Parashat Vayera

By: April Akiva, MAJE

We’ve all experienced it before.  Last night my twenty minute ride on the freeway turned into a frustrating hour of traffic congestion.  Reaching the end of the sea of red lights I noticed that there had been a terrible accident with possible fatalities.  Surprisingly, the accident was on the other side of the freeway, the traffic merely caused by curious drivers slowing down to see the show.  Like so many others, I contributed to the problem, scoping out the scene myself.

In Parashat Vayeira, we are warned of the dark side of human curiosity as Abraham’s nephew, Lot, escapes with his family from the evil cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.  The three men (angels, really) who visit Abraham and Sarah with the news of her impending pregnancy are ordered by God to travel to the Valley of Sodom.   Seeing how unjust the Sodomites are in their laws and how terribly they treat visitors who travel through their towns, God sentences all its inhabitants to annihilation.  When the three men reach Sodom, they inform Lot of the impending destruction, warning him:

Up! You, your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be caught up in the city’s punishment…flee for your life! Do not look behind you and do not stand anywhere on the plain; flee to the hills or you will be swept away! (Gen. 15-17)

As Lot and his family flee to the hills, his wife looks behind them at the city and is immediately turned into a pillar of salt.

Is Lot’s wife really worthy of such a harsh punishment? Perhaps, the biblical text is trying to make a point.  Examining the text closely, we see that only Lot is given the instruction not to look back at the city in its hour of destruction.  There is no explicit indication that Lot passes on this vital information to his wife and daughters.  But let’s assume that Lot’s wife had this information.  Why, then, would she choose to disobey?

The Torah: A Women’s Commentary, suggests that Lot’s wife is reluctant to ignore the fate of those she leaves behind in Sodom and Gomorrah and her consideration costs her life. This makes very little sense to me. A sincere concern for others, which we might label as an act of kindness, has no reason to be greeted by divine punishment.  Lot’s wife was likely punished because she allowed the dark side of curiosity to take over her.  Not only did she look back to verify the truth of the men’s prophesy, but she had a desire to witness the cities’ destruction.  For this intention and act, the consequences were enormous.

Like the accident scene on the freeway, many of us become witnesses to devastating situations.  In the event of a bombing in Israel, the news reporters film, without shame, the bloody scene of injured human beings.  As Michael Jackson struggled in the last minutes of his life, paparazzi shot photos of his fearful face that were printed all over the tabloids after his death.  We are slowly becoming immune to the dark side of curiosity.

Judaism teaches us values of humility, modesty, and not embarrassing others.  Would you want others to witness you when you feel at your lowest, mentally or physically?  If there is nothing we can personally do to help deal with an unfortunate situation, is it really our business to watch it unfold?  The story of Lot’s wife teaches us that sometimes it’s more appropriate for us to focus on ourselves and less on the misfortunes of others.
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