Torah Sparks

United Synagogue (USCJ) is proud and delighted to bring you Torah Sparks, with insights and learning materials on the Parasha (Torah portion) of the week. Torah Sparks is produced by the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem.

Each week there will be a Dvar Torah - a discussion on some aspect of the reading, by CY faculty, alumni and friends; a Vort - a short thought from Chasidic rebbes or other thinkers about some point in the text; and Table Talk - questions to stimulate discussion on the Parsha around the Shabbat table. Torah Sparks is available here on the Conservative Yeshiva's Shiurim Online Beit Midrash website, as well as by subscription to weekly graphical emails. Please select the Parasha you would like to see - it will display articles from each year. A printable PDF is linked at the end of each week's presentation.


Introduction to Sotah

Introduction to Sotah   The laws of the Sotah, the suspected adulteress, are dealt with in Numbers 5:11-31.  As they are related in these verses, the procedure is that a man suspects that his wife has been unfaithful to him.  The Torah describes him as having a “fit of jealousy”.  To find out if his […]

Sotah, Chapter 1, Mishnah 1

Sotah, Chapter One, Mishnah One   Introduction Numbers 5:14 states, “And a fit of jealousy came upon him and he was jealous about his wife.”  The phrase “and he was jealous” is an active verb in Hebrew, and not an adjectival phrase as I have translated it in English.  It is as if the verse […]

Sotah, Chapter 1, Mishnah 2

Sotah, Chapter One, Mishnah Two   Introduction Yesterday’s mishnah taught that a husband cannot bring his wife to drink the Sotah waters unless he has first warned her not to seclude herself with a certain man.  Today’s mishnah teaches what constitutes warning and what constitutes her transgression of his warning, such that she is brought […]

Sotah, Chapter 1, Mishnah 3

Sotah, Chapter One, Mishnah Three   Introduction There are some women who may be suspected of adultery but who do not have the opportunity or the obligation to drink the Sotah waters which would test her innocence or guilt.  Had they passed the test, these women would have been allowed to return to being permitted […]

Sotah, Chapter 1, Mishnah 4

Sotah, Chapter One, Mishnah Four   Introduction The mishnah now begins to describe the process of bringing the sotah to the Temple.  First the judges warn her just how serious the ceremony and its consequences are.  The point of this admonition and of all of what they say to her is to convince her to […]

Sotah, Chapter 1, Mishnah 5

Sotah, Chapter One, Mishnah Five   Introduction This mishnah begins to describe the Sotah ritual.  I should make at this point a general note about the process.  We are going to encounter now a ceremony that was intended to disgrace the woman.  I believe that the rabbis thought that by disgracing women who actually went […]

Sotah, Chapter 1, Mishnah 6

Sotah, Chapter One, Mishnah Six   Introduction This mishnah continues to describe the public humiliation which the Sotah must undergo.   Mishnah Six 1)                     If she was clothed in white, he clothes her in black. a)                                           If she wore gold jewelry or necklaces, ear-rings and finger-rings, they remove them from her in order to make […]

Sotah, Chapter 1, Mishnah 7

Sotah, Chapter One, Mishnah Seven   Introduction This mishnah and those that follow are about the concept “measure for measure”.  The Sotah’s humiliation and punishment fits her crime of adultery.    Mishnah Seven In the measure with which a person metes out to others, they mete out to him. She adorned herself for a sin; […]

Sotah, Chapter 1, Mishnah 8

Sotah, Chapter One, Mishnah Eight   Introduction This mishnah continues to discuss cases where a person is punished in correspondence to his crime.  This is more than someone receiving his “just desserts”.  Rather it is the idea that the part of the body that sinned is directly punished, or that the precise details of the […]

Sotah, Chapter 1, Mishnah 9

Sotah, Chapter One, Mishnah Nine   Introduction The previous two mishnayoth taught that people are punished in a manner that fits their crime.  Our mishnah gives a message of hope by teaching that people are also rewarded in a manner that fits their good deeds.  This idea reminds me of what we were constantly told […]

Sotah, Chapter 2, Mishnah 1

Sotah, Chapter Two, Mishnah One   Introduction As part of the Sotah ritual, Numbers 5:15 states, “And he shall bring as an offering for her one-tenth of an ephah of barley flour.  No oil shall be poured upon it and no frankincense shall be laid on it, for it is a meal-offering of jealousy, a […]

Sotah, Chapter 2, Mishnah 2

Sotah, Chapter Two, Mishnah Two   Introduction The mishnah continues to describe the Sotah process.  This mishnah is an expansion of that described in Numbers 5:17.   Mishnah Two 1)                     [The priest] takes an earthenware bowl and pours half a log of water into it from the laver. a)                                           Rabbi Judah says: a quarter [of […]

Sotah, Chapter 2, Mishnah 3

Sotah, Chapter Two, Mishnah Three   Introduction After putting the meal offering on the hand of the woman, the priest begins to write the curse on a scroll (Numbers 5:23).  Later, he will state this curse or curses to the woman and then the writing will be rubbed out into the water and she will […]

Sotah, Chapter 2, Mishnah 4

Sotah, Chapter Two, Mishnah Four   Introduction This mishnah teaches upon what material the priest writes the curses and with what type of ink.   Mishnah Four 1)      He writes neither on a [wooden] tablet nor on papyrus nor on rough parchment but on a [parchment] scroll, as it is said, “In a scroll” (Numbers […]

Sotah, Chapter 2, Mishnah 5

Sotah, Chapter Two, Mishnah Five   Introduction After the curses are recited, the woman responds “Amen, amen”.  “Amen” is a Biblical expression of agreement.  Due to it frequent use in prayer, it is to this day one of the most familiar Hebrew words (my mother says that when pregnant with me I used to kick […]

Sotah, Chapter 2, Mishnah 6

Sotah, Chapter Two, Mishnah Six   Introduction Toward the end of yesterday’s mishnah we learned that when the woman says “amen, amen” she is agreeing not just to the fact that she didn’t already commit adultery with the person, but that she will not do so in the future.  Our mishnah limits the stipulations to […]

Sotah, Chapter 3, Mishnah 1

Sotah, Chapter Three, Mishnah One   Introduction Numbers 5:25 reads, “Then the priest shall take from the woman’s hand the meal offering of jealousy, and wave the meal-offering before the Lord, and present it on the altar.”  Our mishnah explains and paraphrases this verse. Interestingly, the Mishnah never describes the rubbing out of God’s name, […]

Sotah, Chapter 3, Mishnah 2

Sotah, Chapter Three, Mishnah Two   Introduction The mishnah continues to outline the process of the Sotah ritual.  We should note that the Torah is ambiguous with regard to when the woman drinks the water.  Numbers 5:24 says that the priest gives the sotah to drink, and then vs. 25-26 describe the sacrifice of the […]

Sotah, Chapter 3, Mishnah 3

Sotah, Chapter Three, Mishnah Three   Introduction The Mishnah has now arrived at the critical moment, right before she is about to drink the bitter waters.  She is given one last opportunity to refuse to drink or to admit to her crime.   Mishnah Three 1)      If before [the writing on] the scroll had been […]

Sotah, Chapter 3, Mishnah 4

Sotah, Chapter Three, Mishnah Four   Introduction This mishnah begins by describing what happens immediately after the sotah drinks the water. The second half of the mishnah broaches the idea that if the woman has some type of “merit” the effect that the waters have on her is delayed, even if she did commit adultery. […]

Sotah, Chapter 3, Mishnah 5

Sotah, Chapter Three, Mishnah Five   Introduction In our mishnah, Rabbi Shimon and Rabbi [Judah Hanasi] argue whether or not merit suspends the effect of the bitter waters.   Mishnah Five 1)      Rabbi Shimon says: merit does not suspend the effect of the bitter waters, and if you say that merit does suspend the effect […]

Sotah, Chapter 3, Mishnah 6

Sotah, Chapter Three, Mishnah Six   Introduction This mishnah deals with situations in which the sotah’s meal offering cannot be offered.  Mishnah three above already stated that there are some situations in which the meal offering is burned whole and none of it is eaten by the priests.  Our mishnah lists three reasons why the […]

Sotah, Chapter 3, Mishnah 7

Sotah, Chapter Three, Mishnah Seven   Introduction In the last clause of yesterday’s mishnah we learned that the meal offering of a priest is not eaten and neither is the meal offering of a sotah who is married to a priest.  Our mishnah compares several laws concerning priests, their wives and their daughters.    Mishnah […]

Sotah, Chapter 3, Mishnah 8

Sotah, Chapter Three, Mishnah Eight   Introduction Yesterday’s mishnah dealt with the differences between males and females born into priestly families; today’s mishnah deals with general differences in law between men and women.  There are many differences in Jewish law between men and women that are not mentioned in this mishnah.  The reason why the […]

Sotah, Chapter 4, Mishnah 1

Sotah, Chapter Four, Mishnah One   Introduction Our mishnah deals with situations in which the woman, suspected of committing adultery, does not have the opportunity to drink the bitter waters, but rather she must be divorced and does not receive her ketubah.   Mishnah One 1)      A betrothed woman and a shomeret yavam do not […]

Sotah, Chapter 4, Mishnah 2

Sotah, Chapter Four, Mishnah Two   Introduction This mishnah lists women who became sotahs but do not drink the water.  Some of them receive their ketubah and some don’t.  It all depends on why they don’t drink.  Some of these cases have already been mentioned in above mishnayoth.   Mishnah Two 1)      And these are […]

Sotah, Chapter 4, Mishnah 3

Sotah, Chapter Four, Mishnah Three   Introduction This mishnah continues to discuss situations where a man married a woman prohibited to him, and therefore should she become a sotah she doesn’t drink the bitter waters or receive her ketubah. We should note that according to the mishnah it is dangerous for a nursing woman to […]

Sotah, Chapter 4, Mishnah 4

Sotah, Chapter Four, Mishnah Four   Introduction In the previous several mishnayoth, we learned of several categories of women who do not drink the water.  Our mishnah adds certain women that do, even though it might be supposed that they should not.   Mishnah Four 1)      The wife of a priest drinks and [if she […]

Sotah, Chapter 4, Mishnah 5

Sotah, Chapter Four, Mishnah Five   Introduction The final mishnah in our chapter deals with a husband who is incapable of warning his wife not to be secluded with a certain man.  In these cases the mishnah teaches that the court warns the woman on behalf of the husband.  However, there is a debate about […]

Sotah, Chapter 5, Mishnah 1

Sotah, Chapter Five, Mishnah One   Introduction This mishnah teaches that just as the waters check the innocence of the woman, so too they check the guilt or innocence of the man with whom she is suspected of committing adultery.  The second part of the mishnah teaches that in cases in which she is prohibited […]

Sotah, Chapter 5, Mishnah 2

Sotah, Chapter Five, Mishnah Two   Introduction The remaining four mishnayoth all contain midrashim which were stated “on that day.”  According to the Babylonian Talmud Berakhot 28a, this refers to the day that the rabbis deposed Rabban Gamaliel and appointed Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya in his place.  According to the story, when Rabban Gamaliel was […]

Sotah, Chapter 5, Mishnah 3

Sotah, Chapter Five, Mishnah Three   Introduction Numbers 35:1-10 discuss the apportioning of cities to the Levites, who did not inherit large sections of the land as did the other tribes.  Besides the cities themselves, the verses mandate a section outside the walls of the city which also shall belong to the Levites.  Seemingly, verses […]

Sotah, Chapter 5, Mishnah 4

Sotah, Chapter Five, Mishnah Four   Introduction This is the third midrash of Rabbi Akiva.  It deals with the “Song of the Sea”, a passage familiar to those familiar with shacharit, the morning prayer service.  We should note also that the sages use their knowledge of prayer practice to interpret how the Song of the […]

Sotah, Chapter 5, Mishnah 5

Sotah, Chapter Five, Mishnah Five   Introduction The structure of this mishnah is similar to mishnah two above.  Somebody expounds a midrash and Rabbi Joshua explains how pleased Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai, his teacher, would have been had he lived to hear such a midrash. The topic of the midrash is Job, and whether or […]

Sotah, Chapter 6, Mishnah 1

Sotah, Chapter Six, Mishnah One   Introduction Chapter six returns to discuss the process which needs to occur for a woman to become a sotah, the same topic with which the tractate began.  In the first mishnah of the tractate we learned that the husband must first warn her not to be secluded with a […]

Sotah, Chapter 6, Mishnah 2

Sotah, Chapter Six, Mishnah Two   Introduction Above in mishnah 1:3 we learned that if witnesses testify that the woman had committed adultery with the suspected man (and not just that they saw her secluded with him) she doesn’t drink the sotah waters.  The waters test only those with regard to whom there is doubt.  […]

Sotah, Chapter 6, Mishnah 3

Sotah, Chapter Six, Mishnah Three   Introduction This mishnah provides the midrashic basis for why two witnesses are necessary to testify that the sotah was secluded with the suspected man but one witness is sufficient to testify that she had been defiled (committed adultery).  The mishnah notes that this is counterintuitive, for the second type […]

Sotah, Chapter 6, Mishnah 4

Sotah, Chapter Six, Mishnah Four   Introduction The last mishnah of this chapter deals with a case where there is contradictory testimony with regard to whether or not she committed adultery (was defiled).  We should remember that there has already been a process of warning before these witnesses come and testify.    Mishnah Four 1)      […]

Sotah, Chapter 7, Mishnah 1

Sotah, Chapter Seven, Mishnah One   Introduction Beginning with this mishnah and continuing through the end of the tractate, the Mishnah discusses things that must be recited.  Some of these must be recited in Hebrew and others can be recited in any language.  The reason that these are discussed in Mishnah Sotah is that the […]

Sotah, Chapter 7, Mishnah 2

Sotah, Chapter Seven, Mishnah Two   Introduction In yesterday’s mishnah we learned which “declarations” can be recited in any language.  In today’s mishnah we learn the opposite; those things which must be recited in Hebrew.  The list in today’s mishnah will be discussed in much greater length in the rest of this chapter and indeed […]

Sotah, Chapter 7, Mishnah 3

Sotah, Chapter Seven, Mishnah Three   Introduction This mishnah introduces the midrash which proves that the declaration made upon bringing the first fruits must be in Hebrew.   Mishnah Three How is it that the declaration made [at the bringing] of the first-fruits [must be in Hebrew]? [It is said], “And you shall answer and […]

Sotah, Chapter 7, Mishnah 4

Sotah, Chapter Seven, Mishnah Four   Introduction This mishnah proves why the halitzah (release from Levirate marriage) must be recited in Hebrew.    Mishnah Four How is it that the formula of halitzah [must be recited in Hebrew]? [It is said] “And she shall answer and say” (Deuteronomy 25:9), and elsewhere it says, “And the […]

Sotah, Chapter 7, Mishnah 5

Sotah, Chapter Seven, Mishnah Five   Introduction This mishnah is an explanation of Deuteronomy 27 and several other biblical passages, which describe or refer to the blessings and curses which the Levites were to recite on Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal.  Note that this mishnah does not explain how we know that these blessings and […]

Sotah, Chapter 7, Mishnah 6

Sotah, Chapter Seven, Mishnah Six   Introduction This mishnah describes how the priestly blessing was performed, both outside of the Temple and in the Temple.  The priestly blessing is Numbers 6:24-26.  In Israel it is still done every day.  Outside of Israel, some synagogues have the blessing on holidays.  Our mishnah discusses differences between how […]

Sotah, Chapter 7, Mishnah 7

Sotah, Chapter Seven, Mishnah Seven   Introduction This mishnah deals with the blessings recited by the high priest on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), after he finished performing the special worship service for that day.   Mishnah Seven How were the benedictions of the high priest [performed]?  1)      The hazzan of the synagogue takes […]

Sotah, Chapter 7, Mishnah 8

Sotah, Chapter Seven, Mishnah Eight   Introduction Deuteronomy 31:10-12 states, “Every seventh year, at the time of the sabbatical year, at Sukkot, when all Israel comes to appear before the Lord your God in the place that He will choose, you shall read this Teaching aloud in the presence of all Israel.  Gather the people—men, […]

Sotah, Chapter 8, Mishnah 1

Sotah, Chapter Eight, Mishnah One   Introduction When Israel goes out to battle, the people are charged by a priest, who according to the rabbis must be anointed with oil.  This charge is described in Deuteronomy 20.  This entire chapter is an explication of how this was done.  Our mishnah is a midrash on verses […]

Sotah, Chapter 8, Mishnah 2

Sotah, Chapter Eight, Mishnah Two   Introduction The mishnah continues to expound upon Deuteronomy 20.  Our mishnah deals with three exemptions which given to soldiers which allow them to return from war:  to one who has built a house but not dedicated it; to one who has planted a vineyard but not harvested it; to […]

Sotah, Chapter 8, Mishnah 3

Sotah, Chapter Eight, Mishnah Three   Introduction In yesterday’s mishnah we learned the categories of people who are exempt from going out to battle; in today’s mishnah we learn who is not exempt.      Mishnah Three The following do not return home: 1)      He who built a gatehouse, a portico or a porch; 2)      He […]

Sotah, Chapter 8, Mishnah 4

Sotah, Chapter Eight, Mishnah Four   Introduction   Above in mishnah two we learned who returns from war if they are already out at battle.  Those categories of people returned and worked in supplying food and water to the soldiers and in repairing the roads.  In today’s mishnah we learn those who don’t go out to […]

Sotah, Chapter 8, Mishnah 5

Sotah, Chapter Eight, Mishnah Five   Introduction Today’s mishnah continues explaining the speech made to the troops upon going out to battle. The final exemption is given to anyone who is “afraid and disheartened.”  In our mishnah three rabbis argue what this phrase means.   Mishnah Five “Then the officers shall go on addressing the […]

Sotah, Chapter 8, Mishnah 6

Sotah, Chapter Eight, Mishnah Six   Introduction Our mishnah interprets Deuteronomy 20:9.   Mishnah Six “And it shall be, when the officers have finished speaking to the people, they shall appoint captains of hosts at the head of the people” (Deuteronomy 20:9).   And at the rear of the people they station guards in front of […]

Sotah, Chapter 8, Mishnah 7

Sotah, Chapter Eight, Mishnah Seven   Introduction Our mishnah teaches that the rules spelled out in our chapter do not apply to all types of war.  In certain types of war, all of Israel must go out to battle, even a bride and groom from their wedding.  There are two different opinions as to what […]

Sotah, Chapter 9, Mishnah 1

Sotah, Chapter Nine, Mishnah One   Introduction The first part of the last chapter of Sotah discusses the ceremony in which the neck of a heifer is broken in order to atone for a murder whose murderer has not been identified.  This ceremony is described in Deuteronomy 21:1-9.   Mishnah One 1)      [The declaration over] […]

Sotah, Chapter 9, Mishnah 10

Sotah, Chapter Nine, Mishnah Ten   Introduction There are four practices mentioned as being discontinued in this mishnah.   Mishnah Ten 1)      Yohanan the high priest brought to an end the confession made at the presentation of the tithe.   2)      He also discontinued the wakers and the knockers  3)      Up to his days the hammer […]

Sotah, Chapter 9, Mishnah 11

Sotah, Chapter Nine, Mishnah Eleven   Introduction This mishnah teaches about what happened when the Sanhedrin, the high court in Jerusalem, ceased to function   Mishnah Eleven When the Sanhedrin ceased [to function], song ceased from the places of feasting, as it is said, “They drink their wine without song” (Isaiah 24:9).   Explanation Towards […]

Sotah, Chapter 9, Mishnah 12

Sotah, Chapter Nine, Mishnah Twelve   Introduction The first section of this mishnah teaches what ceased when the earlier prophets died out.  The remainder of the section teaches what ceased when the Second Temple was destroyed.   Mishnah Twelve 1)      When the former prophets died, the Urim and Thummim ceased. 2)      When Temple was destroyed, […]

Sotah, Chapter 9, Mishnah 13

Sotah, Chapter Nine, Mishnah Thirteen   Introduction In yesterday’s mishnah, Rabbi Yose and Rabban Shimon ben Gamaliel blamed the deterioration experienced in their generation to the destruction of the Temple.  In today’s mishnah other rabbis attribute this deterioration to a lack of the observance of certain commandments or to acts of immorality.    Mishnah Thirteen […]

Sotah, Chapter 9, Mishnah 14

Sotah, Chapter Nine, Mishnah Fourteen   Introduction This mishnah discusses three wars that the Jews fought with the Romans during the Second Temple and mishnaic periods.  The first was with Vespasian, three years before the destruction of the Temple.  The second was with Quietus about forty years after the destruction.  The war with Quietus was […]

Sotah, Chapter 9, Mishnah 15

Sotah, Chapter Nine, Mishnah Fifteen   Introduction The previous several mishnayoth discussed various historical events and what ceased at those times.  The first section of the mishnah teaches what ceased when the great teachers of Torah of the mishnaic period died. The second and third sections contain laments at the great deterioration that Israel experienced […]

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