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Family Purity: Inner Meanings

by Rabbi Emanuel Feldman

  

Library » Life Cycle » Marriage » Family Purity » The Benefits | Subscribe | What is RSS?


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The laws of Taharat Hamishpachah (Family Purity) are an integral part of our religious faith and stemming as they do from our Torah, are not always fully understood by our mortal minds. The Infinite, after all, is not readily comprehended by the finite. The believing Jew maintains the practices of his or her faith whether or not he understands their reasons. Nevertheless, Judaism does permit the asking of questions, and encourages us to attempt to plumb the profundities that lie within each and every Divine commandment.

One principal is crystal clear: Every single commandment is for our benefit; every single Mitzvah is good for us - not only spiritually, but physically as well. This is not the motivation for our performance of mitzvahs, of course. We perform them because they are Divine commandments, the will of G-d. The dietary laws, for example, are maintained as a Divine discipline, not because eating Kosher food is healthful and beneficial to our bodies, but because Kashrut is a Torah law. But the fact is that it is healthful and beneficial. Shabbat observance is designed to remind us of G-d as the Creator of the universe - but it is also good for us.

The Taharat Hamishpacha laws... are mysterious and strange on the surface, but they reflect a deep inner truth about the nature of men and women
The same holds true of the Taharat Hamishpachah laws. They are mysterious and strange on the surface, but they reflect a deep inner truth about the nature of men and women. For example, there seems to be some kind of congruence between nature itself and the woman. The woman's monthly cycle corresponds to the rhythms of the moon: is this coincidence? The moon's cycle is monthly, as is the woman's. The moon waxes, wanes diminishes, disappears and then reappears once again.

Is this an adumbration of the woman's own cycle from ovulation to menstruation? Is it a reflection of the woman's relationship with her husband - waxing with him and waning from him, uniting with him and then withdrawing from him upon the appearance of her internal blood; waiting for the flow of bleeding to cease, immersing herself in the pristine waters of creation and then returning to him again at the next phase?

Is there in this rhythm a hint of the secret and  hidden rhythms of the universe? What is there within the depths of the woman that reflects the cycles of the moon? Is it not strange and fascinating that, in effect, every woman seems to have her own personal moon phase?

We shall never know, of course, what lies beneath all this. In her fine book "The Voice of Sarah"*, Tamar Frankel notes several studies which suggest to her that the "woman's personal moon phase affects what we [women] are doing or how we are relating". Ovulation and menstruation, she suggests, are a scale drawing of the creativity of the universe (pp. 80-81).

On a practical, less mysterious level, the period of separation allows the woman's body a time to recoup and to rest. Emotionally, it preserves her basic freedom, and gives her the distance and physical solitude which she needs and welcomes. It enables her to withdraw a bit, to be private, to reach inward into her own self.

In additon, the time of abstinence underscores the idea that she is not always and invariably available to her husband. This helps prevent one of the common debilitating factors in marriage: the feeling that one is being taken for granted. By guaranteeing that the wife is not always available, the practices of Taharat Hamishpachah elevate the relationship to a different plateau.


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Mitzvah
(pl. Mitzvot). A commandment from G-d. Mitzvah also means a connection, for a Jew connects with G–d through fulfilling His commandments.
Shabbat
(pl: Shabbatot). Hebrew word meaning "rest." It is a Biblical commandment to sanctify and rest on Saturday, the seventh day of the week. This commemorates the fact that after creating the world in six days, G-d rested on the seventh.
Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Talmud
Usually referring to the Babylonian edition, it is a compilation of Rabbinic law, commentary and analysis compiled over a 600 year period (200 BCE - 427 CE). Talmudic verse serves as the bedrock of all classic and modern-day Torah-Jewish literature.
Kosher
Literally means "fit." Commonly used to describe foods which are permitted by Jewish dietary laws, but is also used to describe religious articles (such as a Torah scroll or Sukkah) which meet the requirements of Jewish law.
Kashrut
Laws of Kosher (Jewish dietary laws).
Sarah
First Jewess, first of the four Jewish Matriarchs, wife of Abraham--the first Jew. Lived in Mesopotamia, and then Canaan, in the 19th century BCE.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.
Family Purity
Laws relating to intimacy between husband and wife. The primary point of Family Purity is the woman's purifying immersion in a ritual bath which allows the couple to resume intimate relations after the woman's menstrual period.