Few passages in Torah trouble us more than Parshat Sotah, which we will confront this week in the weekly portion, Naso. It’s the ritual forced upon a woman accused of adultery by her suspicious husband. But lest we think that only we, fortunate products of modernity and the age of reason, struggle with the bitterness of this ancient law, we should note that the rabbis of midrash–men, no less–told us that they, too, had difficulty with Sotah.
Earlier this week, I heard Knesset member and Talmud scholar Ruth Calderon address one midrashic story about Sotah that appears in her recently translated book A Bride for One Night. In the book, Dr. Calderon presents a story from rabbinic literature, retells it with a degree of poetic license, and reflects on the themes of the given text. This week, the chapter we encountered is called “Sisters,” based on the following midrash:
“A story is told of two sisters who resembled one another.
One sister was married and lived in one city; the other sister was married and lived in another city.
The husband of one of them grew jealous of his wife and wanted to bring her to Jerusalem to drink the bitter waters.
That sister went to the city where her sister lived with her husband.
Her sister said: Why do you see fit to come here?
She said to her: My husband wants me to drink the bitter waters.
Her sister said: I will go in your stead and drink.
She said to her: Go.
She dressed herself in her sister’s clothes and went in her stead…” (Tanhuma Naso 6)
I have left off the end of the story, for it has many possible resolutions, doesn’t it? To find out how it ends, and what Ruth Calderon learns from it, and what we can learn from her, join us on Shabbat morning. In the interim, you may enjoy this conversation between Dr. Calderon and her fellow Yesh Atid Knesset member, Dr. Aliza Lavie, about a very related theme, by clicking here and scrolling down to the video.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wise