Saturday, November 19, 2005

Lots wife

If you're a regular reader, you know it makes me unnaturally happy when I discover a respected Torah commentator with a view that contradicts our yeshiva education. This weekend, I came across a beauty.

The transfiguration of Lot's wife into a pillar of salt always struck me as strange*. For the most part, in the first five books, God punishes through natural means. A plauge, a war, but very little obvious magic. And when there is magic, as at the red sea, or the flood, those who experience it recognize the miracle. But here, the lady looks back and -boom!- she becomes a pillar of salt, and life goes on with no comment from anyone else in the scene. Bizarre.

The Ralbag must have thought it was strange, too, because his view is that it never happened:
Rabbi Levi ben Gershon (Ralbag) suggests that וַתְּהִי does not refer to Lot's wife, that *she* became a pillar of salt, be rather וַתְּהִי refers to the *city*, which is a feminine noun, so Lot's wife looked back and saw that the city had become a pillar of salt, which was a way of saying it was destroyed.[DB: ie: the whole land was brimstone and salt and burning.]
Ahh, so what happened to Lot's wife? She simply perished with the other people of Sodom.

*The Midrash must have also thought the salt transfiguaration was strange. The Midrash's author explains it with that famous story starring Mrs. Lot as a blabbermouth who went around town seeking to borrow salt "for my GUESTS!" But examine the Midrash on its own terms: Why salt? And why assume his wife couldn't keep a secret? Her husband comes across as a pretty decent guy in this story. Would he have married such a klutz?