For an explanation of the methodology of this series, see the introduction.

"But if the woman had not become defiled and she is clean, she shall be exempted and bear seed " (Num. 5:28)

Peshat (basic meaning):

Rashi:"But if the woman had not become defiled"
during this seclusion [with the man]

"and she is clean"
regarding any other place [with any man, at any time]

"she shall be exempted"
from [the dire effects of] the curse-bearing water and moreover, she "shall bear seed." If she used to have painful births, she will now have easy births; if she used to give birth to dark-skinned babies, she will now give birth to fair ones.

Siftei Chachamim:"And furthermore"
Rashi indicates that the verse does not mean a cause and effect relationship between...and... "she shall be cleansed [of that which has been preventing her pregnancy] and she shall bear seed."

Remez (hinted meaning):

...if the Sotah is innocent...she will bear righteous sons, masters of the Torah.

Baal HaTurim: "And she shall bear seed"
"This is the Torah of...." is juxtaposed to this verse, to indicate that if the Sotah is innocent of being a zonah/harlot, she will bear righteous sons, masters of the Torah.

Derash (interpretive meaning):

Ohr HaChayim: "And if the woman has not been defiled and remained pure"
The Torah repeats that she has remained pure to tell us that not only has she been exonerated but also she is rewarded. This repetition also indicates that not only had she not engaged in intercourse with another but also she had no caressing and fondling that precede full intimacy.

Ramban: [verse 20]
There is nothing among all the statutes of the Torah except this one that depends upon a miracle, which is a permanent wonder that will happen in Israel when a majority of people live in accordance with the will of G‑d....to purify Israel from adulterous offspring so that they are worthy that the Shechinah will dwell among them. Therefore this matter [the effect of the water on the Sotah] stopped from the time the people became debauched with sexual sins...In short, this procedure was miraculous as a sign of honor for Israel.

Maharal:
The old arrangement of G‑d's name was not working for this couple. Through dissolving and melting the original Name, the priests opened the door for a different phase of the Name of G‑d to enter their relationship, more harmonious than that past. (Iturei Torah)

...the priest does not inform the woman of this potential benefit before she drinks.

Lubavitcher Rebbe: Through the ordeal of drinking the bitter waters, the innocent Sotah actually gains; "she will bear children (more easily)". Nevertheless, the priest does not inform the woman of this potential benefit before she drinks. This mirrors the process of teshuvah; when a person repents he is not only spiritually cleansed from his prior sin but furthermore he reaches an even higher spiritual status than before his sinful act. Nevertheless this benefit is not offered to prospective sinners, rather, "If a person says I will sin and then I will repent, he will not be granted the opportunity to do teshuvah." (Yoma 85b)

The jealous husband is really the Divine Presence who wants to be wanted and not forgotten; "The secret hiding" of the wife is our secreting ourselves in arrogance, narcissistic self-embellishment which makes us inaccessible and not available to our loved ones; The holy water is the inner meaning of the Torah. The dust placed in the holy water is the action of investing the Inner Torah into meaningful actions and words.

Sod (esoteric, mystical meaning):

Zohar Naso 125:
Come and see: If the wife was acquitted, these waters entered her and turned out to be sweet. They cleansed her and stayed there until she conceived. As soon as she became pregnant, the waters would beautify the embryo within her, which would result in a handsome and clean child, thoroughly unblemished. If she was not, then these waters entered her and she got the offensive odor and these waters would turn into a snake within her. The impairment that she caused affected her. And her shame is apparent to all, as our friends have explained.

Come and see: All the wives in the world are then judged wherever they are. Therefore, from that exact spot from where they stem they are judged. Praised is the lot of Israel who the Holy One, blessed be He, favored and wished to purify.

...the Sotah commandment was really a tremendous positive innovation, for the benefit of women.

BeRahamim LeHayyim:
The book "In the Image of G‑d" provides deep reasons for what may on the surface appear to be oppressive misogynistic practices. It explains that the Sotah commandment was really a tremendous positive innovation, for the benefit of women. It used to be, that if a man suspected his wife of adultery — and there were no witnesses, she was history. Either she'd be killed, or thrown out onto the street. No more, says our Torah from Sinai — which we received again just days ago. Now we have a mechanism where a guilty woman can leave her husband (minus her ketuba rights as her penalty). An innocent woman will be blessed with the birth of a son, a prize from ancient times even to now.

It is easy to read this section as designed by a patriarchal society to oppress women. But too it is just as facile to learn it as a technique to preserve a family and to assist a woman in proving her innocence.


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