In Genesis 19, we read the account of Lot and his family fleeing the town of Sodom just as it is destroyed. As they are running away, Lot’s wife glances back at her home and is immediately turned into a pillar of salt. It has always troubled me that Lot’s wife looks back. Why look back – especially when she had been warned? Perhaps curiosity did indeed kill the proverbial cat? But perhaps this woman was motivated by stronger concerns? Perhaps she looked back to see what was happening to her other daughters? Or, perhaps she looked back because she could not imagine going any further with a man like Lot, who valued men he barely knew over his own daughters? Perhaps she was more afraid of looking ahead to a life with him, than she was about looking back to see the destruction of her old life?
You may not be aware that the United Nations has named the war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo as the “rape capital of the world”, Whilst watching the BBC’s documentary, the World’s Most Dangerous Place to be a Woman, my heart broke when the audience were shown a women’s refuge centre. Raped by faceless, nameless men, women are then further devalued, especially by their husbands, especially in a region where HIV and other STIs are epidemic. The facilitators at the refuge centre go from house to house urging husbands to take back their wives. The BBC documentary filmed one of these house visits – the husband would not look at his wife. He did not want to take her back, she was, as he said, “Tainted”. Even when shown proof that she was not HIV positive, he still refused to take her in, for she was shamed and, by association, so was he. It was then that the facilitator used the presence of TV cameras and a small crowd to shame him into taking his wife back. It was not an easy moment, and, as he reluctantly agreed, the totally silent wife, who hung her head in shame throughout the proceedings, walked slowly back into her home. Like Lot’s wife, she looked back at the facilitator just once – my heart broke with that glance.
As we look ahead to the High Holy Days and look back at the year that has passed, let us resolve that we will no longer look away from those in true need.
Elul is a month given to us to reflect and prepare for the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It is a month where we try to take account of our lives, so that we might make the most of this powerful time of renewal, regeneration, fresh starts and healing.
This year our daily Elul Thoughts are taken from ‘Terror, Trauma and Tragedy’, edited by Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain and Rabbi David Mitchell. Each is a short extract of a larger piece designed to help us find meaning, comfort or perhaps more questions in the aftermath of horrific events, which have seemed all too frequent this year. The horror of such atrocities can leave us in confusion, depression and fear. As we move into a new year we hope these pieces might variously offer some solace, be a tool of self-reflection, and encourage us to continue working for a better world.