Somewhere over the rainbow – Parshat Va-yera

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A tragedy that completely changes life is not, thanks God, a regular happening. It may nevertheless happen, God forbid.

Before calamity strikes, one can always try to change things so as to avoid it. But once that disaster has begun nothing will change the course of events: “Rav Yosef said: Once permission is granted to the angel of destruction, it does not distinguish between the righteous and the wicked” (BT Baba Kama 60a).

Still, many times we see how difficult it is for a person to leave the place where tragedy is striking. It may be so because he or she either tries to change what cannot be changed, or hopes for a miracle based on virtues achieved, or bemoans loosing any material or spiritual investment. Even after all is over there are those who remain stuck in the psychological place of the disaster and ruminate: “Maybe it’s something I’ve done?”, “Perhaps I’ve could done differently”, “Maybe it happened to me because I was too confident on my future”. Those who surround the person, from near or afar, also look for a reason, sometimes to comfort, sometimes to accuse: “He chose that and this befell him”, “it’s God’s will”, “God knows why He did it to you”, “she thought she had the future in her hands… and oops!”

It’s about being too judgmental to oneself or to the others, about sinking in remorse or beating others.

However, the book of Job teaches us that God does not rule His world according to a fixed and inexorable formula. There are things that happen with no explanation, not always the reason is clear, not always there is a connection between the person and what happens to him or her beyond their power and will.

Lot and Sodom also teach us that this kind of judgment is neither efficient, nor correct, nor just.

Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboiim were destroyed by a cataclysm brought by God because the people there were extremely corrupt, wicked and cruel. A simple tale: absolute proven wickedness brings divine punishment.

And then there is Lot. Was he wicked? No: he cares for the strangers in need of a roof. Was he righteous? No: he does not hesitate in offering his daughters as a pray to Sodom men’s savage lust. Lot has both a good side and an evil one. He was undoubtedly brought up in a good family, together with Abraham, and was influenced by an ethical education. Yet the wicked environment he lived in must have influenced him, too.

He survived, but suffered a tragedy. We may tend now to connect the dots looking for justification: his men caused a conflict with Abraham, he chose to live in a place where “the inhabitants were very wicked sinners against the Lord”, he offers his daughters as a sexual pray to the men of Sodom, he lingered instead of running for his life even when the angels announced the imminent destruction. Lot himself may have had similar thoughts.

The angles said to him: “Flee for your life, do not look behind you [aharekha in Hebrew]… lest you be destroyed” (Gen. 19:17). You can survive the tragedy, but do not look behind you so as not to be absorbed by the catastrophe. But may the actual looking back to the city cause Lot’s death? Rabbi Yaakov Lorberbaum reminds us that everybody saw the catastrophe and nothing happened to them! (Nahalat Yaakov on Gen. 19:17). it is not about not looking at the cities, but not to look “behind you”. The Hebrew term for “behind you” is “aharekha”, which has a double sense: behind you (what you had, what you’ve left, what you’ve done) and after you (what will come after you, what you’ll leave after you). The angels say to Lot: do not try to find in your deeds a reason for the tragedy, do not ask “if I’ve done good why is my future destroyed?”, do not rely on your good deeds to stop a disaster that is already happening. Do not afflict yourself with what happened or would have happened. There is a tragedy and it is not directly connected to you, even if it strikes you. Now save yourself and continue building your life.

And Lot’s wife? She looked behind him… not her! She tried to explain what happened as related to Lot, his behind and his after: It’s something he has done? Perhaps he didn’t do enough? What has become of the good future we were to have because of him?

She rubs salt into the wound, she preserves (as with salt) the situation without giving place to rehabilitation, she spreads salt on the ground and doesn’t let anything grow in it. She is fixed in her own salting way until she herself becomes the salt.

Don’t look for a reason neither behind nor after you, don’t judge cruelly neither yourself nor others. Enhance your ways, thank God for your possibility of going on and help others to build and progress.

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