By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman
Yevamos 95 – The Power of a Jewish Marriage
If not for the derasha of “osah”, we would have learned out from a kal v’chomer that if a husband transgressed with his wife’s sister, his wife becomes forbidden to him. What would have been the kal v’chomer? If we see by an issur kal she becomes forbidden, all the more so by an issur chamur. We know that the issur chamur must be referring to the prohibition of living with one’s wife’s sister, since that is what we are trying to learn out in the havah aminah. However, regarding the issur kal, the Gemara has a whole back and forth in trying to clarify to what this is referring.
At one point, the Gemara suggests that it is referring to the issur of a man being with his wife who is currently a sotah, which generates an issur for the suspected adulterer. That is rejected, though, on the grounds that such an issur could be generated without the husband being with his wife, even were he to just divorce her or simply say that he is not willing to have her drink the sotah water.
The whole parsha of sotah is fascinating. That a couple can actually whether such a storm! The husband suspected his wife of foul play and warned her, in front of witnesses, not to be alone with a certain man. She disregarded his warning and indeed secluded herself with that man. Witnesses saw the seclusion. She nevertheless insists that she is innocent. This is quite a terrible situation, wouldn’t you say? If not for what the Torah tells about this, most of us would probably have thought divorce to be the only option.
But they are able to weather it. Not easily, but they can. It is possible for a marriage to survive despite such a heinous test to its integrity. This speaks volumes not only of the ardent importance that the Torah assigns to shalom bayis, but also to the inherent strength and power of a Jewish marriage.
In this context, it comes as somewhat puzzling, if not downright confounding, the way Tosafos understands the sugyah. According to Tosafos, when the Gemara said that the issur on the suspected adulterer could be generated just by the husband saying, “I don’t want her to drink the water,” that means a permanent issur. In other words, there’s no going back. The husband cannot change his mind. Uttering those words just once seals their fate forever. It is not only the suspected adulterer who may never subsequently marry her, the husband must also divorce her and he may never remarry her. For once she has assumed sotah status, she cannot go back to living with her husband unless she drinks the sotah water. Once the husband has said he doesn’t want her to do so, she can never do so.
So what’s the pshat?
Apparently, what we can gather from this is that, yes, a Jewish marriage is a rock-solid institution. It can weather the mightiest challenges. However, there is a secret ingredient which supplies this incredible strength. That secret is each spouse’s unequivocal and unwavering commitment to and belief in the relationship. If the husband said that he doesn’t want her to drink, that means that he has lost interest and has given up.
True, in normal situations of stress that does not topple a marriage; but under the unbearable stress of a woman under heavy suspect of infidelity, it can. Not directly, but indirectly. Without that secret ingredient of absolute commitment and belief in the relationship, the strain of the sotah scenario is just too much.
This is a fantastic insight. We all have flaws and we all make mistakes, sometimes even big ones. Baruch Hashem, the overwhelming majority of people are not dealing with issues like suspected unfaithfulness or other such bombshells. But, still, major mistakes can be made. Very negative patterns can take their toll. When this happens, one may be prone to thinking that given his flaws and errors, failings and follies, how much hope could there be? What we see from here, though, is that so long as you are committed and believe in your relationship with your spouse, there is almost no stress that can break it. The depth and strength of your desire to stick together no matter what is the secret that empowers you to actually do so despite whatever serious challenges you may have.
Rabbi Yehoshua Berman serves as the Rosh Kollel of Kollel Reshet HaDaf in Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel. In addition to having authored Reflections on the Parsha, Rabbi Berman regularly delivers shiurim on Halacha and Hashkafa, writes comprehensive chazara questions (in Hebrew) for the advanced Daf Yomi learner, and weekly words of inspiration from the Parsha. Rabbi Berman can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.