What Happened to Lot’s Wife?

One of the most famous stories of the book of Bereishit is the fate of Lot’s wife.  As she is fleeing with her family from the city of Sedom which is going up in flames, she seemingly meets a remarkable death:

Lot’s wife looked back, and she thereupon turned into a pillar of salt. (Bereishit 19:26)

The Chizkuni suggests a novel reading of this verse.  Lot’s wife did not become a pillar of salt.  Rather, when she turned around and saw the city of Sedom, it looked like a pillar of salt.  The word “va’tehi – and she” refers not to Lot’s wife but to Sedom.   What would compel the Chizkuni to read the verse this way, in contrast to the traditional read wherein Lot’s wife becomes a pillar of salt (See Berachot 54b)?  Presumably the miraculous nature of a person turning into salt is hard to accept.  Therefore an alternative view is warranted.

The Bechor Shor solves this problem.  He argues that Lot’s wife in fact became a pillar of salt, but not in a miraculous way.  The city of Sedom was being destroyed, it was being overtaken by a storm of fire and sulfur.  When Lot’s wife stopped and turned around to see the city, she was engulfed by the sulfur and salt that was overtaking the city.  The clouds that were raining down destruction on the city caught her as well.  So it’s not that her body miraculously changed into salt, but rather she was covered in the very sulfur and salt that was destroying Sedom.

This approach of the Bechor Shor preserves the traditional understanding of the verse, while at the same time embracing a more rational approach as well.  Either way, the message of the story is clear:  Don’t delay in following the will of God!