You are married, or intensely committed to a vision, a goal, a dream. You are devoted to this goal because you know it will make the world a better place. You believe that regardless of the effort, this vision will ultimately make your life more fulfilling, more altruistic, loftier.

Then along comes life, and with it, the ups and downs, the challenges and the obstacles.

At some point you find that you have swerved from your path, strayed from your values. It might have been restlessness or boredom with the monotony of the day-to-day minutiae. Or perhaps it was a spirit of impulsiveness, a rebellion against the curves that life has thrown you.

Maybe you can be blamed for losing your vision and forgoing your ideals. Or maybe you couldn’t ever have been expected to rise higher.

Whatever the case, you wake up one morning to the realization that you have changed. You are no longer leading the life that you had always believed you would. You have strayed from your moral vision. You have betrayed your dream.

You may ask yourself: Is there a path of return? Do I want to take it? Are the costs too high? Is it worth the effort? If I do change paths now, what will be the end result? Will I ever fully succeed?

Common wisdom, laced with its jaded cynicism, says there’s no turning back the clock. Move on with life, leave your childish idealism behind, and face the reality of adulthood. Life is not a bed of roses. The path of sacrifice is not where you will find fulfillment. And anyway, once you have already veered off the path, it can never be the same. It’s simply too late.

Torah wisdom, of course, asserts the opposite.

The ishah sotah is the “wayward wife” who is suspected of adultery.

Moralists see the story of the ishah sotah as expressing the sanctity and holiness of marriage in Judaism.

Others see G‑d’s willingness to erase His holy name for the sake of marital harmony as an indication of the importance of peace between man and wife and among mankind in general.

Kabbalists see the story as a cosmic metaphor of the “marriage” between G‑d and the “wayward” Jewish people, who are tested and eventually exonerated through the “bitter waters” of exile.

But perhaps we can also see, in the story of the sotah, a promising lesson for each of us in the personal sojourns of our lives.

“Speak to the children of Israel and say to them: Should any man’s wife go astray and deal treacherously with him, and a man lie with her carnally, but it was hidden from her husband’s eyes, but she was secluded [with the suspected adulterer] and there was no witness against her . . .” (Numbers 5:12–13)

The ishah sotah is labeled a wayward wife because she has “strayed,” deviated from the prescribed moral road, even if she has not been implicated in actual adultery. Her husband has warned her in the presence of witnesses not to seclude herself with her suspected lover. She has disregarded this warning.

At this point, the husband or the wife can decide to terminate the marriage, without any admittance of guilt. Neither the husband nor the wife can be forced to have the test of the bitter waters. (Sotah 6a) Furthermore, the “bitter waters” test will not work if the husband has been unfaithful or had sinned in the laws of sexual purity at any point in time. (Sotah 47b, Yevamot 58a)

But should they wish to resume their marriage, the suspecting husband brings his wife to the Holy Temple, where the kohen enacts the ceremony of the bitter waters. The husband then brings an offering for his wife, making it clear that he wishes to continue the marriage should his wife be vindicated.

The offering consists of unsifted, coarse barley flour, the commonest grain, without the oil or incense that accompanies other grain offerings. It is a question here of simple existence, whether the marriage will or will not continue. An animal food—barley—is brought to signify the wife’s questionable moral standing: even if her guilt has not reached the point of actual adultery, she has veered from the path and followed her animalistic instincts.

The kohen shall take holy water in an earthen vessel; and some earth from the floor of the Mishkan, the kohen shall take and put into the water. Then the kohen shall stand the woman up before the L‑rd, and uncover the [hair on the] head of the woman . . .

This uncovering of her hair is against the propriety of the married Jewish woman, just as the ishah sotah has gone against the moral standards of modesty. From this verse is derived (Ketubot 72a) that it is improper for a married woman to be seen publicly with her hair uncovered.

He shall then give the bitter, curse-bearing waters to the woman to drink, and the curse-bearing waters shall enter her to become bitter. (Numbers 5:17–18, 24)

Relevant passages from the Torah were written on a scroll and dissolved in the “curse-bearing waters.” The name of G‑d appeared in these passages, and in the process it would be erased. If the woman was guilty of actual adultery, the waters would cause her an accursed death. The man with whom the ishah sotah committed adultery would have the same consequences of an accursed death at the time when she drank these waters. (Sotah 28a)

If she was not found guilty, she would be blessed with offspring, and her marriage would enjoy a newfound commitment and happiness. If she had been childless until now, she became fruitful; if her pregnancies were difficult, they now became easy; and so on. (Sotah 26a)

Since the ishah sotah had strayed from the proper path—even if she had not actually committed adultery— I have always wondered, why was she blessed so abundantly?

But perhaps this is the crux of the lesson for each of us.

Because in truth, the ishah sotah, like each of us struggling with the vicissitudes of our lives, has never really entirely strayed. We are still “married” to our ideals and vision, since they are so much a part of our soul. We simply need to be reunited with our true, inner self.

Like the ishah sotah on her path of exoneration and return, this takes effort. It takes strength of character. It might involve humiliation or sacrifice. But if our resolve is firm, if we persevere in what we know is true and right, ultimately we will succeed.

G‑d stands at our side. Once we have demonstrated our commitment, He will defend us, even allowing His own name and honor to be “erased” while assisting us in our endeavor.

Moreover, not only will we succeed at realigning our life to what it was originally, but our commitment and the fruits of our commitment will be more productive and more blessed, leading to greater yields and to a more mature relationship with ourselves and with our world.

Because we haven’t just returned to what we were. We have grown through the process.

True growth is not about only persevering on one straight path. Only after tasting of the bitter waters of life, only after struggling and stumbling and standing up against the darker forces, do we become a greater, more courageous, and enriched human being.

Only after straying and then rebounding are we driven with a stronger yearning for inner unity and divine life. Only after experiencing the darkness of life’s night and the desolation of its winters do we attain an even more intense and meaningful bond with G‑d.

The lesson of the ishah sotah to each of us, man or woman, is that though our path may be a difficult and twisted one, when we victoriously face down the wearying struggles and tempting choices, we emerge as greater individuals, and as a redeemed people, in a redeemed world.