"If a spirit of suspicion had come upon [the husband prior to the seclusion of his wife with this man] and, he had warned his wife [in front of witnesses not to]…." (Num. 5:14)

If the husband withdraws his warning immediately after he issues it, the wife's seclusion does not render her a suspected adulteress. But once the scroll used in the rite of trial has been erased, it is too late: the husband cannot withdraw his warning and annul his wife's status as a suspected adulteress.

...once the scroll used in the rite of trial has been erased, it is too late...

The particulars of the rite of the suspected adulteress have their correlations in the cosmic marriage of G‑d and the Jewish people. The equivalent of the husband's warning is G‑d's command, "Do not have any other gods before Me." But this is problematic: G‑d is everywhere, so how can it be said that one has secluded oneself or hidden from G‑d?

The answer is that through sin, we create a seeming concealment from G‑d. The motivation behind sin is egocentricity: the individual puts his own concerns and desires before G‑d's. He temporarily shuts G‑d out of his life. Therefore, the Sages in the Talmud state that G‑d says of an arrogant person, "He and I cannot dwell in the same place". (Sotah 5a)

Even if a person does a good deed for selfish motives, he distances himself from G‑d. The prophet Jeremiah asks:
"'Can a person conceal himself in hiding places and I, will I not see him?' declares G‑d". (Jer. 23:24) The Ba'al Shem Tov interprets this as follows:

"Can a person conceal himself": If a person chooses to ensconce himself in the study of Torah and prayer in order to transcend the material world and experience a revelation of G‑d...

And I: however, this is for selfish motives and produces an inflated sense of self ("I")

"I will not see him, declares G‑d": G‑d will not reveal Himself to him, for G‑d does not dwell with the haughty.

The arrogant person, full of himself, has no room for G‑d in his life...

The arrogant person, full of himself, has no room for G‑d in his life, so G‑d obligingly withdraws. Thus, arrogance causes us to be "hidden" from G‑d.

Nevertheless, this concealment is not "real," but rather artificially imposed by G‑d because He abhors conceit. Therefore, just as a husband can annul his wife's implication in crime when her "sin," so to speak, is of his own making, so can G‑d always forgive our implication in sin, without the need for pursuing the trial of the bitter waters any further.

If, however, "the scroll has already been erased"—i.e. it becomes clear that our connection to G‑d when we sinned was like that between ink and parchment, which can be separated from each other—then we have the status of a suspected adulteress. We must therefore bring an offering of barley—animal feed. This means that we have to realize that our approach to life until now has been lacking both qualitatively and quantitatively: we have not been thinking enough about life, and whatever thinking we have been doing has been based on self-awareness and self-orientation; we have been focused on our animal needs.

Bringing this "offering" serves to subdue our arrogance, making us once again proper vessels for Divine consciousness and G‑d's attendant blessings.

[Based on Likutei Sichot, vol. 4, p. 1032 ff.
Copyright 2003 chabad of california / www.lachumash.org]