In our Torah portion we find the laws of the Isha Sotah, the woman suspected of adultery. The term Sotah, comes from the verb Listot which means “go astray”. That is why this woman is called Sotah because she is suspected of “going astray”, deviating herself from the Torah and from the usual ways of modesty (Rashi, Num. 5:12). The Midrash points out that the verb Listot is connected with the word Shtut (folly or madness). Both words sound similar, and are written in a similar way, in Hebrew. This makes the rabbis state the following: “Adulterers do not commit adultery unless a spirit of folly (שְׁטוּת) enters them” (Tanhuma, Naso 5). According to this perspective when someone is unfaithful to his/her partner is not because they really “want to” is just because the spirit of stupidity and foolishness enter in them.

The Talmud extends this idea by saying, “A man commits a transgression only if a spirit of folly enters him.” (b. Sotah 3a). Not only adultery but the cause of any transgression is understood as a moment of foolishness. Understanding every transgression or sin with this view has the risk of being too lenient and of forgiving all mistakes simply because “he/she was seized by an attack of madness”. This has the risk of always blaming “the spirit of folly” and not assuming personal responsibility. But there is also some beauty in this idea; it give us the possibility to be more forgiving, to give second chances and to understand that many times (if not most) when a loved one commits a mistake, breaks a promise or does something wrong is not out of wickedness but just because for a moment they lost their way, they forgot, they became foolish, they were not thinking, etc. With this approach in mind we can see every human being as intrinsically good but as the Maharsha (1555-1631) said “we should learn from this that in every transgression there is a spirit that makes us go astray from the good path to the bad path” (Chidushei Agadot, Sotah 3a).

Repeat with me: “we are good people but sometimes we lose our way!” This idea is not only useful to reconnect with another when they have wronged us but it also is good for us when we have committed a transgression and we are excessively harsh with ourselves. Repeat after me: “I’m a good person but sometimes I lose my way”.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Uri