1) WHICH WOMAN WANTS TO MAKE HERSELF A SOTAH?
QUESTION: The Gemara cites three explanations for the verse, "v'Niksah v'Nizre'ah Zara" (Bamidbar 5:28). Rebbi Shimon ben Elazar explains that the verse teaches that an Aylonis does not drink the Mei Sotah because she is not fit to bear children. Rebbi Akiva explains that if the woman was childless (Akarah) until now, she will be blessed and have children. Rebbi Yishmael challenges Rebbi Akiva's view and asks that if the verse promises the blessing of children for every childless woman who drinks the Mei Sotah and emerges innocent, then all unscrupulous, childless women will seclude themselves with other men after Kinuy in order to have children and they will benefit from their sin, while an upright and G-d-fearing Akarah will suffer as a result of her virtuousness! Rather, Rebbi Yishmael explains that the verse teaches that if the woman gave birth in pain in the past, then she will give birth easily, or if she gave birth to ugly children in the past, she will give birth to handsome children.
Rebbi Yishmael's explanation, however, does not answer the very question which he posed on Rebbi Akiva's explanation. Unscrupulous women who gave birth in pain will seclude themselves after Kinuy in order to garner the blessing of an easy birth, while the G-d-fearing woman who gave birth in pain will suffer because of her virtuousness! (TOSFOS DH Amar Lo)
(a) The MAHARSHA in Berachos (31b) answers that a woman would voluntarily make herself a Sotah only out of extreme desperation, since the process of a Sotah involves undergoing terrible torment and disgrace before meriting the blessing of "v'Niksah v'Nizre'ah Zara." A woman would consider making herself a Sotah only if she stands to gain a very significant benefit -- such as having children when she is childless -- which would outweigh the torment and disgrace of the Sotah process. She would not undergo such an ordeal simply to be able to bear children with less pain during childbirth.
The TZELACH (Berachos 31b) and the HAFLA'AH (Kuntrus Acharon 115:11; Panim Yafos, Parshas Naso) add that by making herself a Sotah, the woman risks losing her husband entirely since he might decide not to bring her to drink the Mei Sotah but to divorce her instead. A woman would not risk losing her husband merely to gain the blessing of an easy birth. If, however, she is an Akarah, she stands to lose her husband anyway, since the Torah entitles the husband to divorce his wife after ten years of childlessness. Since she risks nothing, she will make herself a Sotah in order to gain the blessing of having children.
(b) The BEN YEHOYADA answers that a painful birth is not necessarily brought about by the physiological condition of the woman, and the tendency to give birth to ugly or to feminine children is not necessarily dependent on her physical state. A woman would not consider undergoing the ordeal of a Sotah in order to prevent the possibility that she will have pain, or an ugly child, during her next birth. However, a childless woman knows that she will not have children because of her physiological condition, and thus she is willing to take the drastic action of making herself a Sotah.
RAV ELAZAR MOSHE HA'LEVI HOROWITZ adds that when Rebbi Yishmael states that if a woman gave birth in pain she will give birth with ease, he does not refer to past births. Rather, he refers to future births. He means that if the woman was destined to have a birth that is painful, drinking the Mei Sotah (and emerging innocent of sin) will change her destiny and she will give birth with ease. Since no woman knows her future, she will not make herself a Sotah.
This may be the intention of TOSFOS as well when he asks his question specifically from the case of the women who have painful births. Why does Tosfos not ask from the other cases which Rebbi Yishmael mentions -- women who give birth to feminine children or to ugly children? Those women, too, will want to seclude themselves and undergo the procedure of a Sotah in order to change the way they give birth! (See MINCHAS KENA'OS.) According to the Ben Yehoyada's approach, the answer is clear: a woman knows that her past births have no bearing on her next birth; her next birth might be an attractive child, or a masculine child. Tosfos asks only from the case of women who have painful births, because sometimes painful births are dependent on a woman's physical nature (see Bava Basra 16b, Yevamos 65b). Such a woman would want to become a Sotah in order to cure herself, according to Rebbi Yishmael.
(See also MAHARATZ CHAYOS, EINI SHMUEL, and YOSEF DA'AS.)
2) GIVING THE "MEI SOTAH" TO THE WIFE OF A "SERIS"
QUESTION: The Mishnah states that the wife of a Seris drinks the Mei Sotah. The Gemara asks that this is obvious; why should she not be able to drink the Mei Sotah? The Gemara answers that one might have thought that she does not meet the requirement of the verse, "Mibal'adei Ishech" (Bamidbar 5:20), which implies that the Sotah's husband must be able to have relations in order for the Sotah to drink the Mei Sotah. Therefore, the Mishnah teaches that the wife of a Seris does drink the Mei Sotah.
RASHI addresses the obvious question on the Gemara. Why indeed does the wife of a Seris drink the Mei Sotah? Why is she not excluded from the laws of Sotah because of the verse the Gemara cites, "Mibal'adei Ishech," which implies that her husband must be fit to have relations in order for the laws of Sotah to apply?
Rashi explains that the verse does not teach that the husband must be fit to have relations, but rather it teaches that the Shechivas ha'Ba'al must precede the Shechivas ha'Bo'el. Rashi adds that a Seris does satisfy the requirement that the Sotah's husband be fit for relations; he just is unable to make her pregnant.
Rashi continues and says that the Mishnah must be referring to a "Seris Chamah" who was born a Seris, because if the husband would be a "Seris Adam" (who was made into a Seris after he was born), he would not be permitted to remain married to his wife and she would not be able to drink the Mei Sotah (like a woman married to a Mamzer).
Apparently, Rashi adds this explanation in order to refute another possible interpretation of the Mishnah. One might have thought that there is another case in which a Seris fulfills the requirement that the Shechivas ha'Ba'al precede the Shechivas ha'Bo'el: the husband was not a Seris at the time he became married, and later he became a Seris Adam. Rashi rejects this explanation because in such a case the wife of the Seris would not be able to drink the Mei Sotah because she is prohibited to remain married to him.
However, Rashi himself on the Mishnah (24a, DH Eshes Seris) gives the very explanation which here he rejects. Rashi there explains that the Mishnah refers to a Seris who became a Seris after he married his wife, and that is how the Shechivas ha'Ba'al preceded the Shechivas ha'Bo'el. How are the words of Rashi to be reconciled?
Moreover, according to Rashi on the Mishnah, what is the Chidush of the case of "Eshes Seris"? If the husband became a Seris after the marriage, the Gemara's question remains: it is obvious that the wife of the Seris should drink the Mei Sotah because the requirement that the Shechivas ha'Ba'al precede the Shechivas ha'Bo'el was fulfilled, and the husband was fit to have children at that time.
Finally, how does Rashi on the Mishnah answer the question he poses here on the Gemara, that the wife of a Seris Adam should not drink the Mei Sotah because she is prohibited to remain married to him?
(a) The MISHNEH L'MELECH (Hilchos Sotah 2:6, DH v'Eshes Seris) answers that Rashi on the Mishnah explains the Mishnah according to the way the Gemara initially understands the Mishnah, before it asks that this Halachah is obvious. Only after the Gemara asks that this Halachah is obvious does the Gemara interpret the Mishnah as referring to a person who was always a Seris, and that the Seris nevertheless is considered a "Bar Shechivah" (able to have relations).
The Mishneh l'Melech does not answer the third question posed above, that the wife of a Seris Adam should be prohibited to him and should not be able to drink the Mei Sotah.
Also, if Rashi understands that the Gemara's answer is that a Seris is a "Bar Shechivah," why does Rashi need to add here that the verse of "Mibal'adei Ishech" teaches the requirement that the husband's Shechivah must precede the adulterer's, and not that the husband must be fit for Shechivah? Rashi should write that the verse "Mibal'adei Ishech" teaches that the husband must be fit for Shechivah but that the Seris is fit for Shechivah (RASHASH).
(b) The RASHASH suggests that Rashi here actually presents two independent approaches to understanding the Gemara. When, in the beginning of his comments, Rashi writes that the verse teaches that the Shechivas ha'Ba'al must precede the Shechivas ha'Bo'el, Rashi understands that the husband became a Seris later (as Rashi on the Mishnah explains). In the end of his comments, Rashi gives an alternate explanation (and the words "Iy Nami" should be inserted into Rashi's text) and eventually rejects his first explanation (because of the question that the wife will be prohibited to her husband and thus will not be able to drink the Mei Sotah).
The TOSFOS HA'ROSH takes a similar approach. He writes that Rashi actually changed his mind, and that our text of Rashi is a combination of two different explanations: Rashi's original explanation, and Rashi's conclusion in which he rejects his original explanation. Rashi on the Mishnah, and the first part of Rashi here, follow Rashi's original explanation.
The ME'IRI also cites these as two distinct explanations.
According to Rashi on the Mishnah, who says that the husband became a Seris later, one might have thought that the husband must be a "Bar Shechivah" not only before the Setirah but even at the time of the Setirah. The Mishnah teaches that it suffices if he was a "Bar Shechivah" before the Setirah and his Shechivas ha'Ba'al preceded the Shechivas ha'Bo'el.
How does Rashi on the Mishnah justify the fact that the wife of a Seris is permitted to her husband and may drink the Mei Sotah? The Rishonim suggest a number of answers.
1. The ME'IRI explains that the Seris mentioned in the Mishnah may refer to a man who became a Seris later in life at the hands of Hash-m ("b'Yedei Shamayim") and not due to any act of man (or disease). The Me'iri apparently refers to the Gemara in Yevamos (75b) which says that a man who became a Petzu'a Daka b'Yedei Shamayim is permitted to remain married to his wife. Rashi explains there that this refers to a man whose organs withered out of fright from hearing a sudden, terrifying loud noise.
2. The Me'iri suggests further that the Mishnah may refer to a Seris who is married to a Giyores (convert) or a Meshuchreres (freed maidservant) who is permitted to remain married to him. (However, the Mishnah in Eduyos 5:6 cites a Machlokes Tana'im whether a Giyores may drink the Mei Sotah.)
3. TOSFOS (DH Eshes) implies that the Mishnah may refer to a Seris who lost the ability to have children by drinking a sterilizing potion (see Tosfos to 24a, DH she'Einah). Since no physical damage was done to his organs, he is permitted to remain married to his wife. (However, the Mishnah usually refers to such a person as an "Akar" (or "Akarah") and not as a "Seris.")