"This man has to bring his wife to the priest…." (Num. 5:15)

The objective for the whole legislation regarding the adulteress is for the priest to examine the man's wife in a place where G‑d "resides".

I have already explained elsewhere that this place is called the "higher" earth, on account of G‑d having His residence there. It is not included in the part of the earth which had been subjected to G‑d's curse as a result of man's sin.

Waters which are found in the sacred precincts of the Temple are sacred, by definition….

Also any of the waters in that area are not subject to "tears", i.e. have not been afflicted by the said curse. This is why G‑d commanded that "holy waters" be taken for this procedure. Waters which are found in the sacred precincts of the Temple are sacred, by definition. This does not contradict the legal precept that these waters be taken from the copper basin which serves the priests to wash their hands and feet.

The Torah also commanded the priest to use earth from the floor of the Holy Temple precisely because it is the closest to G‑d's residence. The reason that this earth should not now be dug up is also because if it were already at hand it is closer to the site where G‑d resides. The closer the earth is to the place where the Shechinah resides, the more its awareness of its proximity to its Creator. Earth from outside the precincts of the Temple would not be as aware of the nearness of G‑d. The earth is better able to fulfill what the Creator demands of it once it has "tasted" the proximity of the Lawgiver.

The reason that G‑d commanded for the earth to be added to the water and not vice versa is based on the waters having been created before the earth during the process of creation. When our sages decided that if the earth had been in the vessel before the water the whole procedure is null and void, they did not nullify the procedure in the event that both water and earth had been poured into the vessel simultaneously. The reason is that such a procedure still resembles the order of Creation when water and solid particles were thoroughly mixed up before G‑d created the light. We do not find that earth is ever at the bottom of the source of spring water however.

Rabbi Shimon held that it does not matter whether the earth had been placed in the vessel first as long as the water is holy water. (Sotah 16) He obviously felt that this suffices for both the waters and the earth to be imbued with the appropriate awareness for both elements to perform the task G‑d allocated to them as part for the whole procedure.

The residue of the names of G‑d provided the water with the power to produce the desired effect….

The Torah commanded to write the portion regarding the adulteress, including the holy name of G‑d where it appears, and to allow the bitter waters to erase these holy names of G‑d due to the nature of the water and the earth it contains. The residue of the names of G‑d provided the water with the power to produce the desired effect in the woman who drank this water.

The Torah also commanded for the meal-offering of the woman in question to consist primarily of barley, i.e. a reminder of the offering Cain had brought, who had offered something of inferior value. This inferior offering was also an indirect result of the sin committed by Adam and Eve.

This is what the Torah means when it speaks of "a reminder of sin", i.e. Adam's sin in the Garden of Eden. It was this Original Sin which had led to the weeping of the waters and the curse which rests on Earth.

When the [suspected] adulteress drinks this mixture of water, earth and the residue of the holy name of G‑d which dissolved in that water, the name of the meal-offering as "reminder of sin" is most appropriate if she has indeed been guilty of marital infidelity. It will recall also earlier sins.

When the waters become aware of this, they will turn bitter reflecting on their own sorry fate, as we described earlier. These waters will then take revenge on this woman who has caused them all these tears and they will ruin the woman's intestines. All of this will be accomplished by the power of the holy Name of G‑d which has been dissolved in these waters.

[Selected with permission from the five-volume English edition of "Ohr HaChaim: the Torah Commentary of Rabbi Chaim Ben Attar" by Eliyahu Munk.]