This week’s torah parsha is Naso. One of the interesting aspects that I found was the issue dealing with the sotah – a woman who was suspected of adultery. The test that was done to confirm her guilt was that a section of the torah was soaked in water until the ink dissolved. The sotah was to consume and if her belly swelled then she was guilty and would die. If not, than she was interesting. This appears similar to some of our own more archaic methods of dealing with criminals. There were several “trials” or manners in which people’s innocence was tested. There was trial by water, where a supposed guilty person was shackled and dropped in water. If they sank, they were guilty, if they floated, they were innocent.
The notion of testing people’s innocence through trial is an interesting notion as it purports that we need more than an omission of innocence, but a physical act that is so grand in scale that it can be interpreted in a guilty or innocent conviction (whereas words can be loose). Many of these trials are founded on the belief that G-d is the ultimate decider and knows the innocence of the person. Ghandi once said “there is no G-d higher than truth.” In saying this, there appears to be a bit of an interesting contradiction in the use of trials as proof and having G-d be the decider of the outcome.
There is a nice Yiddish proverb that states “a half truth is a whole lie.” Our modern society is rich in the stereotype the politicians are master wordsmiths who are adept at making lies appear to be the truth. While often we take what they have to say at face value, they eventually end up being found out. If the sotah was put through a trial where as she was essentially swearing her innocence on the literal words of the torah, would there not be another more modern way of making people eat the words the speak?
Finally, there is also much to be said on one’s reputation in the world based off of how they comport themselves. When a person says that they are going to take action on an issue and don’t, or allow a large amount of time to pass, they are just as guilty of their inaction as is the crime itself. A person’s word is their bond, when they have sworn to do something, are they not also affirming themselves before G-d too? Would we not be judged in a similar matter? On Yom Kippur, we are to break any promises that we have not kept in order to start the year anew. However, as the Russian proverb says, “With lies you may get ahead in the world – but you can never go back”.