Parashat Nasso (Lift up) Numbers 4:21-7:89
Haftarah: Judges 13:2-25
In this week’s Torah portion one encounters the unique commandments concerning a wife who is accused of sexual immorality by her husband. Many have asked, why is not there also such commandments in regard to a man who is suspected by his wife of improper behavior? To this question I have no answer. But I do believe that sexual misconduct is just as damaging to a relationship and just as displeasing to HaShem, regardless of who commits the sin. The point that I would like to emphasize from this section of the Book of Numbers is the outcome that the bitter waters cause, if in fact the wife is guilty. The text states,
“The Kohan (priest) shall cause the woman to take an oath of the curse and the Kohan shall say to the woman, ‘May HaShem give to you the curse of the oath in the midst of your people when HaShem makes your thigh (probably hip) fall and your stomach swell.'”
What does this verse imply? Many scholars understand this verse to refer to a very painful experience which will cause the woman to ultimately confess her sin. Why is the hip mentioned? It was a custom in the Bible that when one entered into an agreement with another to take hold of his hip or thigh (See Genesis 24) in order to seal the agreement. It was an act that represented a pledge. The reader is told that if the woman is guilty that her hip rots or wastes away. Although English translations render this Hebrew verb in a variety of ways, the verb simply means “to fall”. Perhaps the idea here is that the hip dislocates. This would therefore be a reference to the fact that she has broken her oath of fidelity to her husband.
In regard to her stomach swelling, this is similar to pregnancy, but this time there is not a child within her womb (fruit of the womb), rather the fruit (outcome) of her sin. Because the punishment for adultery is death, many understand the final outcome of the bitter waters to be her death. Others point to verse 27 which states that she becomes a curse in the midst of her people implying that she remains in this state, limping and with a swollen abdomen the rest of her life.
Even though this commandment of the Torah (called Sotah) cannot be practiced today (like many other of the Torah commandments), one thing is true. When one commits adultery the effects of that sin remains with that person and often those that he or she loves for the rest of their lives.
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