What Are The Unique Laws Of Sotah Really About?
What Are The Unique Laws Of Sotah Really About?
Rabbi David Fohrman
Founder and Lead Scholar
Parshat Naso introduces us to one of the oddest laws in the Torah, the laws of the Sotah – a woman suspected of adultery by her husband.
If the woman chooses to defend her honor, she is able to partake in an ancient ritual where the Kohen makes her drink tampered water – a kind of bitter water test for adultery. If she’s telling the truth, nothing happens and she’s rewarded with children. But if she’s lying, she has a traumatic reaction to the water and she’s killed.
What is the basis for this strange ritual of the Sotah and where did the procedure originate? Join Rabbi Fohrman and Rivky as they re-examine this practice and discover a unique relationship to the story of Noah earlier in the Torah — and never think about the laws of the Sotah the same way again.
Rabbi Fohrman: Hi everybody out there in Podcast Land. This is Rabbi David Fohrman. I'm here with our executive producer, Ms. Rivky Stern.
Rivky: Hello, Rabbi Fohrman. How are you today?
Rabbi Fohrman: Hi, I'm doing very well and we are back for another episode of Parsha Lab, Parshat Naso. We are going to be looking at something kind of interesting which I'm going to tease for you in a second after I introduce Rivky one more time, who's going to talk to you about something she really wanted to talk to you about which is two kinds of subscriptions which someone like my age, not a digital native would not know. They get it mixed up.
Rivky: Oh, Rabbi Fohrman.
Rabbi Fohrman: Subscribe to the Podcast. Subscribe to the website. I don't even understand. Rivky, explain it to us.
Rivky: I just wanted to encourage everyone whether you're listening on a Podcast app, whether you're listening on a website, however you're listening to this, the easiest way to make sure that you do not miss an episode is to go straight to your Podcast app whether that's iTunes, whether that's Stitcher, whether you use SoundCloud, whatever you use, and make sure to subscribe. And if you feel so inclined, of course rate and review us in the iTune store. All right. Now let's dive into Naso. Rabbi Fohrman, tell us about it.
Rabbi Fohrman: Rivky, what I want to talk to you about today is an idea that we have been batting around a little bit with the office. It began with an observation by Immanuel Shalev of a tantalizing possible clue that, you know, I spent some time thinking about and I think might be the beginning of something here. The back story is that this has to do with a section of text in this week's parsha that has to do with the sotah. Rivky, you want to give our listeners a little bit of the back story here on the sotah?
What Is the Sotah Ritual About?Rivky: Sure. Basically, I think the laws of the sotah deal with a marriage in crisis. There is a man who is very suspicious of his wife and she doesn't do anything to sort of make that suspicion go away. She ends up being alone with another man after he warned her not to be alone with that man and then she is brought to have some sort of ritual with the Kohen, with the priest to find out whether she actually cheated on her husband.
Rabbi Fohrman: That's a very strange ritual.
Rabbi Fohrman: That's correct. It just is mysterious, one of the most mysterious things you're going to find in the Book of Numbers. She goes before the priest – and by the way, it should be emphasized that this is entirely voluntary. She doesn't need to submit to this process. As you correctly noted, the marriage is in crisis. It seems to be the victim of mutual suspicion or mutual anger or mutual scorn. The husband is jealous, in the words of the text, possibly paranoid, possibly justified. We don't know. He doesn't know. He goes and he asks his wife or almost makes a demand of her and says I need you to not be in intimate seclusion with this other man. I think there might be something going on between you guys.
Basically, instead of them kind of working it out together and somehow achieving some kind of reassurance in the normal way that couples would handle these things, she seems to invite two witnesses to watch her flaunt that warning. It's like come here Phil and Sam. Watch me go secluded with Bob.
Rivky: A troubled marriage indeed.
Rabbi Fohrman: Yes, it's a troubled marriage indeed. So she scorns this and secludes herself with this guy almost as if to taunt him. The reason why that's so, I say Rivky, is because halachically there's two aspects that trigger the sotah law. One aspect is known as kinuy. The other aspect is known as stirah. Kinuy is something which he does. Stirah is something which she does. Kinuy is this initial warning provoked by the husband's sense of jealousy or paranoia or whatever that is. The second is stirah. Stirah is her intimate seclusion in some room, looked door, locked bedroom with this fellow, the specific fellow that the guy is suspicious of.
Rivky: It's almost like they each have to be active in some way. He's active in saying to her I'm not comfortable with you being alone with this man and that also is in front of witnesses. She's active in that she purposely is alone with this man in front of witnesses.
Rabbi Fohrman: In front of the witnesses is the weird thing. It's like if you were going to have an affair, it's not like hey, Phil and Sam watch me go upstairs and seclude myself in the bedroom with Bob. That's an act of spite. That's not an act of romance. I think it's correct when you say this is a marriage on the rocks. It's almost more on the rocks because of the mutual suspicion and scorn than it is on the rocks by whatever might or might not be happening with this imagined or possibly imagined affair. This is sort of the background with sotah.
Basically, the Torah seems to be creating the situation where if she wants, she can sort of create a reset in the marriage. There's a ceremony that the Torah suggests will either exonerate her or implicate her. She drinks these waters, very strange waters. These waters that are mixed by the priest almost feels like a witches brew. We've got this...
Rivky: Yeah. That was my first instinct also.
Rabbi Fohrman: There's some dust from the ground...
Rivky: It felt like the witches of Macbeth, right?
Rabbi Fohrman: It does. It does. You've got this scroll with this curse – it feels like it's Harry Potter – where this curse is erased, the letters of the curse including God's name, is erased in the waters. She drinks this. If she's in fact guilty of adultery, she'll die miraculously. If she is in fact guilty of adultery and nothing's going on, then not only will she survive the encounter, but she'll be guaranteed by God that if she's childless, she'll become pregnant and will be blessed with this lineage, which may have previously deluded her.
Rivky: Which also sort of seems strange because when this marriage is in crisis, assuming she's exonerated, it's sort of strange to imagine that this is a couple that should really be having children. So I think that's another sort of question mark for us.
How Does the Bitter Water Test for Adultery Save a Marriage?Rabbi Fohrman: And what it seems to indicate is that there is the possibility actually of saving the marriage, that there is something that could happen here that would be constructive in terms of allaying this sort of mutual suspicion and scorn which has crept into the marriage. Seemingly it's because if what's happened is a sort of domino series of events that have started with a husband's paranoia. You and I were talking about this a little bit yesterday which is that the language for this in the text is v'kinei et ishto, there's a jealously there. There is something at least potentially not evil in a husband's jealousy over his wife. There is a good side to a sense of jealousy because you're jealous in a relationship, it means you care about exclusivity.
Rivky: Jealousy kind of like any other trait. There's a way for it to be totally overblown and a way for it really to hurt the marriage, but jealousy in a slight way is kind of nice is because what it's really saying when I'm jealous of my husband spending time with other women, is I'm really saying hey, I love you and I want us to have this sort of exclusive special love between us. It makes me a little uncomfortable to think of you sharing that. It's kind of a nice thing.
Rabbi Fohrman: Exactly. Imagine the sotah case. Imagine a guy who really was concerned about an affair that his wife might be having and he didn't care. He couldn't be bothered to bring it up. He had other things to think about. It was actually something that crossed his mind, but it didn't provoke any sense of jealousy. That's also a marriage in crisis.
Rivky: Not a good sign.
Rabbi Fohrman: Not a good sign. So there is an appropriate role for this sort of male jealousy, but it also can, like any other thing, get out of hand. What if the husband's paranoid? Then you've got a marriage in, you have the beginning of a marriage in crisis. What if the wife reacts to the husband's paranoia? Instead of like, okay, you know, let's talk about it. We'll go to a therapist. Figure out a way to do it. With scorn, with no, "I'm actually going to double down on this and I'm going to specifically seclude myself in front of witnesses." Seemingly, what the Torah is doing is creating a way out and this is how the sages understand it.
The sages say that God allowed His own name to be erased in the service of peace, which is that God's name is included in these curses that are erased in these waters. Normally, you don't erase God's name. God says for this I'll erase my name if I can bring peace back into the relationship.
Rivky: It's interesting. It feels like there's something about a marriage in this case that God is sort of trying to make a claim that this is the ultimate, sacred relationship and He will sacrifice himself for the sake of this marriage. I think it's really interesting. It's one of the Ten Commandments not to take God's name in vain. Not to not take God's name seriously and it almost feels like writing this name and then letting it be erased is the epitome of just sort of ignoring it. It's not a big deal. It's total disrespect, but we're overriding that for the sake of this marriage. That's pretty intense.
Rabbi Fohrman: Actually, now that you bring up the Ten Commandments, isn't it interesting that there's a little cluster in the Ten Commandments. For those of you who've been around the block with Aleph Beta, alephbeta.org, you can find one of our most popular courses is actually a course that I did on the Ten Commandments, which we've actually just recently remastered and created sort of beautiful animation around. But the essential thesis of that course is that there are couplets in the Ten Commandments, there are corresponding pairs.
The two tablets actually correspond to each other in their five commands; one and six match up with each other, two and seven, three and eight. So if you look at two and seven, it's actually idolatry on the right-hand side which corresponds to adultery on the left-hand side. This is again two kinds of sacred relationships. If you look at Number 3, the next one down from two is as you've said, a law that requires us to take God's name seriously. So right after you have idolatry, you've got take God's name seriously. God seems almost, with this sort of reference to the Ten Commandments, saying yes, you're supposed to take my name seriously. And there's this thing about idolatry and adultery, but you know what? When there is a concern about adultery, I'm willing to sacrifice my name to clear it up between you guys.
Rivky: That's really interesting. Thinking of all of those overlaps here.
Rabbi Fohrman: It is kind of interesting. Anyway, so the idea seems to be that God feels that there is a chance to bring back some sort of reset into this marriage, which is almost as you can imagine this paranoid guy who's really worried about his wife and Bob and really his issue is that the marriage has gotten to this point where he can't even accept her reassurances. She's saying to him look, there's nothing going on between me and Bob. The reason he can't is because his concern is that her primary allegiance if she's having an affair with Bob, then maybe her primary intimate allegiance is to Bob and not him. So maybe she's lying to him. This is going off the rails.
Essentially what the Torah is saying is you could imagine this guy thinking if only there would be a sign from Heaven, if only I could have some sort of objective clarification here then somehow that could make it all better. The example which I was thinking about which may be a crazy example, but just at the risk of mixing politics and religion and intimacy all together in one explosive brew.
Rivky: Ooh, you're getting into a really good marketer, Rabbi Fohrman.
Rabbi Fohrman: Thank you. I appreciate that. I invoke a special counsel investigation of the president, not that anything like that might be going on.
Rivky: Oh boy!
Rabbi Fohrman: Leaving out what may be or may not be happening in our current political climate, but if you would imagine the idea of a special counsel investigation the way it's supposed to work. Something that you'll hear in democratic circles is yeah, if the president would just let the investigation go and he's really innocent, it would be better for him because it publicly exonerates him.
Now whether or not you would counsel the president to do that or not, there is a certain kernel of truth in that argument. The original purpose of the special counsel laws is to try to create an independent, something independent. Something that's completely outside of partisan politics. Something that is not beholden to the president's Justice Department, not beholden to Congress. Some independent counsel which could somehow verify this issue of whether a president at the top pinnacle of power has been unfaithful essentially to his oath of office. In the best of circumstances, an independent counsel is supposed to provide independent verification and if independent verification comes and exonerates the president, that's actually good for the office and it's good for the president. It's actually a good thing.
That seems to be what's going on over here which is that you could imagine a situation where an independent counsel would do its work, come back after a year and say, you know what, we have searched every corner. There is no basis for suspicion here. Everything is fine. You could imagine a situation where if the counsel is truly independent where that provides a reset for the American people for trust in its leader.
What's happening over here is you seem to have the ultimate independent counsel, the ultimate independent party. God who has no horse in this race between the husband and wife coming out of the clouds and saying I'm willing to be that verification. I'm willing to provide that kind of reset.
Rivky: So Rabbi Fohrman, that's a really interesting idea. It's almost like, it feels like the truth will set us free. If it's this marriage that's in crisis, once we have sort of a final understanding of look, I know you were suspicious. I know you didn't trust me, but look God, Himself has come down and decided no, no, no actually you didn't do anything wrong. You're good. Do you think fundamentally at that point that now the husband and the wife can look to each other and be like, okay, we're good now? We have now sort of a happy, stable marriage. I get that maybe it's a step one and maybe God is saying and the husband and wife are both saying no, that just means that we can reconcile in the future. But to me it's not like we all walk away from this feeling like now we're in a good place. Now we love each other. Now we're reunited. Now we're happy.
Rabbi Fohrman: I would say that I'm not saying that the sotah ritual is the be all and end all replacement for marital therapy. The Torah is not coming and giving you a complete psychological handbook...
Rivky: It's more like a Step 1.
Rabbi Fohrman: ... but it is a reset. You could imagine the situation after that where – if you imagine – let's play out what happens. Wife drinks the water. Wife is exonerated. Walking home, best case scenario. Husband is like, okay, I guess I was a little paranoid. She is yeah, it really ticked me off when you were paranoid and that's why I ran up to the room and secluded myself with Bob in front of those witnesses. It's like what can we do to get out of this cycle? Oh, let's see Phil or Sheryl the therapist. Let's do a whole family therapy here and work out a better way of working this out other than getting up to this stage where we got to get this reset where we realize oh my gosh, this was just paranoia and oh my gosh, this was just scorn and reaction to your paranoia.
I would actually refer you to a book which I've read. I think you've looked at it also. It's one of my favorite books. "Difficult Conversations," by the Harvard Negotiation Project.
Rivky: Yes. A favorite around the office here.
Rabbi Fohrman: It is a favorite around the office. One of the beautiful things about difficult conversations is that when you get into heated and difficult conversations and there is no more difficult conversation, I would imagine, than the kind of conversation which provokes a sotah issue between a marital couple. When you look at a difficult conversation like that, one of the instincts of human beings is basically to go to blame, which is one of the reasons why arguments happen and are so difficult to resolve is because you focus on the past. And you focus on the past specifically on the past for its own sake. In other words, what did you do and should you be blamed for it and am I going to hold you in contempt for what it is that you've done?
The unhelpful conversation afterwards between husband and wife is, like, yeah, but why did you have to run up to that room? You're to blame. It's, like, no, but why do you have to be so paranoid for and you're the blame.
The other possibility is sort of contribution system, which is that it's interesting that the sotah situation does not come about without contribution, possibly negligent contribution, by both the man and the woman. The man is going out of his, is making this accusation against his wife. His wife is flaunting his request in terms of that. They both may be over the line. Certainly if I was playing Sheryl or Phil, the marital therapist afterwards, there are choices which each could have made that would have avoided this. In a reset, where the truth has been established, maybe they have the ability to evaluate those choices again.
Rivky: Right and I guess think a little bit more clearly at that point, less from a place of sort of emotion and anger and defensiveness and pain and more from a place of trying to get passed this and hopefully together.
Rabbi Fohrman: How do we avoid this kind of cycle in the future? Anyway, what I wanted to share with you was an idea, an interesting, tantalizing, intertextual hint actually which Immanuel suggested and I've been kind of running down over the last day or so and I don't know if there's something there, but I think that it's rather tantalizing and I wonder where you think this might go.
Rabbi Fohrman: Let's play our little game where have we heard these ideas before? Where have we heard these words before? It turns out there seems to be another text sort of hovering over, kind of a phantom sotah story. I wonder. Here's the deal.
Connections to the Laws of the Sotah in the BibleRivky: Before you jump in, Rabbi Fohrman, one of the theories that we sometimes talk about at Aleph Beta is that many of our laws that we have in the Torah are actually based on stories that happened earlier in the Torah. I wonder if this is going to be an example where we think that maybe the two of them are going to be connected in that kind of way.
Rabbi Fohrman: An interesting possibility. In other words, this other intertextual allusion here actually is a story and the sotah is a law. Could it be that this earlier story in the Torah somehow becomes a template, as strange as it may sound, for the weird stuff in the, and it might go some way to explain the weird ritual, by the way, because it could be that the weird ritual is some sort of replay of the original story. Let's kind of play that out.
Rivky: We're getting too ahead ourselves in the analysis before we even get into it.
Rabbi Fohrman: Here's the date folks. If you look at the ritual of the sotah so one of the things that happens is that there's this elaborate curse which is drawn up on a scroll and then it is placed in the waters. These waters are these strange waters. They're called the mayim ha'm'aririm ha'eileh, the cursed waters. They're called cursed, bitter waters.
One of the questions is why they are cursed waters in the first place. Why are we calling them? I guess it's because the curse gets evaporated within them. But if you look at the language over here and I refer you to Verse 23 in Chapter 5 in Bamidbar, in Numbers. If you look at that verse "V'chatav et ha'a lot ha'eileh hakohen basefer u'machah el mei hamarim" that you write these curses down and the priest erases them, right? "Machah el mei hamarim" and he erases them in these bitter waters, a specific erasure of God's name as well as the erasure of all the other words along with these curses.
Here you've got something being erased in waters. If you think about these waters, another element of the waters which is really kind of interesting is that there's something else that's mixed in the water and it's dirt from the floor of the Tabernacle. He has to take dirt, dust from the floor of the Tabernacle and mix that into the waters. A really strange sort of brew over here. The question I would ask you is does this remind you of any earlier episode in the Torah, especially perhaps given the language of sotah itself?
I refer you to Verse 12 "Daber el B'nei Yisrael v'amarta aleihem ish ish ki tisteh ishto u'ma'alah bo ma'al." The language for sotah is m'ilah which is a Hebrew word that is spelled Mem-Ayin-Lamed-Hei or Mem-Ayin-Lamed ma'alah bo ma'al. It means to trespass. The woman is suspected of trespassing against her husband, but it turns out that this other story seems to involve all of these elements and more.
Just for starters, what other story involves the following elements? What other story involves water? What other story involves the erasure of something in water? What other story involves dirt getting erased and muddied in that water too? What other story also has that word Mem-Ayin-Lamed associated with the erasure of those waters with all the dirt and all that? Rivky, what do you say?
Rivky: So I can venture a guess with the understanding that I do not have the encyclopedic knowledge that you do. Let's say there are four factors here. We said water, this erasure, the dirt that seems to be mixed with water in some way and then the language of ma'al. I think the first instinct when it comes to water – I think all of our first instincts when it comes to water – which is the Flood story from Genesis. I think we have some of these common links here. So the erasure is obviously the erasure of humanity. Everyone except for Noah and his family. Dirt as well. Rabbi Fohrman, correct me if I'm wrong, but we have in the story of Noah this idea that the land too gets mixed in with the water and it's all used to, sort of, destroy the earth.
Rabbi Fohrman: But how does the water get mixed in with the land?
Rivky: Well it's a flood. It grabs all the land.
Rabbi Fohrman: It's a flood. It grabs all the land. "Hinini mamtir al ha'aretz" God is raining water on the land. Also, Rivky, it's not just the ideas. It's the actual words. The words of erasure, that specific Hebrew word that describes the erasure of God's name into the waters. In Hebrew it's machah. You see it there in the Flood. So I refer you, if you open up your Tanach. Go back to Chapter 6 in Genesis, Verse 7. "Vayomer Hashem emcheh" I will erase man. Now it could have had a lot of words to describe. I'm going to kill man. I'm going to destroy man. But, no, I'm going to erase man that I have created from upon the face of the earth.
By the way, Rivky, where does man come from?
Rivky: Man comes from the earth itself, from adamah and now we’re erasing man...
Rabbi Fohrman: Ah, man comes from adamah. You're erasing. You see what's happening. You're taking the, and what's the Hebrew word of the land that he is, that man comes from? Do you remember?
Rabbi Fohrman: And specifically what does God take? Vayikach...
Rivky: Afar min ha'adamah.
Rabbi Fohrman: Ah. Afar. There's that word and what are you supposed to put in the sotah's thing?
Rivky: That afar.
Rabbi Fohrman: "U'min he'afar asher y'hiyeh b'karka" and you're supposed to erase that in the waters too. While in the original waters, man that originally came from afar was erased in the waters. It's like man went back to the dirt. There's this water raining on the dirt of the land. This water raining on man and it's as if all the men dissolve and go back to the dirt. It's the same thing happening. It's almost like it's a recreation of these Flood waters. Then you've got this ma'al word too.
Rivky: Ma'al is the one we're still missing.
Rabbi Fohrman: So take a look at Verse 7 again in Chapter 6 in the Flood. Can you find the phantom ma'al?
Rivky: Let me read it out loud. "Vayomer Hashem" and God says "emcheh et ha'adam" so we have that machah word. I will erase man. "Asher barati mei'al p'nei ha'adamah" ah, who was created from the face of the earth. Mei'al.
Rabbi Fohrman: The word ma'al in the story...
Rivky: Ah, very cute.
Rabbi Fohrman: ... in the story of the sotah is a play on words, perhaps, of the mei'al p'nei ha'adamah, from upon the face of the land. It's not just this. Take a look at the type of offering, the offering which accompanies the sotah procedure, is. I refer you back into Bamidbar Hei and now look at Pasuk Tet-Vav. So we are looking at Chapter 5 in Numbers, Verse 15.
Rivky: "Ki minchat kin'ot hi" because this is a minchah of jealousy "minchat zikaron mazkeret avon" because it is a minchah of memorial or of remembrance in some way.
Rabbi Fohrman: Right. Some sort of remembrance, a minchah, some sort of offering of remembrance as if the deeds of this woman are going to be remembered for ill or for good. If she's innocent, that's going to be remembered. She'll be exonerated. If she's guilty, that will be remembered. So there's some kind of din, some sort of judgement involving remembrance. Couple that with something else here in sotah. Take a look at Verse 14. Read the beginning of that and put this together and tell me what in the Flood does it remind you of?
Rivky: "V'avar alav ru'ach kin'ah" and the spirit of jealousy came upon him "v'kinei et ishto" and he is jealous and...
Rabbi Fohrman: Look at those first three words "V'avar alav ru'ach" what does that remind you of the Flood? "V'avar alav ru'ach" in context it means that a feeling of jealousy passes over him, but the word ru'ach doesn't literally mean feeling, right? What does ru'ach literally mean?
Rivky: Ru'ach is a wind of some sort. It's a spirit.
Rabbi Fohrman: So what does a wind passing over remind you of in the Flood?
Rivky: That feels like the ending of the Flood itself.
Rabbi Fohrman: Ah, it is the ending of the Flood. What the beginning of the sotah is, is the end of the Flood. The beginning of the sotah is the feeling of jealousy that triggers all of this. The end of the Flood is what? Take a look at Chapter 8 in the Book of Genesis, the very beginning.
Rivky: "Vayizkor Elokim et Noach" and God remembered Noah. There's that zikaron.
Rabbi Fohrman: Ah, remembrance. There's that zikaron. And what happened when God remembered Noah?
Rivky: And then at the end of the verse "vayaver Elokim ru'ach al ha'aretz" and God made this ru'ach, this wind pass over the earth.
Rabbi Fohrman: Fascinating, right? So at the very end of the Flood story there's another kind of zikaron which is a mirror image of the sotah kind.
The Spiritual Meaning Behind the Sotah RitualRabbi Fohrman: The sotah is a feeling of jealousy that triggers what ultimately may become a destructive event for this marriage and for the woman, for everything. But at the end of the flood, you have another kind of remembrance which is actually lifesaving which is God's, which is exactly the same words.
Rivky: That's also the zikaron for her, right? For the zikaron for the sotah in some ways is meant to sort of be the first step in the reparation of the relationship.
Rabbi Fohrman: Exactly. Because it can be. Let's go back to the reset we talked about before. The hope of the reset. If you can put paranoia and jealousy behind him on his side and you can put scorn and anger and retribution behind her on this side... if you really think about what's gone wrong in their marriage? What's gone in their marriage is that their marriage has become a terrible clash of power dynamics. It's like the love has seeped out of this. In a strange kind of way, I wonder if something like that, is it the case that when God remembers Noah and God causes a wind to blow upon the waters to kind of begin the possibility of restoration of the world, if you think about the blessing and the curse, right? There's a curse going on here. These cursed waters here in the Flood too. The cursed waters have destroyed man. But they've saved one man. And what's the blessing that Noah gets immediately after this?
Rivky: "Lo osif l'kallel od et ha'adamah ba'avur ha'adam."
Rabbi Fohrman: So there you go.
Rivky: Wow, l'kallel. That curse.
Rabbi Fohrman: There it is. Right? I'm never again going to curse the land through water like I've done here. Cursed waters. And instead what does he say to Noah? I have a job for you. You're supposed to come out and what's your job?
Rivky: To have children.
Rabbi Fohrman: Oh, you have to have children.
Rivky: Wow. Just like the sotah. The sotah is blessed with children.
Rabbi Fohrman: Just like the sotah, the exonerated sotah.
Rivky: As part of the reparation of their relationship. So Rabbi Fohrman, just to put things together and maybe spell things out more clearly, one of the things that we were saying at the beginning of this podcast episode was that it looks like this relationship between husband and wife is in disarray and it's almost at the verge of completely breaking apart and there being no way to resolve it. And what hopefully the sotah laws do is they sort of start to maybe repair the relationship. It's almost at the point of being broken completely, but maybe this can repair it.
I think in some ways it was a little bit of just a theory, but now that we can connect it to Noah and those connections feel very real. The textual connections and there are also thematic connections here and it seems like the story of Noah is also about a relationship that is in disarray, this relationship in disrepair. That's the relationship between humanity and God. God's looking at the people of the world, what is with these people? I created them. I was happy with them, but look what they're doing to each other. Look at their "ki rabah ra'at ha'adam ba'aretz v'kol yetzer mach'sh'vot libo rak ra kol hayom."
Rabbi Fohrman: Doesn't that sound a lot like the accusation of a jealous husband, of an angry husband?
Rivky: Yes, yes.
Rabbi Fohrman: It's like you're always bad. You know what I mean? And maybe you are always bad. I guess, I'm not sure and I invite our readers...
Rabbi Fohrman: ... or listeners to kind of consider this. But it seems like it might be that there is a precedent for sotah in the stories, as you talked about before. Our laws seem to emerge out of our stories. It seems that the law of the sotah might be harkening back to original kind of mei sotah, the waters of the sotah, which could either destroy or heal. In the case of humanity, it destroys some people and these waters provide for blessing, in a way, are lifesaving, for Noah which is immune to them, almost as if the exonerated person is immune to them.
This is completely speculative and I could be completely off here, but let me maybe close out our little podcast with the following possible thought, understanding that it's just possible. One of the greatest puzzles of the Noah story is that the reason why God destroys the world is suspiciously similar to the reason why after the Flood He promises that never again will He destroy it. Rivky, go back to that language for why God decides to destroy the world in the first place. When that language that we talked about before sounding almost like a jealous husband.
Rivky: God says "v'chol yetzer mach'sh'vot libo rak ra kol hayom." That the nature of man, the nature of humanity is just bad.
Rabbi Fohrman: And look at that language yetzer lev, right? The inclination of his heart is just evil, is bad all the days of his life. Okay, now fast forward to after the Flood. Why does God say He's never again going to destroy the world?
Rivky: He uses almost the same language. "Ki yetzer lev ha'adam ra min'urav" because the inclination, the heart of a man is bad from his youth. It's basically saying fundamentally the same thing that man is bad, but before He said man is bad and therefore I have to destroy him and now He says to Noah man is bad and therefore I will save you and I will never do this again.
Rabbi Fohrman: So there's this great puzzle, which I don't think we can solve really in the context of the last few minutes of this podcast, which is how could the reason why God's going to destroy the world become the reason why God will never again destroy it? You know, if I was snarky, why couldn't I go back to God and say God, you know, if You had taken a different attitude five minutes ago, maybe we wouldn't have had a Flood?
It's almost like there's something changing. But it's almost like what changes isn't man. It's almost like what God is doing is sort of giving this reassurance that yes, I know that you're evil. Because you can imagine Noah saying look, how do you know? If it happened once, it could happen again. How do you know people will never get this bad? You're telling me to have all these children. What if You decide to destroy them again? And God says no, I'm not going to do that because I'm actually looking at the reason why I destroyed you and never again will I destroy for that reason. Why?
Maybe the answer is something about the relationship has changed. There's been a reset in the relationship between God and humanity.
Rivky: Rabbi Fohrman, that is incredibly cool and you've given me also a lot to think about. There's so much more to say about this. But actually this is a really good transition because we have a ton of videos about these particular topics at alephbeta.org. We have videos about the Flood. We have videos about stories that relate to laws. There's so much more, hundreds of hours of audio and video content. If you go to alephbeta.org you can just get started watching for free or for small monthly fees, you can get unlimited content.
Actually, Rabbi Fohrman, Parsha Lab listeners get a special coupon. You get 50 percent off of your first month with the coupon code. You're ready for this, Rabbi Fohrman? I hope you're writing this down.
Rabbi Fohrman: Bated breath.
Rivky: Parshalab. All one word.
Rabbi Fohrman: Oh, that's so original.
Rivky: Parshalab. I know. I know. If you have any questions or if you have any thoughts, any comments, you vehemently disagree, you are obsessed and you want to hear more, just email us firstname.lastname@example.org. Rabbi Fohrman, thank you so, so much for podding with me.
Rabbi Fohrman: My pleasure. See you all next week.