Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

4 Sivan 5759, May 19 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
Living Waters
by Yated Ne'eman Staff

The manner of the sotah's punishment as described in this week's portion is most remarkable. Nowhere else in the Torah do we find this kind of retribution for sins, a penalty in which sacred waters are transformed into cursed waters, a punishment which is wholly miraculous. This is how the Ramban concludes his commentary on this portion: "Nowhere else in the laws of the Torah do we find something exclusively dependent upon a miracle except in this matter, which is an established wonder and miracle that takes place among our people when its majority are performing the will of Hashem, for He desires, for the sake of His righteousness, to cleanse Israel so that they be worthy of the Shechina dwelling in their midst."

The Or HaChaim HaKodosh blazes a trail of understanding and explains this unusual law so that we are able to better understand the internal significance of this miraculous retribution. He introduces his explanation with several fundamental insights:

"Every living creature desires to cleave unto the living G-d, and this yearning and desire is also present in inanimate things, each creation according to its spiritual capacity and level imbedded in it by the Creator Himself." Everything in this world strives to get closer to Hashem, to serve Him to its fullest capacity; it is like an insatiable spiritual appetite. We see that the very stones which Yaakov Ovinu laid under his head quarreled among themselves for the honor of having the tzaddik lay his head upon them. The ox that fell to the lot of the Baal worshipers refused to go to its fate until Eliyohu Hanovi explained to it that by going with the Baal idolaters and failing to be burnt as a sacrifice, it would be equally serving the purpose of kiddush Hashem, albeit by default. This yearning is the underlying force that propels every creation in this world: to fulfill its mission by serving Hashem and thus, getting closer to Him.

This, says the Or HaChaim, explains the words of Chazal which say that when on the second day of Creation Hashem separated the Lower Waters from the Upper Waters through the heavenly firmament, the lower waters pleaded and wept. They felt themselves distanced from Hashem and relegated to a purely physical, material world. They hungered for closer proximity to Hashem! "They wept and sighed at not being privileged to draw closer to the living G-d, in the upper world which was more spiritual, since this is the craving and hope of all creations."

We can thus better understand, he continues, that if there is something more spiritual, more sanctified, more representative of olom haboh, it stands to reason that water will flow in that direction. The waters will not weep, they will feel as if they were the upper waters, as if no firmament divided them from their spiritual source. The desire of the waters to approach holiness will thus find its expression.

What can be holier than the Mishkan and the Beis Hamikdosh? These are the very sites that contain, as it were, the Shechina. If so, then the waters in the holy Kiyor in the Mikdash must be happy waters, "Waters where eyes shall not shed tears, for why should they weep? This site is considered sublime, elevated soil, for this is the site where the Shechina reposes, here, on earth."

The transformation that takes place as a result of the sotah's imbibing these holy, happy waters, is described by the Or HaChaim very vividly:

The Kohen gives these living waters to the sotah to drink. They are called "living" because they possess the special sentient power of discerning spirituality. To this water is added earth from the ground of the Mishkan, which is likewise sensitive to holiness, especially since it is so close to the Shechina here below.

If these living waters enter the body of a sinner -- alas! They will have catapulted rapidly from on high to the nether depths, from the soil of the holiest place on earth to a place of sin and iniquity, impurity and estrangement from holiness. And they feel! These are living waters, named thus for their capacity to feel and sense. They discern the sharp transition from assuaging their spiritual hunger to draw nearer to Hashem -- to the sudden fall of estrangement, hunger, weeping! "And this is what makes these waters so bitter, for they are acutely aware of their agony and weeping. But Hashem wipes away their tears and the impurity of the unfaithful woman is stricken by them."

The waters wreak their vengeance! They enter the unfaithful woman's body and their curse becomes bitter. The power of the Holy Name which was inscribed and immersed in the water wrenches her innards apart and takes revenge, for this wicked woman caused them to weep. They are merely acting in self- defense. Since she caused them to turn bitter through her terrible deed, she becomes the victim of their justified revenge, their act of self preservation! Incredible to contemplate!


It is worthwhile to remind oneself from time to time that the spiritual world is a real one -- if not the real one. When we speak of concepts in our this-world, we can feel them, whereas talk about the spiritual experience is more theoretical and abstract. But we are therefore reminded that the world above the sun is the real, true world, whereas this material one is a sham shadow world. In that real world, even inanimate things have feelings and spiritual yearning, and if these are frustrated, they weep, feel pain. And if a created thing did satisfy its spiritual hunger and reach its fulfillment, and something intervened to spoil the situation, then it understandably seeks some revenge. It does not always find the manner or opportunity, but these waters were vested with a certain power and they used this power to strike back at that which caused their distancing from their spiritual source. It was the tactic of striking back defensively in self preservation, self protection.

The Alter of Kelm zt'l used to note that when the Torah discusses the different attractions that Rivka's children felt in the womb -- Yaakov, a pull towards botei midrash and Eisov, a pull towards temples of idolatry -- it is to teach us how very vital and tangible are these spiritual forces, like magnetic attraction. The lesson can well be applied to this portion, as well.

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