From all that we have seen over the past few weeks, it becomes clear that a husband and wife enjoy a special and unique relationship. While we have intimate connections with others around us, the relationship between a married couple is exceptional and distinct from all other relationships. We have close connections with our parents, siblings and sometimes with special friends. These relationships may be on a deep level and even have a physical element, but they are unlike the relationship between husband and wife which is both intimate and sexual. This changes the entire relationship and even in non-sexual situations the sexual element exists between husband and wife and binds the couple together.
This is a wonderful reality but it can destroy the relationship since the danger is that the relationship between husband and wife will become purely physical and sexual and that the intimate connection between them will be eclipsed by the physical. We sometimes see couples, who had a good relationship, lose the connection when the sexual element starts to become less important and even non-existent. Such couples either divorce or continue to be married in what are called “silent divorces”. This is when there really is no deep connection between the couple because it never existed in the first place and was only based on a physical attraction and a sexual connection.
Other marriages suffer from the opposite extreme; the physical element is missing and the couple are best friends but are not lovers. The sexual component of their marriage is absent or has withered but they remain connected on a spiritual level.
The Torah recognizes both of these traps and potential shortcomings of marriage; familiarity breeds boredom and we less appreciate what we take for granted. In order to create a perfect marriage, or as near perfect as possible, we need to maintain a delicate balance between a spiritual and a physical relationship; a spiritual connection in order to bind together two souls and enough of the physical to preserve the excitement that this holds. When this is upheld the physical part becomes a natural extension of the spiritual side, and the sexual component does not impinge on the deep soul connection.
This balance can be achieved through observing the laws of family purity during which the couple has time when they invest in the physical side of the relationship and has other times when the physical element is completely removed and the couple has to communicate and relate without relying on the physical connection. This is a challenge but the benefit is that the couple builds a relationship that is well rounded and seeks perfection – a time to be physical and a time to be spiritual.
This was already suggested by the Talmud in the name of the scholar Rabbi Meir who asked why do we have a period of separation at the time of menstruation and only resume physical relations after the woman has been through a process of purification that ends with her immersion in the mikvah? He answers, “in order that she would be beloved in his eyes like on their wedding night.”
The wedding night represents a pinnacle of love of the couple which has been platonic up until that point and now finds its expression in the physical consummation of the marriage. After the period of physical absence, the married couple has invested in a spiritual relationship and now find the opportunity to translate that love into a physical resumption of their relationship. The balance has been maintained and their love is enhanced; it can never slump into being purely physical, nor can they ignore the importance of sexual relations. There is no complacence and nothing can be taken for granted. We need to work on our relationships, both physically and emotionally, spending part of our time on the spiritual and another part on the physical.
More on this next week.