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Amongst the things Moses impressed on the Israelites before his death was: 'You should not put G-d… to the test' (Deut. 6:16). Instead, act according to 'what is proper and good in the eyes of G-d' (Deut. 6:18): trust in G-d, and do not put faith in supernatural events (c.f. Deut. 18:13).
However, there are two instances where the Torah does require 'putting G-d to the test' - faith in the supernatural - in full expectation of Divine intervention in the natural order of things. One is positive, and the other is negative. With Shemitta (the prohibition of agricultural work in the seventh year), the Torah declares nobody will go hungry for failing to work the land during the mandatory seventh year of rest:
Perhaps you might say: 'What shall we eat in the eighth year, as we neither sowed nor gathered in our produce?' (G-d replies) 'I will command My blessing for you in the sixth year, and the land will produce enough for three years… until the new produce is ready' (Lev. 25:21).
'My blessing for you' is in the plural - all Israel shall benefit from G-d intervention, promising continued prosperity during the Sabbatical year.
In this Parasha, a husband who has due grounds for suspicion that his wife has been sleeping with another man has the power to make use of Divine intervention to resolve whether his suspicions were justified (although this practice was discontinued during the period of the Second Temple):
The priest shall take holy water in an earthen utensil. He shall take dust from the floor of the Tabernacle and put it into the water… (and declare) '…But if a man other than your husband did sleep with you…' (Then) she shall drink the water… and if she was indeed guilty, the waters shall enter inside her and become bitter. Her stomach shall swell and her thigh will fall and the woman shall be an object of curse amongst her people (5:17-27).
So G-d puts Himself on the line in only two instances, Shemitta and Sotah (the case of the suspected woman). What do those two very different things have in common, and what may be learnt from what is shared between them?
The Land of Israel is G-d's property, and the place of the intensity of His Presence: 'for you are strangers and settlers with Me' (Lev. 25:23). That explains in the same verse why in the Holy Land, real estate may not be sold 'absolutely' - in perpetuity. It returns to the original owner at the Yovel (Jubilee). Man gets the land on lease, G-d retains the freehold.
Marriage is also G-d's property and the place of His Presence. For Tradition teaches that G-d is the third party in the bond between husband and wife. Whereas there was forgiveness through paying financial compensation to the husband in contemporary civilizations in the Middle East (c.f. Gen. 12:16), willful adultery was and is a capital offence in the Torah. The Torah does not give the husband the power to forgive G-d's (the third party's) outrage.
Thus the sanctity of the Land of Israel, and the sanctity of the relationship between husband and wife share G-d as being a specially active third participant in the relationship. It is in that capacity that G-d invites people to realize His Active Participation in witnessing the Holy Land being able to support those who observe His Rules of observing Shemitta: 'The Land shall rest, it is a Sabbath to G-d' (Lev. 25:2). And it was the fury of His Active Participation in violation of the relationship between man and wife that provided for Him to intervene demonstrably in the manner described in the Parasha…
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.co.il/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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