Insights Into Salt

Vatabet ishto me’acharav vatehi netziv melach (Bereishis 19:26)

Parashas Vayeira details the destruction of the wicked city of Sedom and its environs as punishment for their evildoing, in particular for their staunch opposition to doing acts of kindness for others. The angels that were tasked with destroying Sedom told Lot to flee with his wife and two daughters in order to be spared, but they were cautioned not to look behind them to witness what was transpiring in Sedom. Lot’s wife did not heed their warning, and when she turned to gaze at the destruction, she was transformed into a pillar of salt.

The Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 51:5) explains that because Lot’s wife had sinned with salt, this punishment was particularly fitting for her. In what way did she sin with salt? When Lot brought the angels to his home as guests, his wife circulated among all of her neighbors to ask if any of them had salt that she could borrow in order to serve her guests. Although her behavior seemed innocent, in reality, her secret objective was to publicize to the townspeople of Sedom that she had guests, so that they would converge on her house and demand that the guests be handed over to them, which is indeed what occurred.

Because she claimed to be out of salt in order to backhandedly announce the presence of her guests, she was punished by being turned into a pillar of salt. This story is difficult to understand for two reasons. First, how is it possible that a self-respecting housewife ran her kitchen without such an essential spice as salt? Second, why is the fact that Lot’s wife did not have salt a reason that she was transformed into a pillar of salt? Had she been lacking potatoes, would she instead have become a potato? What is the deeper connection between her sin and her punishment?

Rabbi Chaim Zvi Senter explains that salt is a food which, if eaten by itself, lacks good taste and nutritional value. Paradoxically, it is also an essential ingredient in countless recipes, and if omitted, its absence is clearly detectable. Even though salt seems to lack value when viewed in a vacuum, it is in reality an extremely versatile spice with the ability to enhance the flavor of other ingredients. In this sense, salt can be described as a food whose entire purpose is to serve other foods.

In light of this insight, it is completely understandable that Lot’s wife was so steeped in the self-centered and stingy mindset that permeated Sedom that she viewed salt, a food whose very essence is dedicated to benefiting others, as an alien product which had no place being stored in her home. Similarly, her punishment of turning into a pillar of salt was particularly appropriate for her sin. Because she spent her life focused solely on her own selfish needs with an utter lack of concern for the less fortunate, she was transformed into an eternal monument to chessed by being forced to exist in the form of a food which serves no function other than assisting others.

Q: How was Lot able to intercede in order to save one of the cities (Tzo’ar) from destruction (19:18–22) when Avraham, who was even greater and who argued even more on their behalf, was unable to do so?

Q: Tosefos write (Shabbos 130a) that Avraham made a festive meal on the day of Yitzchak’s circumcision (21:8). If a person is invited to attend a circumcision and a pidyon haben (redemption of the first-born son) that are occurring at the same time and he can attend only one, to which one should he go?

A: Rav Chatzkel Levenstein answers that as fervently as Avraham prayed on their behalf, it wasn’t possible for him to match the intensity of the prayers of Lot, who personally dwelled in the cities being obliterated and was directly affected by their destruction. He also suggests that the angels were grateful to Lot for hosting them, which obligated them to honor his request, while Hashem had no such debt to Avraham. Harav Chaim Kanievsky suggests that Avraham didn’t present the argument made by Lot (that Tzo’ar’s sins were less than its neighbors), which would have indeed been accepted had he made it.

A: Rav Shraga Feivel Shneebalg cites the Gemara in Pesachim (113b), which teaches that somebody who is invited to join a seudas mitzvah, which includes the meals celebrating either a bris milah or a pidyon haben, and doesn’t attend, becomes excommunicated. As such, even though there are numerous Talmudic statements that seem to indicate that circumcision is the more important mitzvah and one might think he should go to that meal, he suggests going to the first meal to which one was invited to avoid being classified as somebody who refused to attend.

However, Harav Elyakim Devorkas cites sources that explain that the primary purpose of the festive meal after a pidyon haben is to publicize the fact that the first-born Jews were miraculously saved in Egypt during the plague of the first-born. He therefore suggests that because a greater turnout for the meal will result in a greater publicizing of the miracle, one should always go to the pidyon haben.


Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.