The Weekly Daf

For the week ending 21 November 2015 / 9 Kislev 5776

Sotah 25 - 31

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
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What effect does the potion which the sotah drinks have on her if she was indeed innocent of the suspected adultery? "If she was not defiled and is indeed pure," says the Torah (Bamidbar 5:28), "she will be exonerated and be enriched in childbirth."

Rabbi Akiva interprets this as a promise that if she was previously barren she will now be blessed with children. In accordance with this view, Rabbi Elazar (Mesechta Berachot 31b) explains the vow which Chana made in her prayer to Hashem for relief from her barrenness: "If, You shall see, the plight of Your maid...and will give Your maid human seed, I shall give him to Hashem for all the days of his life." (Shmuel I 1:11) If You shall see my plight, said Chana, that will be fine; and if not, I shall make a pretense of being unfaithful to my husband Elkana and be compelled to drink the potion which Your Torah promises will cause me to have children.

This interpretation is challenged by Rabbi Yishmael on the grounds that it would encourage all barren women to feign infidelity, and only the one who maintains a perfect moral standard would be left out. He proposes instead that the Torah promised the absolved sotah who previously experienced painful childbirth a comfortable childbirth, boys instead of girls and children of better size and complexion than her earlier ones.

Tosefot raises the same question concerning Rabbi Yishmael's approach that Rabbi Yishmael raised in regard to Rabbi Akiva's: Will this not encourage women to feign infidelity in order to gain these advantages in childbirth?

Rabbi Yechezkel Landau, in his Zion Lanefesh Chaya (Tzlach) commentary on Mesechta Berachot, supplies an interesting answer. There is hardly any possibility that a woman will risk her marriage for the sake of a more advantageous childbirth because there is no guarantee that her husband will be interested in going through with the entire sotah procedure rather than simply divorce her. The barren woman, on the other hand, anticipates that at the end of ten years of childlessness her husband will in any case be inclined to divorce her, so she has nothing to lose by trying the stratagem proposed by Chana in order to be blessed with children and save her marriage.

"What is wrong with a woman trying in this way to have children?" ask the commentaries. One of the answers given is that it is improper to have Hashem's Name erased in the sotah potion for a purpose other than proving the innocence, just as we find (Sotah 7a) that the Sanhedrin attempted to persuade her to confess her guilt in order to avoid such an obliteration.

  • Sotah 26a

Love and Fear

Greater is the man who serves Hashem out of love, said Rabbi Shimon ben Alazar, than the one who serves Him out of fear. In regard to the first, Hashem said in the Ten Commandments: "I show kindness to two thousand generations to those who love Me and observe my mitzvot." (Shemot 20:6) In reference to the latter, Hashem is described as "Keeper of the covenant and those who observe His mitzvah for a thousand generations." (Devarim 7:9)

Iyov, says Rabbi Meir, served Hashem out of love. He is described as a "G-d fearing man" (Iyov 1:1), and so is Avraham at the conclusion of the Akeidah offering of his son Yitzchak when Hashem tells him "Now I know that you are G-d fearing." (Bereishet 22:12) The fear in Avraham's case was the product of love, as we see that this patriarch is described as "Avraham who loved Me" (Yeshaya 41:8); so, too, is Iyov's fear the product of love.

In order to understand how love can be a more sublime motive than fear and that fear can be the product of love, we must distinguish between fear of retribution and the fear of reverence. One who serves Hashem because of the fear of punishment for not doing so is on a much lower level than one who serves Him out of love. Such love which serves as the energizer for performing mitzvot also generates a reverence for the greatness of Hashem, which deters one from doing anything against Hashem's Will.

There is an interesting observation made by Rabbi Yehuda Aryeh Leib, the great Gerrer Rebbe, in his "Sfat Emet" commentary on Chumash. If Avraham's service was motivated by love, why did Hashem use the expression of fear in the above mentioned passage praising his passing the test imposed on him in offering his son as a sacrifice? The answer is that when someone like Avraham serves Hashem out of love, every fiber of his being rushes forward with enthusiasm to please Hashem. Since Hashem in reality did not want Yitzchak slaughtered, it was impossible for Avraham to feel the excitement he always felt in doing mitzvot. But Hashem had commanded him to bring Yitzchak to the altar as a sacrifice and Avraham, as a faithful servant, asked no questions and ignored his lack of instinctive enthusiasm. This was praised by Hashem as an expression of ultimate reverence, and it could therefore be said of him, "Now I know that you are G-d fearing."

  • Sotah 31a

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