The Mishna on our daf describes what the Sages refer to as middah ke-neged middah: “measure for measure”, meaning that a person receives what he deserves. The Mishna applies this specifically to the case of sota, indicating that the various punishments and degradation that the sota receives are all directly connected to her behavior and the activities in which she participated.
In the Gemara, Rav Yosef teaches that the concept of middah ke-neged middah remains in force even though we no longer carry out biblically mandated punishments. For example, the four methods of capital punishment that are applied by the Torah to different capital crimes can only be carried out on the basis of a decision made by the Sanhedrin, and since the destruction of the Temple, the Sanhedrin no longer sits in judgment. Nevertheless, Rav Yosef argues, people who commit criminal acts that would call for one of the four methods of capital punishment receive them in other ways:
- Someone liable for sekilah (stoning) would either fall off a building – which is similar to the way stoning is carried out – or be killed by a wild animal, which would tear apart his limbs.
- Someone liable for sereifah (death by burning) would either be killed in a fire or bitten by a poisonous snake.
- Someone liable for hereg (decapitation – death by sword) will either be condemned by the local authorities and killed or will find his death at the hand of robbers
- Someone liable for henek (strangulation) will either drown or die of seronekhi (diphtheria).
Most of the examples offered by Rav Yosef can be easily understood as serving as substitutes for the punishments mandated by the Torah. In the case of sereifah, the parallel between death by burning and a snake bite can be understood by recognizing that snakes produce different types of poison. The snakes that live in Israel – which are mainly a variety of viper – produce a type of venom that creates a sense of intense heat throughout the body, which is similar to a feeling of being burnt by fire.