This week’s section contains the strange and complicated commandment of the Sota.
In short; if a woman is warned by her husband that he suspects infidelity and she is caught again acting suspiciously, he takes her to the Holy Temple where several Torah sentences are written on a parchment and washed off in a bowl of water which she is made to drink and if she is guilty she dies a strange and painful death.
At first glance all this seems a bit out of place in the holy Torah.
Why couldn’t G-d just make it that if a man suspects his wife he takes her to the Priest and he reveals the truth?
To understand this here are two stories.
The defendant was charged with first degree murder and the courtroom was packed. You. The attorney for the defense was one of the best in the country and everyone was hypnotized by his eloquence and razor sharp logic. He was at the height of his oration and each time he paused could hear a pin drop.
“We are all shocked by murder but if you are not ONE HUNDRED percent sure that Joe Sanders has committed this heinous crime you cannot, you must not, you dare not take his life. I want to stress that the life of a human being. A human being just like yourselves, like your own sons and daughters is standing here.
Can we take his life on circumstantial evidence? Bloodstains? Witnesses that think they heard shots?
Why, you don’t even know for sure that a murder has been committed. The prosecution has yet to find a weapon or even a body!
Is there no doubt in your minds? Would you consider sentencing this man? Well, honorable jury members, if so… I want show you how near you came to making a tragic mistake!!
The lawyer pointed dramatically to the huge locked entrance door behind them and shouted.
“In just a few seconds the supposed victim, the man you say has been murdered will come THROUGH THAT DOOR!! The man you thought has been murdered ….. IS ALIVE.
A gasp went up in the courthouse, everyone suddenly turned to look. All eyes were glued to the door. Any second the handle would turn. The room was filled with electricity.
Ten seconds passed, twenty, a minute, two! Someone coughed, someone else cleared their throat, someone chuckled, the spell had been broken … no one was coming through that door.
The lawyer had made a fool of himself!!!
But he didn’t seem to be perturbed. He waited for the noise to die down and continued. “You see? You all expected to see the victim. IN OTHER WORDS YOU AREN’T EVEN SURE IF HE’S DEAD!!!
“I rest my case.”
It was a brilliant move that completely stunned the crowd while the accused just sat and smiled.
The Judge ordered the jury to leave the court and come to a verdict, but it was all too obvious what the outcome would be. And, indeed, after only fifteen minutes they returned. The judge pounded his gavel and asked if they had reached a decision.
The foreman of the jury stood and said “Yes we have your honor.”
“And what is the verdict” asked the judge perfunctorily.
“We find the defendant…. GUILTY as charged.”
The courtroom was stunned. The crowd didn’t know what was going on. The lawyer for the defense jumped to his feet held his head in his hands and screamed “How can you do this?! How can you do this??” The judge himself was speechless. Soon everyone was turning to one another, shrugging their shoulders and asking pointless questions; they were completely confused.
The judge began pounding his gavel and yelling “Order in the Court! Order in the court!!”
The room fell still, everyone was ordered to be seated and the Judge turned to the jury foreman who remained standing, and asked.
“Is that the verdict of the jury? Guilty?”
“Yes it is your honor.”
“Could you explain?” The judge asked as he leaned forward peering over his high desk at the jury.
The foreman cleared his throat and replied.
“Your honor, the defending attorney was right; we weren’t one hundred percent sure. And he really proved it when he made us all look at the door.
But while everyone was looking at the door I happened to notice that there was one person in the court that didn’t turn …. The DEFENDANT!!
That’s right your honor. We all saw it. He didn’t blink an eye. He knew that the victim was really dead and the whole thing was a trick. He was the only one in court that had no doubts!!
The second story is one that Rav Mendel Futerfass, the Rosh Yeshiva of Kfar Chabad used to tell.
Some two hundred years ago a young Chassid was riding a train from one city to another in Russia when at one of the stops a well dressed man entered and sat near him. The young chassid nodded to his new neighbor and returned to the book he was reading.
The man looked like an assimilated Jew and sure enough after a few moments he asked the young man in Yiddish “Nu, vas learnt a Yid?” (What are you learning there?)
It wasn’t long before they were conversing about religion and needless to say the older fellow spoke condescendingly demonstrating his superior, open lifestyle.
“I am a doctor, in fact a professor of medicine. But that does not stop me from being a benefactor to the poor. Often I do not even charge a fee if I see the patient cannot pay.”
“Yes, me too.” Said the Chassid.
“Ahh yes, I’m certain that you also do charitable acts but remember that I could charge large sums and I forego the profit. In fact often I visit the poor in their homes and treat them.”
“Yes, so do I.” replied the Chassid a second time.
The doctor was beginning to get angry. “Well, do you now!” He said sarcastically. “Well I’ll have you know that often I even buy medicine for the indigent and even provide them with food, despite the fact that there are few experts in the field of medicine like me,”
“Yes, me too.” Answered the Chassid a third time.
“What, do you mean to tell me that you are a doctor?” The professor asked mockingly.
“No no!” Replied the young man. “I mean that I too only see my good qualities and overlook my own faults.”
That is the lesson of our section. The Sota is a married woman that arouses suspicion. Her husband is not sure of her and she seems to be unsure of herself. She broadcasts infidelity.
This is also very applicable to the Jewish people. At the giving of the Torah they became ‘married’ to G-d. This, in fact is the theme of King Solomon’s holy masterpiece “The Song of Songs.”
But as we see from the first story there is no substitute for certainty.
But the Jews often broadcast the opposite. As in the second story they often seem to have only themselves on their minds.
But the fact is that a Jew can NEVER really be unfaithful to G-d. This is hinted at in the Talmud (Sota 3a) “A Sota will not sin unless she goes momentarily insane.”
In other words the only thing that will bring a Jew to act unfaithful is if he goes crazy.
Therefore all the processes listed in the Torah are necessary, namely to arouse the real truth.
But unlike the Sota G-d will never divorce the Jewish people as it says in Isaiah 42:8 “My glory I will not give to another.”
So the Sota process represents the process of repentance and humility. Just as they were purified by counting the forty nine days of the Omer after leaving Egypt in order to receive the Torah in purity. (Many have the custom of learning the 49 pages of Tractate SOTA from Pesach to Shavuot for this reason).
This is the job of Moshiach to show that the Jews were really faithful all along as the Torah promises (5:26) that when they are redeemed they will be cleaned and bring healthy offspring.
Have a happy, healthy, meaningful Shavuot with Moshiach NOW!!