In this week’s portion we have the most interesting commandment of the Sotah.
The Sotah was a case where a husband had previously warned his wife not to be with a certain man, and two witnesses had seen her and this man spend time in seclusion. The wife cannot live with her husband until she drinks the mei sotah — the sotah water. What was this water, and what happened if the woman had actually had an adulterous relationship?
The water was made from a mixture of water from the Temple’s water supply, and some earth from the floor of the Temple. The Torah then goes on to record the curses which would befall the woman if she was guilty (basically her body would blow up, as would the body of the man she had been unfaithful with; if the woman admits her sin, she is not forced to drink the water, rather, she is divorced from her husband, but does not receive her ketubah — her guarantor).
After these curses were read from a parchment, the Priest would dissolve the parchment into the water, and the woman would drink it. The Jerusalem Talmud (Sotah 1:4) notes that although G-d’s name was on this parchment, and erasing G-d’s explicit name (which was spelled out on the parchment) is forbidden, in this case, G-d allows His name to be erased in order to promote marital harmony. In fact, it is stated elsewhere that the Altar itself sheds tears when a couple gets divorced.
What is the Jewish outlook on marriage?
A good marriage is one of the most beautiful things in the world. When a man and a woman live together in harmony, and there is peace between them, the Divine presence dwells in their midst. The reason for this is that when you take two things which are by definition opposites and bring them together, this is a microcosm of the purpose of the creation of the world. We are put on this earth to bring it to a higher level, what is contemporarily called “Tikkun Olam” — repairing the world.
When we take our body, which is something completely physical, and sanctify it with spirituality, we have taken two opposites and integrated them. This is done by performing commandments. And when this integration takes place between a husband and wife, there is no greater sanctification of the world (use of the word opposites here does not mean two forces which repel each other, rather it means two forces which complement each other, much like two pieces of a puzzle).
Unfortunately, as we can see by the divorce rate, a happy marriage is quite an elusive goal. How do we make our marriages all that they could be? In order for us to attempt to do so, we must first learn the meaning of the word love.
The word for love in Hebrew is ahavah. The root of this word is hav — to give. Love does not mean romance or things that you receive, rather it is something you give. Too often people enter into a relationship thinking “what can I get?”, instead of “what can I give?” When you have two people together, each one concerned for the other, constantly thinking, “how can I make my partner happy?”, a marriage like that is like living in the Garden of Eden. When a marriage becomes a series of never ending competitions, with each side making sure that they are never “suckers”, that they never get “taken”, then the marriage becomes a living hell.
Marriage at its best is two people striving to help their partner grow. May we merit to grow with our partners and have the Divine Presence dwell with us.