In my portion of Vayera, we read about the destruction of the city of Sodom. In Vayera, Abraham tries unsuccessfully to negotiate with G-d to save Sodom. He does this by asking G-d to save the city if he can find 50 righteous people, which he can’t. Then they look for 45, 30, 20, 10. No luck. There is even an episode of one of my favorite shows, Get Smart, which reminded me of the story of Abraham negotiating with G-d to save Sodom. In this episode, Agent Smart tries to save himself by saying to a Chaos agent, “Would you believe that we are surrounded by seven Coast Guard ships?” After the Chaos agent says he doesn’t believe him, Agent Smart says, “Would you believe six Coast Guard ships?” Then, after the Chaos agent says, “I don’t think so” Agent Smart says, “Would you believe two cops in a rowboat?”
Getting back to the Torah, Abraham’s nephew, Lot, and his family were stuck in the city and had to flee in order to save themselves during the destruction. The Torah then tells us what happened next, "Lot's wife looked back, and she thereupon turned into a pillar of salt."
Some commentators note that this teaches us that when people are suffering like those in Sodom, you shouldn’t stare – it would be like pouring salt on a wound and rubbing it in. Now people get that sensation by swimming in the Dead Sea, which is exactly where this incident happened. There’s even a pillar in that area called “Lot’s Wife.”
For me, her sin was not that she was rubbing it in, but just simply that she was looking back, rather than going forward. She also disobeyed a direct order from God – that’s never a good thing. But I think the deeper message the Torah is trying to teach us here is that we shouldn’t dwell on the past but rather on the future. You can remember it, but you shouldn’t live in it.
Some people consider me to be a real forward-looking person. I do tend to look ahead as far as my classes are concerned. Sometimes I look WAY ahead. For example, I recently began reading some of Shakespeare’s plays. I recently read Macbeth, Hamlet and The Comedy of Errors, which are books I probably would read in high school. I even have a list of books I intend to read over the next two years. I guess you could say that I like to think ahead.
And then there’s technology. I love it! I keep up with current NASA missions. Did you know that the final launch of space shuttle Discovery is set for next week, on November 1? Did you know that they already have flying cars? I’d like to drive one someday! I’m a real fan of the future. I can’t wait to get there.
On the other hand, I also understand the importance of looking backwards at times and the importance of remembering the lessons of history. History is one of my favorite subjects in school. George Santayana, a famous philosopher, wrote “Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.” Jews have learned that lesson all too often in our history.
So as I become a bar mitzvah, I understand the true lesson of Lot’s wife: When you are constantly looking backwards, you can never have a future.
For my mitzvah project, I am going to be donating new and unused toys to
David’s Treasure Tree at Stamford Hospital. The toys will help kids of all ages, giving comfort to those who might be unsure what the future will bring. A toy from David’s Treasure Tree helped me feel better when I was in the hospital as a little kid.
Author of "Embracing Auschwitz" and "Mensch•Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi - Wisdom for Untethered Times." Winner of the Rockower Award, the highest honor in Jewish journalism and 2019 Religion News Association Award for Excellence in Commentary. Musings of a rabbi, journalist, father, husband, poodle-owner, Red Sox fan and self-proclaimed mensch, taken from essays, columns, sermons and thin air. Writes regularly in the New York Jewish Week and Times of Israel.
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Sam Schulman on Vayera (and Get Smart!)
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