Last week we saw a danger of marriage; the physical and sexual component of the relationship can eclipse any other connection and leave a couple bound together through their bodies but their souls lag far behind. This creates an empty relationship that is doomed to failure.
The solution is to form a delicate balance between the physical and the spiritual sides of the relationship. The Torah and the halacha create this by giving a couple times to invest in the physical and other times when the physical connection is removed and the spiritual one takes the forefront.
During the stage of the month when a woman is niddah, which includes the time of menstruation and the seven subsequent “clean days” before going to the mikvah, a couple can have no physical relationship at all. We tend to think that this prohibition only refers to physical touching. However, anyone who has studied the laws of family purity knows that this restriction is much wider and includes many other laws other than just touching. Sometimes the question is asked as to why this simple injunction seems to be so confusing and include many activities that are not touching such as eating together or smelling perfume?
I believe that if we analyze physical relations and then examine the details of the laws of family purity we find a correlation. We perceive and interact with the physical world around us through stimuli that awaken our five senses; touch, sight, sound, taste and smell. It is through these senses that we appreciate and enjoy the physical world and all physical feeling passes through one or more of these senses.
Therefore, in order to sensitize us and enhance our spiritual relationship, we need to completely remove all physical stimulus and physical connections. We have to detach completely physically in order to invest time and effort in the spiritual side of our relationships. To do so, we need to neutralize the stimuli that we absorb through our senses.
The laws of separation during the time of niddah remove all connection through the five senses; we do not touch, nor do we come close to situations that may potentially purposely or accidentally end in touching. So, a couple will not only refrain from holding hands, but they will not hand an object from one to the other. We do not look or glimpse at areas of the other person’s body that are usually covered. Sight is a powerful stimulus, as the plethora of pornographic websites can attest to, and needs to be controlled. A husband should not listen to his wife singing during the time that she is niddah to remove the sense of sound. They need to designate a sign when they eat alone and not to eat from each other’s food as this is related to the sense of taste. It should also be stressed that nobody eats from another’s left over food unless they are very close to them, so this is symbol of the close physical relationship between husband and wife. A man should not smell his wife’s perfume during the time that she is niddah as this is related to the sense of smell. Studies have shown that when their husbands are away from home many women leave an item of his clothing close to her, such as leaving his pajamas in bed, since she gets pleasure from having his smell around.
An interesting question is whether a husband can help his wife while she is ill, for example, when she is giving birth. Many permit this saying that in this instance the husband ceases to be a husband and acts more like a doctor or medical personnel. However in his book “Gray Matter”, Rabbi Jachter brings the opinion of Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein that any touch between husband and wife has a level of affection. This is a beautiful concept that explains the strict nature of these laws.
More on this next week.