Drinking Away Issues

In Naso, this week’s Torah portion we read about the case of the Sotah. In the case in which a husband was suspicious of his wife’s fidelity the Torah outlines a process for determining her guilt. Evidently asking her was not a possibility.  If she was unfaithful the potion would do her in, and the other possibility was that she was innocent and he was just jealous and insecure . There we read:

Speak to the Israelite people and say to them: If any man’s wife has gone astray and broken faith with him in that a man has had carnal relations with her unbeknown to her husband, and she keeps secret the fact that she has defiled herself without being forced, and there is no witness against her— but a fit of jealousy comes over him and he is wrought up about the wife who has defiled herself; or if a fit of jealousy comes over one and he is wrought up about his wife although she has not defiled herself— the man shall bring his wife to the priest. And he shall bring as an offering for her one-tenth of an ephah of barley flour. No oil shall be poured upon it and no frankincense shall be laid on it, for it is a meal offering of jealousy, a meal offering of remembrance which recalls wrongdoing. ( Numbers 5:12-15 )

While it clearly speaks to a patriarchal society, it also speaks to a society in which men and women do not know how to communicate. The most striking element of the Sotah is the use of this magical potion. While imaging a world with this potion that has an impact on interpersonal relations seems so distant, I have to ask if this is so different from our society?

I was thinking about this in the context of the impact of another potionhas on relationships. It is reported that of married couples who get into physical altercations, some 60-70 percent abuse alcohol.  As the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence discusses, the following are some of the ways in which problem drinking affects family members, employers, colleagues, fellow students, and others:

  • Neglect of important duties: Alcohol impairs one’s cognitive functions and physical capabilities, and this, at some point, will likely result in neglect of responsibilities associated with work, home life, and/or school.
  • Needing time to nurse hangovers: Alcohol has various short-term side effects, such as hangovers. The physical state of a hangover may be temporary, but it can significantly disrupt a person’s ability to meet commitments as well as invite unhealthy behaviors, such as poor eating and a lack of exercise.
  • Encountering legal problems: Drinking can increase a person’s likelihood of getting into fights, displaying disorderly conduct in public, driving under the influence, and becoming involved in domestic disputes or violence.
  • The inability to stop at will: Alcohol is an addictive substance and can lead to physical dependence. Although a person who is physically dependent (i.e., has an increased tolerance among other side effects) is not necessarily addicted, ongoing drinking is a slippery slope that can lead to addiction.

While in the story of the Sotah from our Torah portion the potion seems to cure the problems the couple is having, for us alcohol seems to cause or at least be associated with many of our biggest problems. Throughout history it would seem so much better if we could just talk about our issues instead of trying to drink them away.

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