities, and all the Plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground. But his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt.”
– Genesis 19:23-26, JPS 1917 Tanach
Lot’s procrastination compelled the two angels to take his hand, and the hands of his wife and two (unmarried) daughters, in order to lead them out of the city. They were told to flee for their life, and not to look back. According to the Midrash (see above: Pirkei DeRabbi Eliezar), Lot’s wife, Edith turned back out of pity for her married daughters, who were still in Sodom. “And she saw behind the Shekhinah, and she became a pillar of salt” (Pirkei DeRabbi Eliezar, sefaria.org).
This is explained by R’ Bachya as having to do with the intensity of the fire. Perhaps, a similar effect as that which occurred in Hiroshima in the 20th Century. Otherwise, another explanation, by R’ Avraham Ibn Ezra, based on the Hebrew, posits that the earth underneath her was turned into a pillar of salt. A nice poetic rendering, could be understood that the salt of her tears were preserved as a memorial.
“Looking back,” as explained by Maimonides, implies a contemplation of what is being viewed, in an attempt to make sense of the event (Guide for the Perplexed, Part 1 4:3). Hence, (my own comment), Lot’s wife, Edith may have been in stasis, stuck between her life in Sodom, and worrying about the future, unable to move forward. When no thought was required, only action, she faltered, and suffered the same fate as her two married daughters in Sodom – consumed by fire and brimstone. Lesson learned, hesitation may lead to desolation. G-d forbid. Rather, “I will lift up mine eyes unto the mountains: from whence shall my help come? My help cometh from the L-RD, Who made heaven and earth” (Psalms 121:1-2, JPS 1917 Tanach).