Rabbi O’s Weekly Parsha and Prayer: Nasso (Numbers 4:21­7:89) From Tension to Trust

(There is a new feature at the end of this dvar Torah. It is a short prayer and meditation suggestion on based on the dvar Torah.)

One of the most controversial topics in the Torah is the Sotah, the suspected adulteress. Adultery is an equal opportunity misdeed; both men and women are commanded not to do it but what makes this case unique is that due to certain behavior on the woman’s part (not just that she became a Facebook friend with an old boyfriend), her husband has compelling grounds to suspect her of engaging in an adulterous relationship. A miraculous procedure was done in the Temple in ancient Jerusalem that conclusively proved whether or not she had committed adultery. If she did, she and her partner would immediately die a vile death; if she was innocent, blessings relating to childbearing would be bestowed on her. In addition, trust and love could be restored in her marriage. If she was unfaithful hopefully the fear of having to go through the procedure and it consequences would be sufficient to induce her confession. If that happened, the marriage would end in divorce without further consequence because there was no judicial evidence of her guilt.

What was the special procedure? The passages from the Torah that speak about the Sotah were written on a parchment, which was dissolved in specially prepared Sotah waters. The writing, which contained G­d’s name, was erased when submerged in the water. She then drank the water and her guilt or innocence would be revealed, as explained above.

This procedure is an anomaly in a judicial sense. It involves supernatural intervention but throughout the Torah the way to establish guilt or innocence is through two witnesses; in this case that does not suffice. Although there are witnesses that the couple was secluded, we have no idea what happened in that room. Perhaps there was just light conversation or a discussion about life; what evidence is there that she actually committed adultery? Why aren’t witnesses required; why is supernatural intervention needed?

Humans are emotional creatures. When we get something in our heads, sometimes even empirical evidence will not get it out. We have all been there. Have you ever found you just can’t stop thinking about how someone hurt you, your spouse or children? We think about it for days or weeks, when we take a walk, do the dishes, or go for a drive. We can’t forgive the person for being so unkind, judgmental, and self-serving. No amount of logic or explanation can remove the pain we feel. I have unfortunately witnessed this phenomenon many times in divorces; no amount of logic or explanation can change the person’s mind for what s/he “knows” that spouse did.

In the case of the Sotah, the reality is that once a spouse has serious grounds to suspect adultery, no amount of evidence will help to change that suspicion. Due to the woman’s indiscreet behavior that ultimately lead to the acquisition, even if witnesses come and testify that nothing happened, even if the court rules that she is innocent, the pain and emotion he has had to bear over a period of time will not suddenly go away. The only way to patch up the breach in this marriage is for G­d Himself to “testify” (through the Sotah procedure) that this woman is innocent.

The Talmud observes that Shalom Bayit, peace between husband and wife, is of such paramount importance that G­d allows His Name to be erased for it. “How great is peace between husband and wife, for the Torah says that the Name of the Holy One…should be erased in the waters.” (Chullin 141a)

Human beings are primarily driven by emotions. The ideas that we form in our heads, rational or not, create the reality we experience. At times we find ourselves arguing with someone who just “doesn’t seem to get it”. The facts and logic might be crystal clear but the other person adamantly refuses to accept them. The reason is because the discussion or argument has entered into the realm of emotions. Once an argument becomes emotional, logic no longer suffices to prove one’s point because our emotional needs­­, fear, pride, ego, empathy, validation etc.­­ must be met before we allow logic into the dialogue.

The challenge of the Sotah is that the husband’s suspicious are deeply emotional. All relationships are built on trust and when there is a breach in that trust, the pain is deep. A marriage without trust causes tension and is doomed. If a wife has to check her husband’s emails and has to monitor his schedule because she doesn’t believe him when he has to stay late at work, there is little if any love in that marriage. The best and most solid marriages are built on trust. Very rarely does a spouse consider the immense pain s/he will cause when s/he acts in a way that will destroy that trust. The Sotah is a tragedy because she caused that trust to be broken; only G­d can repair type of breach. It comes out that the purpose of the miraculous Sotah procedure is not punitive; it is not to catch her. The reason is to restore harmony between husband and wife and maintain their relationship. The beautiful principle that emerges is the hope the couple has for the future. It is now in their hands. G­d has established the woman’s innocence, now the ability for love, understanding, and trust can re­enter a once breached marriage.

Prayer/Meditation Suggestion: G­d please allow me to find the love and trust I crave in all my relationships and be unflinching in making sure I allow others to find it in me.

Good Shabbos

(Source: Emes l’Yaakov)