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Speak to the children of Israel and say to them: Any man, if his wife will go astray and commit a trespass against him. (Bamidbar 5:12)
This week’s parsha introduces us to the laws of the sotah. The posuk tells us that if the sotah is innocent she shall bear seed. Chazal explain this to mean that if this woman was childless she will now conceive. Another opinion has it that if she previously gave birth with difficulty she will now give birth with ease or if she previously gave birth to children with a dark complexion she will now give birth to children with a light complexion (Sotah 26a).
We may ask why should the sotah be blessed with conception, easy childbirth or healthy children if she is innocent? What relationship is there between the test of the sotah and the blessing of conception? Further, what exactly is the symbolic nature of the bitter waters in that they have the miraculous ability to test a sotah for her infidelity?
The Torah tells us that the bitter waters that the sotah is given to drink consist of three ingredients. They are: water, earth taken from the ground of the mishkan and the scroll that contains the parsha of the sotah. This significant part of the scroll is the name of Hashem that was erased in the water.
It is noteworthy that a similar set of ingredients were used by Hashem to create man. The posuk says that Hashem formed man from the soil of the earth. The posuk immediately before this says that a mist ascended from the earth and watered the whole surface of the soil. Rashi comments that the mist was needed to moisten the earth to form man. Rashi compares the relationship between the earth and water used to form man to flour and water used to make dough. Finally the posuk concludes that Hashem blew a spirit of life into man’s nostrils (Bereishis 2:6-7). We have here the same three basic ingredients: earth, water and Hashem.
We may suggest the test of the sotah involves a symbolic recreation of man. These same ingredients used to form man are used by the kohen to symbolically recreate man. It is important to note that the man being re-created is man before the sin of eating from the tree of knowledge. This creation represents holiness in its purest form. The sotah is given to drink from this creation. The test assumes that pure holiness cannot exist in an environment of defilement. If the sotah is guilty of sin, the purity of this potion will have a destructive effect on her.
However, in the event that the sotah is innocent, the act of creation will continue within her. She will conceive and have a child.
© Efraim Levine 5761/2001