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Parshas Vayera

Where Are You?

By Rabbi Label Lam

And it was as they took them out that one said, “Flee for your life! Do not look behind you or stop anywhere in all the plain Flee to the mountain lest you be swept away!”…….Now HASHEM had caused sulfur and fire to rain upon Sodom and Gomorrah, from HASHEM, out of heaven. He overturned these cities and the entire plain, with all the inhabitant of the cities and the vegetation of the soil. His (Lot’s) wife peered behind him and she became a pillar of salt. (Breishis 19:17- 26)

This is one of the most famous incidents of the Torah. Lot’s wife looked back and became a pillar of salt. Why? Why did she look there? Why was she punished so severely? What’s so bad about look back to survey the destruction?

Fritz Schultz was a German industrialist who, seeing an opportunity to make great profit employing Jews as laborers ran a large group of factories in the Ghetto that provided supplies to the German army. The work was considered essential to the war effort, so the lives of the workers were temporarily spared. Rabbi Kalonymos Kalman Shapiro was assigned work in a shoe factory that Avraham Hendel had owned before the war and that Hendel now managed for Schultz.

Besides providing reprieve from deportation, the shoe factory enabled Rabbi Shapiro and the other scholars to continue their studies right under the noses of their taskmasters. The atmosphere in the factory has been described by an eye witness, Hillel Seidman, in his Warsaw Ghetto Diary:

“Now I am in Schultz factory; I have come at the time when people are both hammering in nails and reciting Hoshana prayers. Here are gathered, thanks to one of the directors, Mr. Avraham Hendel, the elite of the Orthodox community; Chassidic Masters, Rabbis, scholars, religious community organizers, well-known Chassidim.

Sitting behind the anvil for shoe repairing… is the Koziglover Rav, Yehuda Aryeh Frimer, once Dean of Yeshivat Chochmei Lublin. He is sitting here but his spirit is sailing in other worlds. He continues his studies from memory, without interruption his lips moving constantly. From time to time he addresses a word to the Piaseczner Rebbe, Rabbi Kalonymos Kalman Shapiro, the author of Chovos HaTalmidim, who is sitting opposite him, and a subdued discussion on a Torah topic ensues. Talmudic and Rabbinic quotations fly back and forth; soon there appear on the anvil, -or, to be precise, on the minds and lips of these brilliant scholars- the words of Maimonodies and Ravad, the author of the Tur, Rama, earlier and later authorities. The atmosphere in the factory is filled with the opinions eminent scholars, so who cares about the S.S., the German overseers, the hunger, suffering, persecution and fear of death? They are really sailing in the upper worlds; they’re not sitting in a factory on Nowolopie 46, but rather in the Hall of the Sanhedrin…” (The Holy Fire by Polen)

The Baal Shem Tov had said, “Wherever a person’s mind is, that is where they are entirely.” The mind then is both an extremely useful and dangerous tool. This is perhaps where Lot’s wife went wrong. She seems to have left her “heart in San Francisco”, as the song goes. When she looked back she betrayed her longing for what was left behind which was in the process of being destroyed. Since this is where her mind was, that’s where she was entirely and so she too became a petrified piece of the historical landscape.

With this, maybe now we can try to comprehend what was meant by the words spoken to Adam and Chava after they nibbled on the fruit of the “Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil” and because of what entered their minds they hid. The Almighty approached and simply asked, “Where are you?”

DvarTorah, Copyright © 2007 by Rabbi Label Lam and

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