Making peace between a husband and wife is of primary importance, even if it means bending the rules and abandoning our pride.
This week’s Torah portion is Nasso (Numbers 4:21-7:89) and it is the longest reading in the entire Torah. It deals with the priestly duties, purity, “wayward wife”, nazirite law and the dedication of the Tabernacle.
The “wayward wife” (known as a Sotah) is a woman suspected of having committed adultery. Such a woman was forced to undergo a test which included drinking a special potion. One of the requirements was that the name of God was written on a scroll and placed into the potion, thereby erasing God’s name into its waters. (The scroll was later removed from the water.) The Sotah was then forced to drink the potion. If she was guilty, she died a gruesome death. It was not a pretty sight. (The adulterer also dropped dead wherever he was in the world.) If innocent, she would be the recipient of a number of blessings. This was, of course, a miraculous procedure, the likes of which are unknown to us today.
There is much that can be discussed about the Sotah: the procedure, the potion, the death and more. What is exceptionally significant, however, is the fact that God allows his Holy Name to be erased in a potion of water and dust. Erasing the name of God is a very serious biblical prohibition. But as our sages teach us, God says, “My Name that was written in holiness shall be erased by water to make peace between husband and wife.”
So the question is asked: Why is erasing God’s name from a scroll part of the procedure? This supernatural procedure could have been just as effective without this component. Why was it necessary to use God’s Name and erase it for the Sotah test?
The answer, it is explained, is that there is an important message for a happy marriage, and that is: Sometimes we have to bend the rules! In this case, although erasing God’s name is a serious transgression, God waives his rules and his honor in order to try to bring peace between husband and wife. God wanted the erasing of his name to be a part of the procedure in order for us to realize how far we have to go sometimes in order to bring peace between couples.
Also significant is the husband’s role in the details of the Sotah procedure. The Torah introduces the laws of Sotah with the following verse: “A man, a man, whose wife goes astray and sins against him….” Notice how the word “man” (or “husband”) is repeated, seemingly needlessly. It is explained that the repetition of “man” is intended to teach us how not to be a husband: Do not be overly domineering and demanding. Our sages teach us that sometimes an overly demanding husband could be the cause of his wife going astray. The home should be a place of peace and calm, with the husband and wife treating each other with respect!
God as a Role Model
The message of the Sotah is reminiscent of a story in the Talmud involving Rabbi Meir. There was once a woman who went to hear him deliver a lecture on a Friday night. When she returned home, her husband was furious at her for having been out too late on a Sabbath eve. In his rage, he declared that she was not allowed into the house until she spits at Rabbi Meir. Rabbi Meir got wind of what was happening and came up with a plan. He sought out the woman and told her that he had a certain eye disease and that the only cure was to have someone spit in his eye seven times. And so it was: She spat at Rabbi Meir seven times.
Rabbi Meir’s students were aghast at what took place and asked their rabbi how he could allow himself to be disgraced in such a fashion. He answered that he learned this from the Sotah procedure. If God is able to forgo his honor and be disgraced with the placing of his name in dirty water, how much more so should a man forgo his honor in order to bring peace between a husband and wife!
For more insights on this week’s Torah portion by Rabbi Ari Enkin, click on the links below: