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Love, Marriage and Mikvah

by Rebbetzin Feige Twerski

  

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


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Before we discuss Jewish insights into the very private world of intimacy, we need to free ourselves of some non-Jewish notions about the topic.

The Western World, the culture we live in, has considerable difficulty with the concept of sexual intimacy. One indication is the culture's obsession with the subject. On highway billboards, in magazine ads, in best-selling novels, in almost every form of cultural expression from high art to low language, sexual innuendoes dominate the landscape.

It reminds me of that incisive quip made by Hamlet's mother, Gertrude: "The lady doth protest too much methinks". Rather than showing a free and easy approach to our relationships, this need to constantly mention the topic betrays a distinct dis-ease with it.

Some of this discomfort may be traced to the Christian roots of Western culture. Early Christianity identified sexual relations as original sin. Ironically, though the Western World has worked determinedly in the past century to free itself from every religously imposed moral and sexual retraint, it's been left with a souvenir from this early Christian view - the idea that sexuality is somehow dirty.

In Catholicism until this very day, holiness and sexuality don't mix. The pious people - the Pope, priests and nuns -  are forbidden from engaging in sexual relations. Though it's permitted for the non-clergy in order to propogate the species, intimacy is seen at its best as a concession to the flesh with no inherent holiness.

The sexual union is like a canvas in the control of the artists - husband and wife - and the spiritual message they produce can be meaningless, or it can be a masterpiece.
Like any other means, however, its use depends completely on the expression given to it by the individuals involved. The sexual union is like a canvas in the control of the artists - husband and wife - and the spiritual message they produce can be  meaningless, or it can be a masterpiece.

Classical Jewish sources describe sexuality as a mighty river. If harnessed, it can bring irrigation and magnificent energy to countless communities. If unharnessed and out of control, it brings floods and destruction.

At its highest use - in a Jewish marriage lived according to Jewish law - the sexual union brings holiness into the world, as it bonds husband and wife together, spiritually, physically and emotionally.

Closeness between a husband and wife is not just a nice thing, but rather, it is the recreation on a physical plane of a deeper spiritual reality. According to Jewish thought, a husband and wife were originally one soul before birth, split into two halves when the older of the two was conceived. When they reunite in marriage, their bond is unique becuase it represents the recreation of a single entity, of one soul.

In describing marriage the Jewish Bible, our Torah, writes: Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother and cleave to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.1 Yet this oneness that is the central goal of a Jewish marriage is not easy to achieve. By marriage age, these two half-souls belong to two quite distinct individuals who grew up with separate histories, separate experiences, separate likes and dislikes.

Fortunately, marriage itself provides abundant tools to overcome these superimposed differences and establish on the physical plane the same oneness that exists on a spiritual plane.

Perhaps the most powerful of the tools that foster oneness in marriage is sexual intimacy. All the wonderful feelings a couple has in a relationship culminate in the sexual intimacy between husband and wife.

If G-d gave intimacy this extraordinary power, it makes sense that G-d would give us guidelines - a medium - to use to its maximum potential. Indeed, that's the case. We call this medium: Mikvah.

Footnotes

  • 1. Genesis 2:24.

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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.
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.
Yom Kippur
Day of Atonement. This late-autumn high-holiday is the holiest day of the year. We devote this day to repentance and all healthy adults are required to fast.
Mikvah
A ritual bath where one immerses to become spiritually pure. After her menstrual cycle, a woman must immerse in the Mikvah before resuming marital relations.
Genesis
The first book of the Five Books of Moses. It records the story of Creation and its aftermath, and chronicles the lives of the Patriarchs.
Jerusalem
Established by King David to be the eternal capital of Israel. Both Temples were built there, and the third Temple will be situated there when the Messiah comes.
Leviticus
The third of the Five Books of Moses. This book deals with the service (of the Levite Tribe) in the Tabernacle, and contains many of the 613 commandments.
Temple
1. Usually a reference to the Holy Temple which was/will be situated in Jerusalem. 1st Temple was built in 825 BCE and was destroyed in 423 BCE. The 2nd Temple was built in 350 BCE and was destroyed in 70 CE. The 3rd Temple will be built by the Messiah. 2. A synagogue.
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.