Thursday, November 5, 2009

Salt and Hospitality

The region of the Dead Sea (a.k.a. Yam Ha'melach - The Sea of Salt) was once the home of Sodom and Gomorrah, famous for their destruction by fire and brimstone, as recorded in Genesis 19. While it is well-known that these cities were “evil,” not many people are familiar with their peculiar wickedness.

Based on the midrash (legends), “inhospitable” would be an understatement for the people of Sodom. Visitors, especially those who were of no benefit to the city, were not welcome. The rabbis describe the guest “accommodations” provided to those seeking overnight hospitality: If a person was too long for the bed, the people of Sodom would cut off the “extra inches” of his feet; if they were too short, they would stretch the person on the rack.

Genesis 19 relates that angels came to Abraham’s nephew, Lot, and warned him of the city’s impending destruction. Lot, his wife and two unmarried daughters fled. On their way, Lot’s wife disobeyed the directive of the angels not to look back. When she looked, she was transformed into a pillar of salt. A seemingly strange punishment, but perhaps not...

When Lot ordered his wife to prepare a meal for the two strangers who had come to his door, she went to a neighbor to borrow salt and to complain about the guests. The news spread, and the people of Sodom came and demanded that Lot hand over his guests (for the rest of the story, see Genesis 19).

Salt is more than a seasoning. The Talmud states: “...all dishes require salt, but not all dishes require spices” (Beitzah 14a). The story of Lot’s wife, and, indeed, the incredible saltiness of Dead Sea region, remind us that hospitality and kindness to others, like salt, is a necessity, not an enhancement.

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