Nelly Shulman
Nelly Shulman

A Tale of Two Sisters

Much have been said about the ordeal of the sotah, a woman suspected to having had an adulterous relationships, which is described in this chapter. Nachmanides said that of all the 613 commandments, the sotah is the only one that reqiures God’s cooperation. To put it plainily, it’s a miracle.

Much has been said about the ordeal of the Sotah, a woman suspected to have had adulterous relationships, which is described in this chapter. Nachmanides said that of all the 613 commandments, the Sotah is the only one that requires God’s cooperation. To put it plainly, it’s a miracle.

Granted, there are many miracles in Torah but none of them becomes a commandment simply because we cannot perform miracles. Commandments lie entirely within the scope of human ability. Their fulfillment does not require any special skills of magic powers, just the will, and determination.

We might say that generally, God prefers to stay out of our way, choosing to manifest the Divine Presence via the natural phenomena and not through the miracles. Torah is not Hogwarts.

However, only in the case of Sotah, magic is employed. It is so powerful that even when people try to circumvent the commandment they still end up at square one, as this beautiful story from Tanchuma (5:2:6) illustrates.

There is a story about two sisters who resembled each other. One was married in one city and the other was married in another city. The husband of one of them wanted to accuse her of infidelity and have her drink the bitter water in Jerusalem. She went to that city where her married sister was. Her sister said to her, “What was your reason for coming here?” She said to her, “My husband wants to have me drink the bitter water.” Her sister said to her, “I will go in your place and drink it.” She said to her, “Go.” She put on her sister’s clothes, went in her place, drank the bitter water, and was found clean. When she returned to her sister’s house, she joyfully went out to meet her, then embraced and kissed her on the mouth. As soon as the one kissed the other, she smelled the bitter water and immediately died.

About the Author
Nelly Shulman is a journalist and writer currently based in Berlin. She is an author of four popular historical novels in the Russian language. She is working on the fifth novel in this series and on her first English-language novel, a historical thriller set during the Siege of Leningrad. She a Hawthornden Fellow and an alumna of the Nachum Goldmann Fellowship.
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