The Torah in Parashat Naso outlines the procedure to be followed in the case of a sota – a woman whose husband had reason to suspect her of infidelity. If the husband warned his wife not to be found with a certain man, and witnesses testify to having subsequently seen the wife go into seclusion with that man, then the couple may not engage in marital relations until they follow the procedure outlined here by the Torah. The woman is brought to the Beit Ha-mikdash, where she is given special waters to drink which determine her innocence or guilt. If she is guilty of infidelity, then the waters kill her, and thus if she survives the ordeal, her innocence is proven and the couple may resume normal relations. The Torah writes that in the latter case, when the woman is innocent, “she shall bear offspring” (5:28). According to one view in the Gemara (Sota 26a), this means that if the woman is childless, she is blessed with children.
The simple explanation of this concept, as Ibn Ezra writes, is that she is rewarded – or, perhaps more precisely, compensated – for the humiliation she endured through the public sota ordeal. A number of writers added that although the sota committed a transgression by going into seclusion with a man other than husband, and is certainly to blame for arousing her husband’s suspicion, nevertheless, she deserves reward for having been accused of a grievous offense which she did not commit, on account of which she endured public humiliation. Therefore, if she had been infertile, she becomes worthy of conceiving in the merit of having suffered this humiliating ordeal.
Relevant to this topic, the Gemara in Masekhet Berakhot (31b) tells that when Chana offered her famous prayer in Shilo, beseeching God for a child, she invoked the reward promised to an innocent sota. The Gemara comments that Chana made a “threat,” as it were, declaring that if God did not grant her a child, she would go into seclusion with another man so that her husband would need to bring her to the Mishkan and have her drink the sota waters. Since she would be innocent of adultery, she would then be rewarded by conceiving. Several Acharonim, including the Penei Yehoshua, explain that Chana did not actually “threaten” to violate the prohibition against secluding oneself with another man. Rather, she was asking to be treated no worse than a sota. If a sota, who brought humiliation upon herself through her inappropriate behavior, is granted a child, then certainly Chana is deserving of having a child, as well.
The concept underlying Chana’s contention, it would seem, is that God looks kindly and compassionately upon the downtrodden and brokenhearted. As the verse states in Tehillim (34:19), “Karov Hashem le-nishberei leiv” – “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted.” God accepts the prayers of an infertile sota, despite the improper conduct of which she is guilty, and which resulted in her humiliation, because, regardless of the circumstances, she has suffered and feels broken and humbled. Chana petitioned God to accept her prayers for the same reason. She, too, was broken and humbled. She suffered daily the taunts of her husband’s other wife, Penina, and lived in a constant state of shame and humiliation. As “the Lord is close to the brokenhearted,” Chana begged, her prayers should be answered, just like those of the childless sota.
The Gemara’s comment thus teaches us that even if we are not strictly deserving of having our prayers answered and our wishes granted, we are nevertheless entitled to appeal to God’s unlimited mercy, as long as we approach Him with a genuinely broken heart. The case of a childless sota demonstrates the special attention that the Almighty gives, as it were, to people experiencing pain and shame, even if they are otherwise not necessarily deserving of His blessing and assistance. And thus we are to approach Him in prayer with humility and sincere emotion, and ask that He compassionately treat us no less than the infertile sota, and grant us the assistance we need even if we are unworthy of it.