Mikveh, Relationships, and Using Man’s Desires to Serve the Creator
Articles that begin with discussions about mikveh’s (ritual baths) are usually written from a feminine perspective, and for good reason. It’s a mitzvah carried out by women (along with Shabbos candles, challah, and other mitzvahs which are incumbent on both men and women). Actually, many (male) Chassidim go to the mikveh every day, to maintain a state of purity. For this article, we’re talking about the mikveh as a tool for intimacy, but the author being a man, it’s from the male perspective.
What is the Mitzvah of Mikveh for Women?
Skip to 1:30 in this video for one of the best explanation of exactly what it is. (The first minute and a half … is a bit too cutesy for me.) Timed to a married women’s menstrual cycle, after bleeding stops, a women counts seven clean days. This comes straight out of Vayikra (15:19): “And if a woman have an issue, and her issue in her flesh be blood, she shall be in her impurity seven days; and whosoever touches her shall be unclean until the evening.” – Vayikra 15:19
There are actually Rabbis (and more recently, women who study the subject in depth) who specialize in questions over ensuring we’re doing this right, but suffice to say, Torah observant Jews take it very seriously. Intimacy is timed around the woman’s schedule, so much so that a woman has a right to demand it, while a man has no such right.
Why Put Yourself Through This?
The catalyst for posting this article before others was actually a comment on another blog:
Why bother to go? Why let rabbi’s dictate when you have sex, and then be surprised that mikva ladies are not happy enough with your naked body?! – Source
Whoa. Holy lack-of-education batman. It’s quite easy to mock something, but as the saying goes, “don’t knock it, until you try it.”
First, we don’t believe the Torah is from man – we believe it’s life’s instruction book for how to get the most pleasure. As R’Noach Weinberg is famous for teaching, the opposite of pleasure is not pain . . . it’s comfort. it’s very “comfortable” to say, hey, let’s be intimate whenever we feel like it. Problem is . . . people desire more and more. It never steps. If you have $100, you want $200. If you have $200, you want $400. You will never have enough, because the more you amass, the more you are unfulfilled, and the more you want. Buddhism and Jainism, and more discretely, Hinduism, in a nutshell, say “exit from the path of desire” and stop desiring anything. That will be your fulfillment. Judaism doesn’t say that – Judaism is all about channeling desires for pleasure.
What is Meaning?
If you want “comfort” there are plenty of ways to get it, but it’s not meaningful. It takes hard work to obtain pleasure. Intimacy is one of the greatest physical and spiritual pleasures. Les Miserables, the musical, states it quite well in the last line: “To love another person is to see the face of G_d.” We are here to have a relationship with the Creator. Each relationship teaches us an aspect of our relationship with the Creator. We don’t have a law to honor our parents because we have parents, rather, we have parents to fulfill the mitzvah of honoring them. Likewise, we don’t believe the Rabbi’s, or some guy or collective writing the Torah told us to separate from our wives until they are clean, but rather, that we have wives so we can carry out the mitzvah of separating. It is a divine system.
Kodesh, holiness, is separating from that which is unholy. The separation brings meaning to the holy. it’s discussed more here, but by separating, that desire to always have more is reset. What begins to become a physical desire, lacking in meaning, and lacking in pleasure, becomes wonderful again. You can use intimacy to have a one night fling, and even do that over and over . . . you will satisfy your desire, then grow your desires, and want more and more. But it won’t make you fulfilled. Rather, the ultimate way to use it is for pleasure – channeling it into a life-time relationship to “see the face of G_d”, periodically resetting your desires, approaching it fresh, and new. Instead of being the person with $200 desiring $400, you’ll be the person with no money who jumps to $200, or maybe even $400. It’s just worth that much more.
Why do I need G_d to do this?
In theory, you don’t. In reality, you do. I’ve heard, but never seen a source, that Torah observant marriage counselors proposed the concept of having secular Jews in Israel teach the laws of niddah (the separation, followed by mikveh and intimacy . The reason behind this is that it helps so much for a marriage. What become old and stale, and trails off, becomes renewed each month. According to the story, the secular marriage counselors agreed it would help, but said they’d never be able to get any secular Jews to implement it.
If you don’t believe it’s commanded by G_d, when you and your spouse, in your own house, as two consenting adults try to implement this, what will stop you from “cheating”? In the immediate future, the upside is intimacy but the cheating is really taking away from your own pleasure, which comes from long term hard work. Obtaining comfort is easy, but obtaining pleasure is difficult. We have to work hard for it, and to control our physical desires to such an extent behind closed doors with our spouse (who we’re hopefully in a loving relationship with) would be quite difficult or impossible for most healthy individuals.
That being said, even if you don’t believe the Torah is from G_d, and even if you’re not Jewish, it’s still worth a try!
Limited to Marriage
Concluding the above discussion, this principle of intimacy to find ultimate pleasure by channeling our desires for a physical relationship with our spouse in order to relate to the Creator, has lots of other results. The principle is why Jews who are trying to follow the Torah maintain social and religious separation of the sexes, and touch people of the opposite sex only if they are close relatives or our spouses. This is, for obvious reasons, a place where people often fail in one way or the other (hopefully for more ‘minor’ problems) and have to pick themselves back up again. Still, there are lots of ways we keep the boundaries in order to reserve intimacy for where it is most pleasurable, and use it as a tool to come closer to another and the Creator, while shunning and distancing ourselves from it’s use for destructive or unhealthy purposes.
As is often the case, amongst different sectors of Torah observant Jews, this varies in degree around the edges, but the core is the same. Here are some examples: a) women, and to a lesser extent, men, dress modestly, not exposing large areas of flesh or even tight outlines of areas of the more stimulating secondary sexual characteristics, b) we avoid looking at same unless it’s our spouse’s, c) men do not have even appropriately modesty dressed women in sight when talking to the creator [praying], d) upon reaching a certain age, boys and girls are largely separated from those of the other sex, other than relatives, until seeking a spouse, e) we do not even stay alone with a person of the opposite sex, even if we’re already married.
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Loved this, well written and informative.