Friday, June 05, 2009

Parshat Naso - The Raised Eye of the Sotah


The Sotah - סוֹטָה
This parasha tells of a very intense and difficult ritual brought to bear against a woman whose husband suspected her of adultery, a capital crime. Any husband, Jewish or not, who was afraid his wife had been unfaithful, but had no proof, could bring her before the kohen (priest or G@d-helper) in the Mishkan (tabernacle) for a trial by ordeal known as the sotah ritual.

As with all Hebrew words, sotah has a shoresh, or root. The shoresh of this word are the letters ס–ט–ה, which not only means "adulteress", but also "to digress, to change direction", or even "pervert" or "deviant". So as you can see, the accused woman was not given the benefit of the doubt. No "innocent until proven guilty" here.

Regardless of whether the woman was innocent or guilty, her jealous husband would bring her and a jealousy-offering (in this case barley flour without oil or frankincense) before G@d and the kohen. She would be publicly humiliated by her hair being uncovered and/or mussed up, and being made to swear her innocence.

For a fantastic five-minute animation of this bit of par'shat Naso, see G-DCAST.

In ּsome unusual Torah scrolls, written by practitioners of Kabbalah, we see in Be-Midbar/Numbers 5:17 a raised letter Ayin in the word be-qarqa (בְּקַרְקַע).

וְלָקַח הַכֹּהֵן מַיִם קְדֹשִׁים, בִּכְלִי-חָרֶשׂ; וּמִן-הֶעָפָר, אֲשֶׁר יִהְיֶה בְּקַרְקַע הַמִּשְׁכָּן, יִקַּח הַכֹּהֵן, וְנָתַן אֶל-הַמָּיִם.

And the priest shall take holy water in a pottery vessel; and from the dust that is on the dirt floor (קַרְקַע) of the tabernacle the priest shall take, and put it into the water.

Qarqa קַרְקַע means earth, soil, ground, land, floor, or bed (of the sea, river).

The letter Ayin's name means, among other things, "eye, vision, sight, or witness". Is this Ayin raised because this unfortunate wife has been raised before the eyes of the whole community, the eyney ha-edah (עיני העדה), to be publicly put through this ordeal?

Ayin's gematrial value is 70, and according to Rav Yitzchak Ginsburgh it is also the number of Divine Providence. Is it possible that the dirt floor of the Mishkan, where priests in the highest state of spiritual purity were constantly serving G@d and the Jewish people was holy ground imbued with Sacred Insight? That its being added to the water she drank ensured justice?

The number 70 is also the value for words such as ivteychan אבטחן, to secure or protect. Pehaps the accused woman, who is undoubtedly terrified, is innocent and this raised letter Ayin shows her eye looking up for Heavenly aid ("The Eyes of G@D" ha-sh'gachah pratit השגחה פרטית)?

The phrase אדם וחוה, Adam ve-Chavah Adam and Eve also adds up to 70. Does this represent the couple's deep desire for their relationship to reflect the blessings of new, uncomplicated love which they shared in the beginning of their marriage, (בגן עדן מקדם)?

However, the number 70 also stands for בזונה, be-zonah: to commit fornication, adultery or play the harlot. So which is it? The raised letter Ayin draws our attention to her predicament but does not reveal to us her fate.

But that isn't all...far from it...

Just a little further on, at the end of the ritual in Be-Midbar/Numbers 5:31, we read:

וְנִקָּה הָאִישׁ, מֵעָוֹן; וְהָאִשָּׁה הַהִוא, תִּשָּׂא אֶת-עֲוֹנָהּ

And the man shall be clean of transgression, and that woman shall bear her sin.

There is a four-crowned letter Hey in the word ve-niqah (וְנִקָּה) - that the husband was innocent (cleansed, acquitted, relieved) of five sins (the gematrial value for the letter Hey is 5). These five sins are how she is humiliated by the ritual:
1. She stands alone, publicly accused of adultery, at the East (leper) Gate of the Temple
2. Her clothes are torn, exposing her "heart"
3. Her hair is uncovered and/or messed up
4. Her jewellery and ornaments are taken
5. A rough rope is tied around her breasts

Five sins he would normally be guilty of in treating his wife this way. But this being a special case of male jealousy, he is excused.

That is the end of the ritual and of the chapter.

The Torah
Talmud Bavli Sotah 7a,b; 26b
The Wisdom in the Hebrew Alphabet by Rabbi Michael L Munk

Cross-posted on Facebook
Copyright A. Barclay

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