This week’s reading Naso, continues the theme of the first three weeks of the Book of Bamidbar. Everything is being prepared for the invasion of the Land of Israel. The tribes are counted and given their positions. The leadership is primed, the flags are raised and they are getting ready to march. But as we know, it all ends in anti- climax and they are forced back into the desert for another generation. And right away the Torah brings in a law about betrayal that deals with individual issues, rather than national one’s. However, it can also be understood metaphorically as the God’s sense of being betrayed by the people He loved. God has been betrayed. How do we deal with it?
The ordeal of the Sotah is not just about suspicion and how we deal with it. It is also about reconciliation. It comes in the context of having an ideal society in which reconciliation is more important than suspicion. A Sotah was a woman who had defied authority, but there was no clear evidence she had done something wrong sexually, that she had betrayed her husband. But she had disobeyed him. Although it is framed in terms of a wife betraying a husband, some commentators see it as a metaphor for any betrayal. A climate of mistrust was a threat to the stability of society. But what was their ultimate goal? Was it punishment or reconciliation?
The Rabbis set out to recast the issue as one designed to repair rather than punish. They saw this as an example of where communication between husband and spouse had broken down. They were in a state of pain as much as conflict. Instead of resorting to divorce, the Torah wants to see this as an attempt at reconciliation. To such an extent they said, that this was the only example of God’s name being obliterated when soaked in water. One is not allowed to rub out God’s name. Yet here, in the interests of bringing a husband and wife back together it was permitted. And if it were clear that nothing untoward had happened, the couple would be reconciled and she would have children and they would live happily ever after!
With God, as with humans. We betray and become alienated. But we can if we want to find a way back into a creative, positive and loving relationship.