Joe Montana and Lot's Wife

“May our eyes behold Your return to Zion in compassion.”

Joe Montana led the San Francisco 49ers to a victory in Super Bowl XXIII. In the last drive of the game, the 49ers needed to make it ninety yards to score a touchdown. With pressure from the clock ticking away, they made it downfield to score with only seconds left, beating the Cincinnati Bengals 20–16. John Frank, a Jewish boy from Pennsylvania, caught one of the receptions on that last drive. He retired in 1989 and has practiced medicine ever since.

One Shabbos morning, John Frank spoke at an NCSY shabbaton for teenagers and described his experience in the NFL. He discussed his relationship with Joe Montana and other stars, but he keyed in on an important idea.

“Viewers and fans only get to see a tiny percentage of the NFL. People usually think about sixteen regular-season games and maybe a few more with the postseason. My experience in the NFL consisted of 90 percent of the stuff you do not get to see. Such things as sticking to a specific regimen in terms of your diet and workout. Even when your body aches you still need to practice. Most of the time you are away from family and friends. The glory of a Super Bowl or any other highlight of your career is nothing in comparison to what happens behind the scenes.”

Our successes, according to John, come with tremendous hard work and dedication. It took years of effort and grueling work before John played in the Super Bowl. The way in which Hashem designed our world is that we need to put in the effort to see our accomplishments. John Frank’s message to the teens was made very clear, you need a ton of hard work to see your success in life. There is a well-known story that illustrates this idea.

Near the central part of the Dead Sea stands a pillar of salt that is called “The Wife of Lot.” Many attribute its origin to the Torah’s account of the destruction of Sodom and Amorah. In the times of Avraham, the region of Sodom fell to incredible lows that rendered the inhabitants beyond return. Behaviors such as thievery and illicit relations were commonplace. Finally, their fate was sealed, and a death sentence was passed. Lot, the nephew of Avraham, was spared and an angel saved him along with his wife and two daughters. On their way out of town, Lot’s wife glanced back to see the destruction and immediately turned into a pillar of salt.

Although she was fortunate to be saved from destruction, she lacked the worthiness to witness the terrible sight of the destruction. A person is only privy to see that which he brought about through his own merit. Her life was spared only through the merit of Avraham, so she was not allowed to see the destruction. Therefore, by her turning around to look back she no longer merited to be saved.

We request to see the rebuilding of Yerushalayim. Our intention here is not merely to see the rebuilt city, we would like to be a part of the process. To see Yerushalayim rebuilt in its glory will be a direct outcome of our efforts for its return. The hope is that we live a life that merits the rebuilding of Yerushalyim, we yearn that our actions are an impetus in Hashem’s decision to bring Yerushalayim back to its glory.

I think we can elaborate on this idea a bit. Her death may not have been a punishment for looking but rather as a result. When she glanced back at the destruction, she may have had complete remorse for not having done anything to change the ways of the people of Sodom. Perhaps she realized that she had the ability to make a difference, and she had chosen not to. The weight of her witnessing the destruction may have taken a toll on her, to the point of death.

We don’t want to be bystanders like she had been, we would like to be part of the solution. Our hope is to be a part of the solution in order that we could be an impetus for the salvation and rebuilding of Jerusalem. We beseech Hashem that we will be fortunate to witness the rebuilding of Jerusalem. The ultimate redemption will be in the merit of the Jewish people like it says, “For eye to eye they shall see when the Lord returns to Zion.”

Excerpted with permission from Rabbi Tenenbaum's new book, Three Steps Forward, from Mosaica Press.