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A Pillar of Salt

A Pillar of Salt

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So I'm told we should "live with the times" and find how our lives are connected to the Torah portion ("parshah") of the week. That only when we see ourselves in the Torah can we say we've truly learned.

I read the parshah and I learn of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. I learn of how Lot is saved and how his wife is turned into a pillar of salt. And I search to see my life in these words. I'd rather not see it, of course, as the connection is too intense, too real, too true. I'd rather pretend that this is merely a story, a lesson about universal evil needing to be removed. How do I relate to a pillar of salt? And yet I do -- all too much.

So this is the story. An evil community is destined to be destroyed. It is to be totally annihilated and Abraham is foretold of the destruction. He argues with G‑d, begging him not to destroy the land and those who inhabit it. He begs that the people be spared in the merit of fifty righteous people. Yet he cannot find fifty. He tries to find forty-five. Forty. Thirty. Twenty. Ten. Still he cannot. The city is utterly evil, and it is to be destroyed. 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 should have never 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 frozen as that pillar of salt.

Sara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the co-director of Interinclusion, a nonprofit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of TheJewishWoman.org, and wrote the popular weekly blog Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.
Artwork by Sarah Kranz.
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jim dallas November 15, 2016

you don't look back someday, there will be no reason to look back, be patient, wait, and pray for us all. Reply

Anonymous London, Ont/Can via chabadwestern.org December 4, 2014

A Pillar of Salt Waiting to long usually makes matters worse, it changes things Kids grow older, and are hurt easier; waiting long usually makes matters worse. Reply

David Mark Margate October 18, 2013

A Chidush, a New Interpretation Try this one: Lot, not his wife, is turned into a Pillar of Salt. Mrs. Lote and the girls go off to link up with Abraham and Sarah, and form a new dynasty of Jews. No Moabites, no Ammonites; no fraternal hatreds. Hey, it could've happened. Reply

Anonymous November 15, 2011

Hanford There are Women's and Family Shelters that can be called anonymously. Well-trained counselors can be spoken to about your situation. Some shelters have Yiddish/Hebrew speaking counselors. There are those who still think abuse does not happen in the observant community; it does.

If you are looking forward, yet the same situation is happening, then there is no forward, it is the same as looking back. To go forward to to progress, not regress.

I helped a childhood friend in your same situation, who confided in me, and it was a difficult journey for her. She has never looked back. Seeing her smile again was wonderful.

May you find peace and happiness. Reply

Sarah W Bld, MI/USA November 8, 2011

David Lot's daughters were not accepted as substitutes for the guests by the townspeople. They were left untouched. (They even seem to hold not hard feelings toward their father!) Reply

Anonymous November 8, 2011

A Pillar of Salt How so very true, it is hard to leave "much" behind once our Eternal G-d ask us to forget our father's house. But the horizon in front of us is much, much, more beautiful and more promising than that which we leave behind. Especially when that much we leave behind was the source of all our past misery. Reply

David Flinkstein London, UK October 27, 2010

A Pillar of Salt The phalllic symbolism of the pillar of salt plus the sodomisation of Lot's daughters is simply Freudian. Looking back is searching the unconscious mind and its activities. The angel involved is the light of consciousness or perhaps even the psychotherapist, anal penetration of Lot's daughters is fear of female domination (mother-wife-daughter?) What thInk you guys out there? Reply

G. Fried October 21, 2010

VERY INTERESTING I never looked at it that way, but you inspired me to try and find my own story in the weekly Torah readings.
To Dani: you've got it all wrong...
To anonymous married 20 yrs. with adulterous, abusive husband: What is it exactly that you are trying to save and hold onto?
Pain, hurt, shame loss of 20 yrs. worth of living?
I am not a professional but please speak to a mentor, Rabbi, Rebbetzin or therapist- you can get one for free by calling the Yitty Leibel Helpline (call 411 for #), who is sympathetic and is looking out for your benefit. Reply

Sarah Masha W Bloomfield, MI/USA October 20, 2010

Anonymous, Hanford, california Yes this is what it means!

If the situation is half as bad as you describe, I hope that you do NOT try to salvage the unsalvageable.
You are being abused. You do not deserve it. Please get out of this horrible situation.

In Yiddish there is a saying: "To a wedding, walk; to a divorce, run." Your position fits this perfectly. Reply

Sarah Masha W Bloomfield, MI USA October 20, 2010

Dani You are looking at rape as if each instance were without criticism or consequences in Torah
Lot - yes he offered his daughters. He isn't defended for this action, Torah just records that it occurred. It shows how depraved he had become living in that environment. Surely a lesson for us when we choose where to live.
Avram - I think you refer to the agreement of Avram and Sarah that they would say they were siblings. They both understood that this wasn't a choice of one or the other, but rather of one or both, and if both, there would be no help for the one left. Given the customs of the place they were going to, if the inhabitants of the land killed Avram and then took Sarah would her situation be better or worse than what happened?
Deena was raped. Levi and Shimon avenge their sister. They are not criticized for killing the rapist, only for killing the innocent of the town, not the guilty.

Rape is condemned by the Torah, you just have to learn the full story. Reply

Anonymous October 20, 2010

abuse to: Hanford, california

First, beautiful woman, G-d's commandment to your husband is to treasure you and treat you with respect. To you, Lechi Lach! Once gone, THEN do not look back, only forward to the new land. Reply

David Flinkstein London, UK October 20, 2010

pillar of salt It means that the presence of good and righteous people in any community protects that community in ways both apparant and not apparant, which where Jews are concerned means that observent Jews also help the community in which they live to prosper and remain safe. Reply

Debra Apache Junction, Arizona October 19, 2010

A Mother For years I have heard how Lot's wife looked back longing for the city, and or the material possessions left behind.
A few years ago I, as a mother and grandmother, realized that her married daughters were in the annihilation, and though it is not mentioned I do suppose they had children. My heart was broken. How quick we are to assume and judge people.
If we had to leave a city doomed for destruction and leave our children and grandchildren behind, how would that effect our life? Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma October 19, 2010

the covenant of salt This story of Lot and his wife is reminiscent of many stories, around the world. For example there is the beautiful, poignant story, that is about Orpheus and Eurydice, how he turned to see if she was following him and then she had to go back to the Underworld, and so he lost his will to play his most beautiful music.

It's hard for me to derive a moral from that story, because surely it was love that drove him to look back, and Lot, too.

Perhaps it is our lot in life, to explore these stories, to mine them so constantly for personal meaning. I do appreciate yours, and it feels "right" to me, as an extended metaphor out of your life.

As for me, going down the years, looking back as I do, on the narrative or story of our lives, I see deep threads that do bind it and us all together. The Greeks saw three women as the fates, the spinner, the maker of the cloth, and she who cut the thread for finality.

These metaphors do deeply define all of our lives still and they are, beautiful. Reply

Robby tysons, va October 19, 2010

pillar of salt very interesting ideas.
i see it as a process. I trust and look forward, get scared and look back, feel the unwellness, move forward, move back, move forward more and back less,
i joke (and seriously cheer), i recently hit 51% looking forward!
51% and gaining! i need compassion for myself when i look back (and i think that is actually looking forward)
To Handford, we cant tell you to save or leave your marriage. but i have found for myself through a lot of prayer and hard work, a learning to see me as truly worthwhile....and then slowly my choices become more clear. And Physical safety for me is first. G-d Bless, Robin Reply

Anonymous Hanford, california November 15, 2009

a pillar of salt so does this mean If ia am in a relationship where my husband has committed numerous adulterous affairs, abused me mentally and physically that i shouldnt try to save my marriage by looking forward instead of back?Note: we have been together 23yrs, I am 41 and married 20 years and this is the first time i have experienced these things. this was the bible study lesson reviewed last week and i am trying to disect it in relationship to my circumstances What do you think? Reply

starchaser November 4, 2009

Never thought about it, but reading it, sounds like me. Reply

Diana Mara Henry Springfield, MA November 1, 2009

Thank you for a beautiful drash. How very inspiring and heartfelt! Reply

Joseph A. Cleary Sand Springs, Ok., USA November 1, 2009

Torah of the Pillar of Salt. I have no doubt that it happened just as it says it did.
As there isn't anything which G-d can't do including this.
Be Well.
Shalom, Shalom, Reply

robert dudick lewistown, PA October 21, 2009

lots wife After looking in the Bible and reading the articles it sounds like her name was Idis. Is that correct ? Reply