“Judaism views sexuality in marriage as an expression of the couple’s deeper spiritual bond. In the temporary absence of physical relations, a couple is encouraged to focus on and further develop those aspects of the marriage that underlie and give spiritual life to their sexual relationship.”
Our Bodies, Our Souls
Our previous class explored the power of mikvah – and the associated practice of family purity – to bring cohesiveness to a marriage and a sense of monthly renewal to the Jewish woman and her husband. Against today’s backdrop of sexual permissiveness, emotional frustration and relationship chaos, mikvah reminds us that love has spiritual underpinnings that are best cultivated with a measure of restraint and the other advantages mikvah offers.
Our current class further explores the benefits that result from the monthly phases of a couple’s physical separation and togetherness, following a woman’s immersion in the mikvah.
It seems appropriate that mikvah is a woman’s privilege, given mikvah’s association with the integrity of the household, and the fact that the woman is generally at the center of domestic life. Immersion presents the Jewish woman an opportunity to request God’s assistance in her efforts to muster the physical, spiritual and intellectual energy she needs in order to create a wholesome, prosperous environment for herself and others. Mikvah’s potential benefits include ongoing marital freshness. Today’s divorce rate hints at the problems that arise once the initial excitement of marriage wears off. The Talmud, as if in response to this transition in a marriage, comments that something perpetually available risks eventually losing its initial luster. Thus, over time the accessibility that a married man and woman have to one another may have a negative impact on their relationship. Torah sets forth mikvah as a panacea for this trouble. The period between a couple’s monthly separation and the woman’s mikvah night is approximately two weeks. Because of this regular hiatus, the Talmud tells us, husband and wife become a new bride and groom, again and again.
Another advantage of mikvah is that it teaches us the value of restraint. In a world that asks us to abandon control altogether, husband and wife in a Jewish marriage undergo a regular program of separation. This exercise in restraint becomes a learned response in the outside world, when temptations arise.
The physical separation associated with mikvah provides husband and wife a chance to focus on the individuality that Torah considers a prerequisite for a healthy marriage. The idea that husband and wife should challenge and inspire one another is a major force in the cohesiveness of the ideal Jewish relationship. This dynamic “oneness” that results from reuniting two halves of soul is the spiritual basis of Jewish marriage. The unique identity of each soul is to be further refined by the teamwork that marriage requires, rather than compromised by the challenges marriage presents.
Finally, mikvah provides an opportunity for heightened verbal communication, given that it limits the physical interaction that may from time to time replace substantial conversation. It is widely acknowledged that a couple’s ability to communicate has a lot to do with the success of their relationship. Given that effective communication is a learned skill, mikvah offers a couple free monthly practice sessions.
The deeper spiritual benefits of mikvah and family purity are beyond the scope of this class. In simple, effective terms one thing is clear: without serving a higher purpose, our physical intimacy remains just physical. Mikvah has the potential to enrich both the couple and the individuals who comprise the marital unit.
Text Copyright © 2004 by Mrs. Leah Kohn and Torah.org.