In this week’s portion, the mitzva of Sotah is discussed. A sotah is when a woman was secluded with a man other than her husband: “Any man whose wife shall go astray and commit treachery against him, and a man could have lain with her, but it was hidden from her husband” (Numbers 5:12-13).
Though there is no proof that the woman committed adultery, by secluding herself, she is considered to have performed an act of treachery against her husband.
This woman was then brought before a Kohein and forced to drink bitter waters. A scroll, containing the curses mentioned in the Torah that would befall the woman were she to be guilty, had been dissolved into these waters. This meant that G-d’s name would be erased, as G-d’s name was contained in the scroll.
If the woman had committed adultery, she would die from the waters (the woman has the option of admitting her guilt before drinking the waters, in which case she does not drink the waters and she must leave the home). If she was innocent, she receives the blessing that she will bear children.
What was so unique about this mitzva that we are allowed to erase G-d’s name?
The Midrash Tanchuma tells us, “that all the songs in the Scripture are holy, but the Song of Songs is the holy of holies.” What is so holy about Song of Songs?
The holiness of Song of Songs comes from its topic: the intense love between G-d and the Jewish people. But when King Shlomo (Solomon) wrote Song of Songs, he used husband and wife as a metaphor for this love. What gave King Shlomo the right to use husband and wife, a love between mortals, as a metaphor for love between man and his Creator? Because the great potential for love between husband and wife is used as a paradigm for the awesome love capable between man and G-d. G-d loves us. It is we who must learn to reciprocate that love towards Him.
The first five of the Ten Commandments deal with the laws between man and G-d. The second five deal with the laws between man and man. These two groups of five are symmetrical, 1 and 6, 2 and 7, 3 and 8 etc. The second commandment is not to have any other gods. The seventh commandment is not to commit adultery. The symmetry is obvious.
The Talmud states (Rabbi Akiva; Sotah 17a) that the husband and wife have the potential for the Divine presence to reside with them. This happens when there is peace between husband and wife in the home. The word for peace in Hebrew is Shalom. Shalom also means whole or perfect. Peace is a state of wholeness. When the interaction between husband and wife is whole, when they are dedicated to giving to each other, this means there is room for G-d, and His presence dwells with them. Paradoxically, the more a person gives, the more he has left to give.
When this paradigm of love is breached, it is an extremely serious thing - so serious that G-d is willing to have His name be erased in order to come to a conclusion. And if the woman is innocent, it is not considered a “waste” that G-d’s name was erased unnecessarily. On the contrary, this couple is now blessed by G-d with having (more) children.
We must learn from this the tremendous power which could lie in marriage, and how, if used properly, it can lead to the highest levels, both with our spouses and G-d.
Rabbi Jay Spero is the rabbi of the Saranac Synagogue in Buffalo.