One of the popular tourist activities in Israel is sightseeing, and some attractions confirm Torah stories a few thousand years old. A heavily visited area is the Yam Hamelech — the Dead Sea — in Sodom. Tour guides point to a rock which is claimed to be the remnant of Lot’s wife who turned into a pillar of salt.

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayeira, we are told of the corruption that prevailed in Sodom. They were terribly anti-hospitality and would ruthlessly torture poor guests who unknowingly showed up, in order to discourage them from ever coming again. The inhabitants of Sodom had fallen to such depths of depravity that Hashem decided to destroy it. Only Lot and his family survived. As they were fleeing, Lot’s wife turned around to look at the destruction and died since she was not worthy enough to see others being destroyed while she was spared. Her death was unique: She turned into a pillar of salt.

(Incidentally, a Sunday Hebrew school teacher was once telling his students about this miracle. A young student who was unimpressed about looking back and turning into a pillar of salt raised his hand and told the teacher that a similar thing happened to his mother, “My mother was driving the family car,” he said. “When she turned around to speak to a passenger in the back seat, she turned into a lamp post.”)

Why was so unusual a fate selected for Lot’s wife? What grave sin did she commit to deserve such a severe punishment?

The Midrash Talpioth (Bereishit 19:26) sheds light upon this curious situation. It relates that the name of Lot’s wife was Melach, which means salt. Her nickname stemmed from her unkind, inhospitable nature. When poor wanderers came to her door begging for bread, she would give them salt, which, instead of soothing the pangs of hunger, would only rouse their thirst. In their suffering, the victims called upon the A-lmighty to punish her fittingly by turning her into a mass of salt. Watching their lips move in prayer, she arrogantly supposed, in her ignorance, that it was for her benefit, and she would respond, Amen.” When at last the time came for destruction of Sodom and Gemorrah, these embittered prayers were fulfilled and she, too, was punished.

The difference between bread and salt can be explained in the following manner. Bread is universally considered a staple food, and man can subsist on it. A meal in Hebrew is referred to as “eating bread.” For this reason the recitation of Hamotzi on bread usually absolves one from repeating benedictions on the rest of the food.

Salt, on the other hand, does not constitute a meal. It is useful only when it is combined with other items, but is useless — even harmful — when eaten by itself, or when a dish is salted excessively.

The difference in the symbolism of bread and salt is expressed in their Hebrew spelling. The word for bread is “lechem” and the word for salt is “melech.” Both words have the identical three letters — mem, lamed, chet. The difference is that lechem begins with lamed (לחם), and melach begins with mem (מלח).

When the lamed is used as a prefix, it describes action towards something or drawing near. Thus, lahem means “to them” — lanu — “to us” — le’Elokim — “toward G‑d.” When people eat lechem together, it usually signifies that they are becoming closer and friendlier with each other. To this day we speak of “breaking bread” with someone, with connotations of goodwill, warmth and cooperation.

The word “melach” for salt represents the very opposite of lechem. It begins with the letter mem, which, at the beginning of a word, implies to draw away or to remove oneself from something or someone. Thus, mimeno means “from him,” mikem — “from them,” me’Elokim — “away from G‑d.”

The poor people came to the home of Lot seeking lechem and all that it represents — warmth, compassion, friendship—but Mrs. Lot, through an over-abundance of melach, treated them with callousness, cruelty and disdain. Even when she managed to escape from the destruction of Sodom, she expressed no grief or remorse. She turned around and watched her neighbors roasting in the furnace and remained unmoved by the catastrophe. Her punishment came devastatingly and fast. And the Sages say that it fit the crime: “Bemelach chatah ubemelach lakta” — “By salt she sinned and by salt she was smitten” (Rashi, Bereishit 19:26). Her sin was self-centeredness and cruelty, and her punishment was that she was forever to remain a pillar of melach.

It could be said that “lechem” and “melach” represent two opposing personalities and attitudes toward life.

The lechem people are the personalities whose lives radiate outward toward others. Their spirits draw friends and neighbors toward them with the hand of warmth and brotherhood. Such people feel that they were placed on earth for the service of G‑d and of humanity. They become the builders of communities and the faithful workers for philanthropic institutions. They are men and women stirred by the vision of a better tomorrow, not for themselves but for all.

Opposed to what we call the “lechem” type of individual is the “melach” type, the salt-like character. He is a well-known type of person, the introvert, who withdraws from society and imprisons himself within the walls of his own private life, his own interests and desires. He thus becomes a self-centered individual, concerned exclusively with his own fortunes and not caring at all what happens around him.

My dear Chatan and Kallah, as a couple starting out in married life to establish a Jewish home together it is important that your priorities be in a proper perspective. You will have achieved a successful home and a happy marriage when you will place the emphasis on the lechem approach and not on the melech approach. My advice to you is to forsake egoism and self-centeredness and be involved in sharing and altruism.

(הרב דוב ארי' ז"ל בערזאן – הרב יוסף ז"ל סינגער)


Hashem sent angels to inform Avraham that he would be blessed with a child. Not knowing that they were angels and the purpose of their mission, he considered them ordinary travelers and beseeched them to come in and eat. During the meal they said to him, “Where is Sarah your wife?” And he said, “Behold! In the tent!” (18:9).

We must wonder, why was his wife’s whereabouts their concern? Rashi quoting from Bava Metzia 87a says that the angels knew where she was but their intention with the question was to make it known that she was modest, in order to endear her to her husband or they asked about her in order to send her a cup of blessing so that she would be blessed with fertility.

Permit me, however, to share with you a novel explanation. Avraham’s hospitality puzzled the guests immensely. They were astonished by his unusual extravagance and total lack of expertise in running a household. They noticed that instead of the loaf of bread he previously offered he was using a large amount of flour which could produce many loaves. Then they noticed that for their meal he slaughtered three bulls, which would give him enough meat to feed a very large group, and he just kept bringing out more and more food. They thought among themselves that obviously he had no experience in food preparation and that his wife, who was presumably an experienced balabusta — housewife — must have been away. Therefore they inquired “Where is Sarah your wife?”

Convinced that she was definitely out somewhere, a thought ran through their minds: Perhaps she was some sort of society lady who “goes out” while leaving her 100-year-old husband at home. They pondered, “Who will raise the child, we have come to tell him that he will have next year?”

Avraham’s reply was very short and to the point, “Hineih ba’ohel — “Behold! She is in the tent.” He was alluding that his wife was not a socialite who was always away from home and enjoying a day out with friends. Nor did she go to work or pursue some business. “She is in the tent!” he was saying — “We work together hand in hand. Chesed is the foundation of our life and we are both dedicated to helping others.”

Avraham told them, “We are a happily married couple because we have common goals and always work together hand in hand to achieve them.” The Torah attests to this when it refers to “the souls [converts — Rashi] that they made in Charan (12:5).”

My dear Chatan and Kallah, a couple who sets mutual goals for themselves and strives together to achieve them is blessed with success and happiness.

(עי' ילקוט הדרוש – פרדס יוסף)

"ארבעים קודם יצירת הולד בת קול יוצאת ואומרת בת פלוני לפלוני"
“Forty days before the formation of an embryo a Heavenly voice issues forth and proclaims ‘the daughter of so-and-so is destined for so-and-so’.” (Sotah 2a

QUESTION: Why isn’t it merely declared “plonit l’ploni” — “this woman will be married to this man”?

ANSWER: The Gemara (Bava Batra 110a) says that before one marries a woman he should determine who her brothers are since many children resemble the wife’s brothers. Thus, in order to identify her brothers it is necessary to announce “the daughter of.” Once her father’s identity is known, one can identify the brothers and properly investigate them.

(עטרת יהושע)