Our parasha, Re’eh, contains the obligation to physically destroy all objects used for idol worship: “You shall tear down their altars, smash their monuments, burn their idolatrous trees with fire, cut down the graven images of their gods, and destroy their name from that place” (Devarim 12:3).
This destruction must be total, without compromise. Every trace of avodah zarah must be expunged from every corner of Eretz Yisrael.
In stark contrast, the next verse enjoins us: “You shall not do so to the L-rd, your G-d” (Devarim 12:4). One of the laws derived from this verse is the prohibition of erasing Hashem’s name, even by one letter.
Paradoxically, however, Sefer Bamidbar presents us with the obligation to erase Hashem’s name. Part of the Sotah process, determining the status of a woman accused of infidelity, entails writing a document that contains the name of the Almighty, which is then completely erased in the bitter waters of the Sotah ritual.
We are met with a true contradiction. On the one hand, in our parasha, the Torah commands us to treat the Name of Hashem with all the holiness it deserves. We are warned against destroying even one letter of His holy Name. Yet, the Sotah process mandates the destruction of that very Name! How are we to understand this inconsistency?
Not surprisingly, our Sages wrestled with this problem. One of their clearest resolutions is found in Talmud Yerushalmi, Sotah 1:4, where Rabbi Meir’s students witnessed a woman spitting in the face of their beloved teacher, and felt that he had been mistreated. Rabbi Meir, however, had instructed the woman to do so. The seemingly disparaging interaction ultimately served a holy purpose. “If the Holy Name that was written in total kedushah must be obliterated in [bitter] waters in order to bring about peace between a husband and his wife, should we not act in the same manner?”
Rabbi Meir’s response to his students enables us to view the Sotah ritual, and its concomitant obliteration of Hashem’s name, in an entirely new light. Though at first glance it may appear to be a trial by ordeal, nothing could be further from the truth. In the vast majority of cases, the authentic purpose of the Sotah process was to reunite a couple in marital harmony. Given the holy purpose of reconciliation, nothing should stand in the way. Even the destruction of the Divine Name itself is a small price to pay to achieve peace.
The Rambam applies Rabbi Meir’s explanation to clarify how one should act in the following halachic dilemma: “What should one do when there are insufficient funds to buy oil for both the Shabbat lights and the Chanukiah (Menorah)?” He answers, “The Shabbat lights take precedence since they bring about marital harmony. After all, G-d’s Name itself is obliterated [in the Sotah process] in order to bring about peace between a man and his wife. Great is peace, for the entire Torah was given to bring about peace in the world” (Mishneh Torah, Sefer Zemanim, Hilchot Chanukah 4:14).
Once again, peace in its broadest sense, and shalom bayit in particular, are prime imperatives within the authentic Jewish mindset.
The connection between the unique holiness of Hashem’s Name and the pursuit of shalom is a natural one, for as Chazal teach us, one of the names of G-d is “Shalom” (Talmud Bavli, Shabbat 10b). In his commentary on this Talmudic phrase, Rabbi Shmuel Eidels (1555 – 1631) explains that this is the case because “[Shalom] is not found in man in any sense whatsoever. As such, the Name of the Holy One, may He be blessed, is quite fittingly Shalom because it is He and He alone who makes peace in our world.” (Maharsha, Chidushei Aggadot, Shabbat 10b).
Rav Eidels’ words are reminiscent of the concluding words of Kaddish that have echoed throughout the ages: “May He who makes peace in His high places, make peace for us and all Israel.”