This week’s Torah Portion, Naso, was my audition Shabbat 17 years ago. The third aliyah contains the Sotah ritual, the Vow of the Nazerite, and the Priestly Blessing. I wonder what they have in common.
The Sotah ritual was a trial by ordeal. If a husband accuses his wife of infidelity when a witness didn’t see the wife and her lover together, the husband brings the wife to the priest. The priest bares the wife’s head (prostitutes wore the hair uncovered), and the priest said a formula: if no man has lain with you, be immune to harm from this water of bitterness. But if you have gone astray and have defiled yourself, may the Lord curse you and your thigh sag and your belly distend from the water of bitterness. The woman answered, “Amen, amen.” The woman drank the water of bitterness.
The water of bitterness is comprised of water, and a small amount of the earth that is on the Tabernacle floor. The priest wrote down what he said to the woman and scraped the ink off the parchment into the water. (This is the only time the name of God is effaced.)
I am convinced that the Sotah ritual was designed to exonerate the woman: the water is mixture of earth and ink; it would probably taste bad, and would not harm of the person who drank it.
The husband would be appeased, and the woman was exonerated, and if the woman had adulterous affair, she was scared to death. All’s well that ends well.
The Vow of the Nazarite was taken by men and women. Nazarites drank no wine or vinegar or intoxicants, and not any product of grapes. Throughout his (or her) term of the vow, no razor shall touch the head. The Nazarite shall not go where there is the dead person. The term of the Nazarite vow was for 30 days, but a Nazarite could make the term longer. The Torah assumes the Nazarite Vow existed; the Torah does not say what the origins of the Nazarite Vow were. The people who took the Nazarite Vow probably felt spiritually fulfilled.
You all are familiar with a Priestly Blessing: The Lord bless you and protect you; the Lord deal kindly and gracious with you; the Lord bestow His favors upon you and grant the peace.
The Sotah ritual, the Nazarite Vow, and the Priestly Blessing end in satisfaction or fulfillment. The have in common self-fulfillment, well-being, and peacefulness.