For the week of June 17, 2000 / 14 Sivan 5760
Torah: Bemidbar/ Numbers 4:21 - 7:89
Haftarah: Shoftim / Judges 13:2-25


If, however, the woman has not defiled herself and is free from impurity, she will be cleared of guilt and will be able to have children (Bemidbar / Numbers 5:28)

I don't know if you have ever read the passage describing the test for marital unfaithfulness found in Bemidbar / Numbers 5:11-31, but it is quite unusual. If a husband suspected his wife of unfaithfulness, she was to be brought before the priest. The priest would then perform a ritual and have the woman drink a concoction made from holy water, floor dust, and ink. If she developed an adverse reaction to the concoction in her internal organs, then her husband's suspicions would be confirmed, and she would be guilty. Otherwise, her husband's suspicions would be declared unfounded; case closed.

At first glance you may think that this is of the likes of magic potions and incantations. You may also be disturbed by how a woman apparently could be held in such suspicion, dragged before a religious court, and forced to drink something so disgusting.

But that is not what is going on here. This is not about oppressing women at all. This regulation in the Torah shows us what God thinks of suspicion. I wonder how many women (and men for that matter) have been ostracized and worse because their spouse or someone else was suspicious of them. How many wrongs have been done to people based on someone's feelings rather than based upon facts.

The Torah says elsewhere:

One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offense he may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses (Devarim / Deuteronomy 19:15).

Suspicion therefore is never enough to convict someone. But if that is the case, then why the need of this ritual at all? If a husband has no proof, then the issue should not even be allowed to be raised.

But preventing his accusation would not likely have alleviated the situation. This ritual forces the husband to deal with his suspicion. While if there is no proof, he may do his best to lay aside his feelings, this ritual brings the matter into the open where it can be dealt with.

As the couple with the help of the priest confronts the issue at hand, one way or another it will be brought to closure. The truth will be made known and both parties will be confronted with the truth.

How many times do we harbor in our hearts suspicion, not just toward our spouses, but others with whom we have close relationships. Suspicion eats away at our hearts. Unless we deal with it, we find ourselves more and more distant from the very people we need to be closest to.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if we had a way to bring these things out into the open? If our suspicions are justified, then we can deal with the wrongs, if not, then we can forget about them and get on with our lives.

One of the things that this passage reminds us of is that God is involved. There was nothing about the concoction itself that would have caused the predicted results. Somehow God would cause the reaction to occur if the woman was truly guilty.

So we too can come before God and ask him to deal with our suspicions. But we will need to honestly and openly confront them. Notice how a third party was made part of the process. This allowed the issue to move outside of the immediate relationship where it could have festered due to keeping it hidden. At the same time, the issue was not to move into the public realm, where reputations could be damaged regardless.

So let us deal with our suspicions, bringing them into the open, where God can address them. Then when he does, we can either rectify the wrongs or forget them for good.

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