Coming Closer to Hashem Through Mitzvot

Sotah (3:4) | Ben-Zion Hain | 15 years ago

Since the beginning of Masechet Sotah, we have been describing all of the details regarding the process of drinking the bitter waters. In the fourth Mishnah of the third chapter, the Mishnah describes what happens to the woman as she drinks the water:

She does not contrive to drink before her face turns yellow and her eyes bulge and she is replete with veins.

However, after describing the seemingly painful and traumatic ordeal that the woman who drinks the bitter water undergoes, the Mishnah tells us that there is a ‘way out’:

If she had any merit, it would suspend her punishment.

In other words, despite the fact that she may have sinned, became impure through infidelity, undergone the entire process and caused the name of Hashem to have been erased, there is a possibility that she will not be punished immediately if she has merits.

This possibility creates a great deal of concern and threatens to destroy the whole point of the Sotah water45. Ben Azai therefore states that “a man is required to teach his daughter Torah so that if she must drink, she will know that the merit suspends it for her,” and not that she got away with it.

A further reason why Ben Azai might instruct fathers to teach their daughters Torah would be so that this Torah learning will actually be their merit and save them from punishment should they stray from their future husbands.

The Rambam in Hilchot Talmud Torah (1:13) explains that although a woman does receive reward for learning Torah, her reward cannot be compared to that of a man. The reason for this according to the Rambam is that the reward of someone who is commanded to perform mitzvot is greater that the reward of someone who chooses to perform mitzvot46.

Tosfot in Masechet Avodah Zarah (3a) state that the reason for this distinction is that a person who is commanded to perform mitzvot must constantly conquer and repel his evil inclination. Therefore, due to the fact that this person must work harder, their reward is greater.

Another explanation is offered by the Maharal. He explains that although someone who chooses to perform the mitzvot, but is not commanded to, does receive a reward, they miss out on the intrinsic connection that is created between the One who commands and the one who acts.

The fact that a person fulfils what Hashem wants them to do, causes their actions to be of greater significance and strengthens their connection with Hashem.


45 This fact is discussed in the following Mishnah where Rabbi Shimon argues that merit does not delay punishment as this would cause women to see the Sotah waters as less severe because their merits would save them and it would also cause the innocent to be given a bad name. People would say that a woman who survived was in fact guilty but her merit kept her alive and saved her from punishment.

46 This is based on the opinion of Rabbi Channinah in Masechet Avodah Zara 3a (and other places).

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