Towards half-time in our sedra we find the portion of the Sotah; the unfaithful wife. Basically, the Sotah process occurs if her husband suspects her of unfaithfulness (and I don’t mean she cooks milky meals two nights in a row) and warns her to keep away from a certain man. Witnesses then see her going into a house with this man, and the husband now has the option to make his wife drink the Sotah waters, providing she consents. If she was actually unfaithful, the Sotah waters kill her, but if not then the waters have the positive effect of enabling her to have children/ an easy birth. The question has [probably] been asked; why is there no concept of Sotah waters for a man who has been unfaithful to his wife? And the answer is rather simple - because in biblical times men were allowed to have more than one wife. So the question moves slightly to the following: Why, according to the Torah, could men have more than one wife but women could only have one husband?


In order to tackle this question, we need to examine the differences between men and women. Nowadays, people seem to think that men and women are basically the same thing - just one has longer hair than the other [though even this distinction has been blurred somewhat with recent fashion]. But the truth is that men and women are rather different; and that is how they can attract and bond into a unit with each other - because opposites attract and complete each other. It is important to note that when we say ‘different’ we do not mean superior and inferior; one can be different but equally important. For example a defender is different from a striker; but that does not mean he is inferior in any way; he just plays a different role in the team.
The rule in spiritual physics is the same as in regular physics; in order to examine a substance one must look at its root form - its origin. So, in examining the species of man and woman, we shall start from the first man and first woman; Adam and Chavah. Adam is created from the ‘breath of HaShem’ (Bereishis 2;7), whilst Chavah is created from a limb of Adam - which creates a natural loyalty from Chavah to Adam. HaShem tells Adam not to eat from the ‘tree of knowledge,’ and Adam reports this command to Chavah by adding on an extra aspect; that it is forbidden to touch the tree too (Ikar sifsei chachamim on Rashi 3;3). Taking advantage of the fact that Chavah thinks that HaShem prohibited touching the tree too, he pushes Chavah onto the tree [the serpent stood upright before he was cursed] and nothing happens. He tells her ‘just like there is no punishment for touching the tree, there is no punishment for eating from the tree’ (Rashi 3;4) and Chavah eats from the tree, and gives to her husband Adam to eat too. Why does she give to Adam to eat? Rashi (3;6) says that it is because she did not want to die alone and he’d remarry; this way either they would both die or both live together. The story continues. HaShem asks Adam what happened that he disobeyed Him and ate from the tree, and Adam blames his wife Chavah [it seems that the tradition of blaming one’s wife reaches further back than we thought!] When HaShem then turns to Chavah, she does not blame Adam - even though it was his additional prohibition of touching which caused the sin [Rashi 3;3]. Rather, she blames the serpent.
To summarise the above, we see that women carry a tremendous amount of loyalty. This loyalty projects itself both to her husband [she does not blame him, etc.] and to HaShem too. In contrast, it seems that man has an absence of the natural quality of loyalty in both these aspects; he is more than happy to put the blame on his wife, and whilst we are told that Chavah needed tempting to eat from the tree, the Torah does not report any such persuasion necessary for Adam to eat. It seems that Adam’s loyalty to HaShem was broken easier than that of Chavah.
Let’s develop this idea more fully [based on R’ Tatz]. A woman’s quality is the ability to cleave to something and develop it with unmatched loyalty. In stark contrast, a man is not centred around loyalty whatsoever; his quality is the providing of the initial spark of unlimited potential; which the woman then develops. We shall now bring down these ideas down to earth a little.
A woman’s loyalty and ability to stick with an idea displays itself in various ways. Firstly, in history it was always due to the women that we were redeemed from times of trouble. It was Esther who was at the centre of the Purim story, Yehudis at Chanukah, and the Exodus was because of the merit of the righteous women (Rashi Pesachim 108b ‘she’af’). And the future redemption will be caused by the women too. This is due to the fact that whilst the men were swayed by their surroundings, the women stayed loyal to HaShem. Similarly, the women were not swayed by the negative reports of the spies in the desert because of their loyalty and love of the Land of Israel. And it was this strength of character and loyal adherence to values which saw the wife of Ohn ben Peles save her husband from joining Korach’s rebellion and ultimately saved his life (gemarra Sanhedrin 109b). This is also why women are obligated in less mitzvos than men [they are exempt from most time-bound positive mitzvos]; for these mitzvos are rooted in short-term sparks of closeness with HaShem, but women have that natural loyalty anyway (R’ Kook).
What about man; what is he good for? Like we said, he provides the initial idea/concept unlimited spark, for it then to be loyally developed by his wife. For example, in forming a baby, man provides the unlimited potential, with the woman nurturing the baby inside of her and developing it, also giving it shape and form. In fact, this is why the word nekeivah (woman) comes from the word nekov, which means to fix, because in giving form and dimensions to an idea/substance, etc. they fix it in the world. The downside of this role is that nekeivah is also from the root kavah, which means a curse. This is because in providing form to an object, she also removes its potential to be anything and everything; once a form/border is given by her, it has been limited to certain dimensions and no more. To express this via a parable, I was walking to someone for Shabbes lunch and could not remember the building number of their flat. The up-side of this was that each and every building could be their flat from my perspective (unlimited potential). When someone did tell me the number, there was a positive and negative aspect. On the one hand I now knew where their flat is (it was fixed as one ‘form’). But on the other hand, before I knew their number, any flat could have been their one, and once I was told the number this was limited to one specific flat; ‘the potential was reduced.’ [I hope that helped!] This is also why women have nine tenths of the world’s speech, for speech is also that agency of limiting an unlimited concept into finite words.
And finally to return to our question; this is why women may only have one husband. For a woman centres around loyalty - and that means loyalty to one cause and one husband. But a man’s loyalty is rather questionable; his quality is providing an infinite concept with no limits to it, and as such this role is not contradicted if he has more than one wife.
Either way, nowadays a man may not have more than one wife, but the above roles/qualities of man and woman can be seen to have remained relatively in tact,
Have a great Shabbes

 

 

 

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