This week’s parsha, Parshat Naso, speaks about the story of the Sotah, the Adulterous Woman, an instance where a husband accuses the wife of committing adultery that culminates in the wife drinking a liquid mixture that will cause her (5:27) “belly to swell and her thigh to waste away, and the women shall become a curse among her people” if she is guilty or to become pregnant if she is innocent.
Of all the strange things about this group of halachot (story?), one pasuk (5:15) stands out, “Then the husband shall bring his wife to the Kohen.”
The Gemara in Sotah (7b) expounds that the couple isn’t just presenting themselves to the Kohen, but rather to the High Court and to the Kohen. Moreover, this is all taking place in Jerusalem in front of “all of Bnei Yisrael.”
Why does this very private matter need to be settled in such a public forum? Furthermore, there are lesser courts that deal in marital issues – why is the couple being forced to settle this matter in front of the Highest Court in the land?
Let us remind ourselves that before going before the Kohen, after the claim of adultery is made, both sides have the option to walk away, with no admission of guilt required by either party. Meaning, only those couples who truly desire to stay together are required to go through the very public Sotah process so both sides can “know” without a doubt that the act of adultery was or was not committed.
This isn’t a totally crazy proposition as a key component to the husband’s claim is that witnesses need to have confirmed that the wife was indeed alone with another man for a considerable amount of time.
The answer lies in the simple fact that it is easier to destroy than to build. And while it might not seem like it, this is exactly what the Sotah couple is try to do.
A key ingredient in creating the liquid mixture that the Sotah woman drinks is the placement of Shem Hashem, G-d’s written name, in it. Furthermore, by placing the parchment in the liquid, G-d’s name becomes erased. The commentators point to a few reasons why this happens.
First, the erasing of Hashem’s name is also a reminder to the couple that during their “first” marriage, His presence was absent.
Second, is the creation process that the couple is now about to embark on.
A part of the wedding ceremony is the circling of the woman around the man seven times, creating a stark comparison to the seven days of creation, as in marriage something holy is being created.
The famous psychotherapist and best-selling author, Esther Perel, writes that for a couple to stay married after an adulterous act, the two must acknowledge that their “first” marriage is over and a new “second” one has begun. So too here, thanks to the very public Sotah process, the couple is also acknowledging that their relationship is reborn.
Much like there was a creation during the first marriage ceremony, here too there is a literal creation, and the woman becomes pregnant (of course, if she is guilty then there is no creation and no more marriage) to mark this new, changed relationship. Acknowledging the much harder process of continuing the marriage after Sotah, there is no mere seven circles, rather Hashem actually lends – nay sacrifices – His name for the sake of the couple.
We saw this idea as well surrounding the events at Har Sinai. Bnei Yisrael rejected the relationship that Hashem offered through the Sin of the Golden Calf. Commenters write that Hashem was faced with a similar challenge – destroy the covenant with the Jewish Nation or keep it, however with a changed relationship. Thus our former relationship that was based on Din, judgement, was replaced with one based on Rachamim, compassion.
Creating is indeed difficult. If the couple is successfully to move on after the Sotah process is to be completed, a quick trip to their local Beit Din will not suffice.
While perhaps not always as dramatic, anything worthwhile in life will not be easy to accomplish. May we always have the strength to see things through and reap their benefits.