June 9, 2016
In his commentary on this weeks sedra, Abarbanel brilliantly explains the six stages of the ceremony of the Sota.
” In the section of this Parsha dealing with the Sota, or wife who is suspected by her husband of committing adultery, the husband is required to bring her to the kohen who performs six specific procedures before she drinks the “bitter waters” which indicate her guilt or innocence. She had been specifically warned not to seclude herself with a certain man. She did so nonetheless and even though there are no witnesses to any illicit act, the Torah provides an extra-judicial miraculous test to determine clearly whether or not such an act occurred.
Each of the six procedures hints at a different dimension of her immorality if she is found guilty. First, the kohen takes sacred water from the Sanctuary in an earthenware vessel. Water is a symbol for the Torah, which warns us against immorality in general and adultery specifically. The fragile, easily breakable earthenware vessel is a hint that she too will be broken if found guilty.
Secondly, the kohen takes earth from the floor of the Sanctuary and adds it to the water. This symbolizes the honor and respect due to the Sanctuary and all that it represents. One is forbidden to offer as a sacrifice an animal that had been used in exchange for the services of a harlot, the very behavior of which the wife is being accused. The earth also symbolizes that she was created from the earth and will return to the earth through her death if found guilty.
Thirdly, he uncovers the woman’s head. This uncovers her nakedness, as a married woman’s hair is not to be left uncovered since it is considered a naked part of her body. Since immorality in the Torah is often referred to euphemistically as “uncovering nakedness”, this is another hint to her supposed immorality. Additionally, she covered her face with her hair to hide her embarrassment and humiliation. The kohen strips away this covering.
Fourthly, the kohen adjures the woman with the oath of the curse that a horrible death will befall her if guilty. She answers, “Amen, Amen” to solidify the fact that the curse is the result of the immorality.
Fifthly, the kohen inscribes the curses on a scroll and places the scroll in the water, through which the words of the curses are erased. Writing the oath of curses on a scroll gives them more strength and permanence. The holy name of G-d which is written in the oaths is erased by the water; it is her behavior which caused that holy name to be erased. Her egregious behavior has besmirched the Torah, the Sanctuary and the pristine reputation of the daughters of Israel in general. All of this is summed up with the erasure of the holy name of G-d as a result of her behavior.
Sixthly and finally, he brings her offering for her. It is a poor offering of barley, an animal food which reflects her animalistic behavior. Because it is an offering based on jealousy, it lacks the luxury of oil and frankincense. By having the offering brought on her behalf, it is as if she is testifying herself to her disgraceful and shameful immoral behavior.