In this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Eikev, we read:
וְֽאֶת־חַטַּאתְכֶ֞ם אֲשֶׁר־עֲשִׂיתֶ֣ם אֶת־הָעֵ֗גֶל לָקַחְתִּי֮ וָאֶשְׂרֹ֣ף אֹת֣וֹ ׀ בָּאֵשׁ֒ וָאֶכֹּ֨ת אֹת֤וֹ טָחוֹן֙ הֵיטֵ֔ב עַ֥ד אֲשֶׁר־דַּ֖ק לְעָפָ֑ר וָֽאַשְׁלִךְ֙ אֶת־עֲפָר֔וֹ אֶל־הַנַּ֖חַל הַיֹּרֵ֥ד מִן־הָהָֽר׃
Your mis-step which you did with the calf, I took it and I burned it in fire, and I struck it to fine powder until it was as thin as dust and I cast its dust into the stream which descends from the mountain.
Wait… There’s a stream on Mount Sinai? Cecil B. DeMille never showed us that! I literally have never noticed this verse before. I want to know more about this stream, so to the commentators I go… Nothing. Literally not a word. Well, almost not a word. Ramban says that the verse doesn’t mention the fact that Moshe made them drink the water because that would be, well, rude… I would expect someone to say something about this mysterious river! So I went back to the source, to Parashat Ki Tissa, where the story occurs. And there, on the verse which states Moshe sprinkled the ash on the water, Ibn Ezra says: “They are the waters of the stream which descend from the mountain…” A quote from this week’s Torah portion! He goes on to explain that this was the water from which the Jewish people were commanded to drink while at Sinai (as opposed to drinking from Miriam’s well…) and that the Kohen was commanded to take the dust from the floor of the Mishkan and put that in water (presumably taken from the same stream!) for the Sotah ritual.
So when Moshe takes the dust and makes the people drink it, he is testing their fidelity to God and seeing if they were truly idolatrous adulterers! Sure enough, so says the Gemara.
Amazing the things you discover when you open your eyes to something new!