Distancing that Brings Nearer

The laws of niddah afford us the opportunity to give the sadness and crisis in married life their appropriate place * Out of the sadness and distancing, husband and wife reunite with greater love, and thus the fire that keeps marriage alive is guarded * In older age, love between a couple deepens and intensifies, to the point where they no longer need distancing to maintain it * When the complete tikkun arrives, we will no longer need  distancing to maintain intimacy, and love will be renewed even without the impurity of niddah

Every mitzvah has a loftier side of chok Eloki (Divine law) beyond our attainment, and a side that is close to our grasp that can be explained. Each mitzvah should be fulfilled with intent and connection to both sides – to the Divine law that connects man to what is beyond his reach, and to the understandable taamim (reasons) that give uplifting meaning to all our actions.

Observing the laws of taharat ha’mishpacha (family purity) is one of the challenges facing every Jewish man and woman, and the greater the challenge, the greater the blessing that results from keeping the laws. I will begin this time with the general idea and with God’s help, next time I will discuss the takkanah (legislative enactment) of shiva niki’im (“seven clean days”).

Indeed, it is a miracle how so many people manage to keep the laws of family purity. In connection to this, the Talmud (Sanhedrin 37a) relates that a Christian priest once asked Rabbi Kahana: You maintain that a husband is permitted to be secluded in a private area with his wife while she is niddah (menstruating) — “can fire be near chaff without scorching it?!” Could it be that normal, healthy people overcome their drives and not sin?! He replied: “The Torah testifies this of us: ‘Set about with lilies’ — even through a hedge of lilies they make no breach.” In other words, the mitzvot of the Torah and the siyagim (“fences”) of distancing set for them by our Sages, which are like a soft fence of lilies, prevent a husband and wife from transgressing.

Taamei Ha’Mitzvot (The “flavors” of the Mitzvot)

The root of the mitzvot are in the heights of the exalted, Supreme Hiddenness, in the rayon haEloki (Divine idea) beyond our attainment, and therefore we can never understand their full meaning. However, we do know that Hashem gave us all the mitzvot to sanctify us, and to add goodness and blessing to our lives, as the Torah says: “God commanded us to keep all these rules, so that we would remain in awe of God for all time, so that we would survive, even as we are today” (Deuteronomy 6:24). In addition, although we cannot know why Hashem gave them to us, we see the blessed effect of the mitzvot, and consequently, we are able to find in them taamim (‘flavors’, or reasons) and meanings.

In other words, in every mitzvah there is a loftier side of chok Eloki beyond our grasp, and there is a side that is nearer to our comprehension which can be explained, and every mitzvah should be fulfilled with intent and an attachment to these two sides – the Divine law that connects man beyond what he is able to attain, and to the understandable reasons that give uplifting meaning to all our actions. These two sides complement each other. Owing to the chok beyond comprehension, we are always open to understanding more and more meanings, and through understanding the meaning, we merit enlightenment from the Eternal World, to our actual, everyday lives.

The Mitzvot of Tahara

In general, tahara is associated with life, and tumah is associated with death. The more developed life is, the more death there is in its loss, and consequently, the tumah is more severe. Therefore in man, the most developed form of life – the tumah of his death is the most severe – avi avot (literally, ‘the grandfather of impurity’, in other words, the highest level of impurity). A less severe degree is tumat nevelah (the body of a land animal that died without ritual slaughter) or sheretz (the dead body of a swarming animal) which are av ha’tumah (the father of impurity). Plants are a less developed stage of life, therefore there is no tumah in plants that have wilted and died, but if a person made tools or clothes out of a plant, or grew fruits and vegetables from the plant, they can receive tumah. The inanimate is on a lesser developed level, and therefore generally does not receive tumah, however if it was processed and pottery or iron tools were made from them, they receive tumah. The womb is the source of life and tahara of all human beings, and conversely, it is the source of tumahTumat niddah (the impurity of a menstruant woman) is when the egg that could have developed into a fetus was not fertilized, was lost and died, and came out in menstrual bleeding along with the uterine lining that was intended to help create life.

The Foundation of Tumah is in Sin

Death and tumah, including the impurity of niddah, appeared in the world because of the sin of the Adam HaRishon (first man), who expressed the sin of the earth and Shevirat ha’Kelim (the Breaking of the Vessels) that preceded him (see, Eruvin 100b). In other words, because of the sin, the world was shattered, and consequently, along with the joy of all the good in the world, sorrow and sadness accompany everything, and there is no joy without crises and pain. A person who ignores the pain will fall, and his grief and pain will increase. Therefore, human awareness of the pain and sorrow that accompanies life is the key to igniting the process by which they can gradually repair the fracture, until ultimately they reach a higher level than they were at first, since the spiritual level of baalei teshuva (penitents) is even higher than that of tzaddikim gemurim (the wholly righteous) (Berachot 34b).

The Challenge of Love in Marriage

The fall that occurred to the world following sin also impaired a husband and wife’s ability to express their love unrestrictedly and maintain its vitality so that it does not fade and die. That is why so many couples divorce or are left without love.

The physical expression of the crisis and sadness that accompanies life and love is the blood of niddah, and ultimately, death. By observing the laws of niddah, the sadness and shortcomings that accompany our lives receive their correct place and we learn to deal with them, thus giving room for love to gradually grow and develop.

Distancing to Maintain Intimacy

In a similar way, Rabbi Meir explained: “Why did the Torah ordain that the uncleanness of menstruation should continue for seven days? Because being in constant contact with his wife a husband might develop a loathing towards her. The Torah, therefore, ordained: Let her be unclean for seven days in order that she shall be beloved by her husband as at the time of her first entry into the bridal chamber” (Niddah 31b). During the days of niddah impurity, a husband and wife are forbidden to touch each other and even hugging and touching through clothing is forbidden. This poses a huge challenge, because the grief of distancing is great, the longings increase day by day, and the couple is tormented by their love that cannot be expressed physically. At the same time, however, their love becomes refined, expectation grows, until the night of tevilah (immersion in a mikveh), when they are once again united in love and joy that transcends boundaries.

It seems that any honest person would agree that regular periods of distancing are the most successful way to keep the fire of love between a couple from burning out. Yet, without the commandment of the Torah, no man has the power to stand up to this difficult task.

The Refining of Virtues

In addition to this, along with the longings that renew love, during the days of distancing a couple are able to realize all the positive things they receive from one another during the days of purity, and not take it for granted, as is the way of thankless people. Consequently, they will be more attentive, generous, and benevolent to each other.

Since the sin of Adam Rishon, based on envy and lack of gratitude, is the prototype of all sins, the punishment for it is designed to correct these midot (virtues). As our Sages said, that after the serpent tempted Chava to eat of the forbidden fruit, she thought she would die, and said “Woe is me! I shall now die, and the Holy One, blessed be He, will make another woman and give her to Adam, but behold, I will cause him to eat with me; if we shall die, we shall both die, and if we shall live, we shall both live” (Pirkei DeRabbi Eliezer 13). Since she was jealous that Adam not be with another woman, she was punished by having to distance herself from her husband during the days of her niddah and ziva (see, Rabbeinu Bechayeh, Vayikra 15: 28).

Man also sinned in that he was ungrateful and did not thank Hashem for his wife, saying: “The woman that you gave to be with me – she gave me what I ate from the tree” (Genesis 3:12) (Avodah Zara 5b), for if he had been grateful to Hashem for the good, he would have been happy in his lot, and would not have been tempted to eat from the Tree of Knowledge (see, Peninei Halakha: Brachot 1:1), but since he sinned in lack of gratitude, succumbed and ate, his punishment was to distance himself from his wife during the days of her niddah and ziva.

Thus, together with man and woman’s good midot, bad qualities accompany them that need correction, and the time of distancing during the days of niddah refines them to be more generous and thankful of one another.

Until the Days of Peace of Mind

Thus, from month to month, the days of distancing refine, strengthen, and intensify the love between a couple, until the time they progress to middle age when menstruation ceases, and their love becomes internally deeper and more morally binding, and along with the decrease in physical desire, they no longer need the impurity of niddah to intensify the bond between them.

The golden days of old age combine good and bad – peace of mind, along with the loss of vitality. Together with the cessation of the days of impurity that imposed upon them a sort of “exile” each month, no new life will be born of them either. Although, by virtue of the power of life already born from them, grandparents are able to continue to nurture and accompany the life that carries on through their sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters.

As for couples who do not have children, our Sages of kabbalah explained, that if their marital relationship is filled with love and joy, they merit affecting blessing and good for the entire world, similar to Abraham and Sarah who brought about blessing during their barren years, in the sense of “the souls they made in Haran” (see, Peninei Halakha: Simchat HaBayit U’Birchato 8:5-8). While young, their beneficial spiritual influence is refined and intensified through the cycle of issur and heter (prohibition and permission), and once it is sufficiently established, they can continue affecting the world for good and blessing, without the need of distancing.

The Complete Tikkun (Correction)

 In the future, with the completion of the tikkun, when we learn to ascend from one level to the next, and reveal in the Torah and in our souls, endless new meanings, life will intensify, there will no longer be a need for crises as a lever for growth, and the curse of death and its impurity will be removed from us, as our Sages said: “‘Blessed are You Hashem… who releases the imprisoned’… There is no greater issur than niddah – that a woman sees blood, and HaKadosh Baruch Hu forbade her to her husband, but in the future, He releases her, as stated: “And I will remove the prophets (false prophets) and the spirit of tumah from the land” (Zechariah 13: 2), and there is no tumah other than niddah, as written: ‘Do not come close to a woman be’nidat tumah’tah (who is ritually unclean) (Midrash Shocher Tov, Psalms 146; Alsheich ibid., similarly explains). Also, in Midrash Tanchuma (Metzora 9): “Rabbi Levy said… women did not see menstruation in the desert, because the Divine Presence was among them.” Moreover, the women accepted the Torah first, as stated, ‘Thus shall you say to the House of Jacob,’ these are the women, and only after that, “and declare to the sons of Israel,” (Exodus 19:3) – these are the men… The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Israel, “In this world you became clean but returned to uncleanness; but in the world to come I Myself will cleanse you so that you shall not ever become unclean,” as stated, “I will sprinkle pure water upon you, and you shall be pure; I will purify you from all your uncleanness’s and from all your idols” (Ezekiel 36:25). (See, Peninei Halakha: Zemanim 1: 15-16, regarding the lunar cycle as likened to Knesset Yisrael, which is connected to the sin of the Moon, and the future tikkun).

A foretaste of this happens during the days of pregnancy and nursing where, through the intensification of life created by the couple, their love also obtains deep meaning that intensifies without the distancing.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.

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