The story of Sotah, a suspected adulteress, is very troubling on the first blush. Why would a woman be subjected to such humiliation? The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, points out that, to the contrary, the story of Sotah is the story of the boundless love of the Creator for his people. Notwithstanding the strict Biblical prohibition of erasing God’s name, to vindicate the wrongly accused woman, God allows and, indeed, decrees to erase His holy Name by dissolving the scriptural verses written on a parchment in the water that the woman would drink to clear her name. For as long as a woman is being suspected of infidelity, she cannot be intimate with her husband. It takes a Divine intervention, whereby God sacrifices His honor in allowing erasing His holy Name, to restore shalom bait – the domestic peace and love between husband and wife.
In the previous blog on this subject, Sotah – Suspected Adulteress as a Schrödinger Cat, we interpreted this story of Sotah as the story of impermissible double-entanglement and quantum superposition. Like a Schrödinger Cat confined in a closed box is stuck in a blurred state of superposition of being dead and alive at the same time, so too a woman, who foolishly secluded herself with another man in a closed room, raising suspicions of infidelity, becomes stuck in a state of superposition of two states—innocent and guilty. If she, in fact, committed adultery, she impermissibly entangled herself with a man other than her husband. A married woman can only be entangled with her husband. Double entanglement is not only forbidden by quantum mechanics, but it is also forbidden by the Torah. It is a particular case of the Second Commandment – Thou shall have no other gods!
When a poor cat is stuck in the state of superposition, there is an easy solution—open the box and look inside. The act of observation collapses the cat’s wavefunction removing the ambiguity—the cat will be found either dead or alive. Unfortunately, this option is not available here. The woman was secluded in a closed room with another man and there were no witnesses to testify as to the alleged act of adultery or to her innocense, nobody to collapse the woman’s wavefunction. She is stuck! And we are stuck too, as we cannot allow this untenable state to persist. That is why the priest goes to such length in trying to convince the woman to plea-bargain out of this situation—she would lose her ketubah (monetary compensation in case of a divorce), but would be spared the death penalty and set free. But what if the woman refuses to admit her guilt? What if she is really innocent and does not want to testify falsely against herself? She may know that she is innocent but the rest of the world does not. Is she to be forever stuck in this blurred state of superposition?
The phenomenon of the collapse of the wavefunction is a mystery in quantum physics. Nobody quite understands how and why it happens—we just know it does. According to John von Neumann, Nobel laureate, Eugene Paul Wigner, John Archibald Wheeler, and other great physicists, all of whom played a seminal role in the development of quantum physics, it takes a conscious human observer (ba’al da’at) to collapse the wavefunction. An interesting question arises—can God collapse the wavefunction? After all, the omniscient God must know whether the cat is really dead or alive! This question remains unanswered in quantum physics.
There is a related question in Jewish theology—the paradox of the freedom of choice and the knowledge of God. If God knows the future (because, as the Creator of time, He transcends time) and His knowledge is absolute (in the words of Maimonides, God is the knower, the knowable and the knowledge—all in one, as He knows all by knowing Himself), then how could we possibly have free will? If we can’t prove God “wrong,” we are bound to do what He knows we would do! This paradox is explained in the Chasidic philosophy of Chabad in terms of the higher knowledge (da’at elyon) and the lower knowledge (da’at tachton). Indeed, God knows the future, and His knowledge (da’at elyon) is absolute. However, it doesn’t affect us. The lower knowledge (da’at tachton—our human knowledge) and the supernal knowledge (da’at elyon—God’s knowledge) exist in parallel universes, as it were. Therefore, God’s knowledge does not affect our free choice. (As you see, the theory of parallel universes was not invented by Hugh Everett, as it is discussed at length in Kabbalah and Chasidut.) The two parallel universes cannot intersect. This is how God created the world—this is a fundamental law of our universe.
There is one exception to this law, however. There is only one situation, where God is willing to break His fundamental law and let His higher knowledge be known down here, below – this is a situation in which an unfortunate woman is stuck in a state of superposition. There are no witnesses to collapse the wavefunction of Sotah to extricate her from the untenable state of superposition. God steps forward and collapses her wavefunction. His miracle is His way of testifying to the innocence or guilt of the woman. This is the only occasion on which God is willing to violate the laws of physics, indeed the laws of creation, and collapse the wavefunction. He is willing to break the order of the Universe to save one poor woman! Can there be a greater act of love for His people than this? And God knows how to collapse the wavefunction the right way – the vindication comes with the blessing of children and easy childbirth!
Perhaps this is why Rabbi Chayim Vital in his Gate of Reincarnation (Shaar Gilgulim 33:3a) explains the verse “If you take note of the suffering of Your maidservant” (Samuel I, 1:11) as Hannah’s ultimatum. As Hannah pleads with God for children, she says, as it were, “If You don’t give me children, I will put myself in the position of a Sotah, and then You will have come and testify to my innocence and bless me with children. It worked—Hannah gave birth to a son she named Samuel (Shmuel), who grew to be one of the greatest prophets in Israel.
God’s love for His “bride” —the nation of Israel—goes far beyond His willingness to sacrifice His honor in allowing His Holy Name to be erased. To save one poor woman, who foolishly put herself in a precarious position, the Creator is ready to cross parallel universes to collapse her wavefunction, violating the primordial order of creation. This is Godly love indeed!