Most years Metzora is read on the same week as Tazria. In a leap year we are afforded the opportunity to read each separately. Last week we discussed the disease called tzara’at and it’s primary cause, which is lashon hara (evil speech). The root of lashon hara is a lack of humility. When we view ourselves as somehow being better than others, we give ourselves permission to speak about what we perceive as their flaws and shortcomings. NEWS FLASH! We all have flaws and shortcomings. ALL of us! If we didn’t, we would not be alive today. We are all here on this planet to complete a tikkun (rectification), which always involves overcoming our individual flaws and shortcomings. The problem is that it is relatively easy for us to identify other people’s flaws, but we are all too often blind to our own.
Before we move on to this week’s topic, I want us to consider one more thing about the disease tzara’at. No where are we ever told that tzara’at is contagious. The metzora is not quarantined for fear of others contracting his or her disease. The isolation is a middah keneged middah response to their sin. When we belittle other people with our words, we are creating an emotional separation and a barrier between us and our victim, and potentially between our victim and others who hear our words. The midrash to Bereishis 12:17 informs us that Hashem struck Pharaoh with tzara’at when he took Sarah from Abraham. Why tzara’at? Again, Hashem always metes out punishment, middah keneged middah. Pharaoh was punished not for what he intended to do with Sarah, but for causing a separation between a husband and wife.
So, that brings us to this week’s topic: Separation between a husband and a wife. In the example above, Pharaoh caused the separation between spouses, and Hashem didn’t appreciate it! And yet, in this week’s sidra we read that there is another form of separation between a husband and wife that is not only very healthy for their relationship, but commanded! Let’s talk about family purity, and separation during niddah.
“When a woman has a discharge, her discharge being blood from her body, she shall remain in her impurity seven days; whoever touches her shall be unclean until evening. Anything that she lies on during her impurity shall be unclean; and anything that she sits on shall be unclean. Anyone who touches her bedding shall wash his clothes, bathe in water, and remain unclean until evening; and anyone who touches an object on which she has sat shall wash his clothes, bathe in water and remain unclean until evening. And if a man lies with her, her impurity is communicated to him; he shall be unclean seven days, and any bedding on which he lies shall become unclean.” (Vayiqra 15: 19-24)
There is no wisdom that is greater than Hashem’s! And He would never give us any commandment that is not beneficial. Every single commandment either positively helps us or saves us from harm. We can trust that every commandment serves a purpose and is for our own good. Spiritual impurity involves a force that is harmful to our soul, but the nature of the harm is beyond our understanding. Our knowledge of our soul is very limited. Without Hashem’s guidance we would have no idea how to protect our soul from harm or what to do if it should suffer harm.
So, ladies, can we have a very adult conversation about sexuality and the marriage relationship? When Hashem tells a woman to separate from her husband for a period of time each month, while she is niddah, there has to be a benefit to such separation. Our wise sages reveal one of the major benefits is that she is more beloved to her husband when the separation ends. Sexual boredom and the loss of passion between a husband and wife have disastrous effects on a marriage. Rabbi Trugman (Orchard of Delight), explains that the monthly cycle of closeness and separation does wonders for rekindling the love and passion in a marriage, on a monthly basis.
“Human sexuality, like many other things in life, can be related to in either a positive or negative manner. When understood properly and experienced within the holy context of marriage, Judaism views the sexual act as one of the highest spiritual orders.” (R’ A. A.Trugman, Orchard of Delight on Metzora)
R’ Trugman goes on to explain that the mystics teach that the most appropriate time for marital relationships is on shabbat. Because of the energy that is released and the power of sexuality on the human body, it is best released at a time when it is likely to be with the noblest of intentions. “When sexuality is awakened within the context of holiness, we are able to channel it to the highest levels of goodness, pleasure and intimacy within the marriage relationship”.
“The Bible is the oldest but still the wisest guide to sex ever written. People pick up the Bible for many different reasons, but rarely, if ever, as a sex manual. This is their mistake.” (Heavenly Sex, Sexuality in the Jewish Tradition, Dr. Ruth Westheimer and Jonathan Mark)
Think about this: sex can be one of the greatest pleasures known to humans, and through sex we are given the possibility of creating life. Sexuality and the sexual drive were designed by our Creator. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach in his book, “Kosher Lust – Love is not the Answer”, tells us that there are three principals involved in lust:
He explains that when a couple are together night after night, with sex apparently available whenever the couple wants, somehow, more often than not, they don’t both seem to want! He goes on to explain that mystery is essential because curiosity is the soul of life. The only word the Bible uses to describe sex is “yediah” (knowledge). R’ Shmuley explains that Western sexuality is in a state of crisis:
“Western sexuality is not based on knowledge. It is not based on seeking to know someone. We treat sex as a hormonal process – we’re not looking to experience someone in the deepest possible way. We’re rather looking to vent our hormonal buildup so that we can have peace.”
Somehow, society has come to view the discomfort of longing to be too unsettling. So, in an effort to “purge the urge” or “scratch the itch”, sex ends up being a means to feed the hunger within, not a means to “know” another. As R’ Shmuley puts it:
“Sex is not a destination, where you are rushing to the finish line.”
Further, desire is magnified by the forbidden. The very fact that something is off-limits, usually makes it more enticing.
“Stolen water is sweet” (Mishlei 9:17)
R’ Shmuley’s point is that there is too much focus on love and not enough on (holy) lust. And although love might be the stability in a marriage, if there is no constant undercurrent of lust, too often boredom sets in.
“We have been deeply socialized to believe that lust is a base chemical attraction that will inevitably fade with time.” (R’ Shmuley Boteach)
In light of all of this, as we read that Hashem has placed restrictions on the marriage relationship during niddah, I believe He agrees with R’ Shmuley. Shalom Bayit (literally, “peace of the home) is of the utmost importance to Hashem. Knowing that He doesn’t ask us to do things that have negative results, we are assured that the separation of niddah is beneficial for a marriage relationship. He gave no leniency in the laws of niddah, which tell us that the separation during niddah can ultimately lead to long-term shalom bayit. Remember, spiritual damage results from ignoring Hashem’s commandments, even if we don’t understand how it all works.
Sex and sexuality might be a difficult subject for many to discuss, but we were created as sexual creatures, and we need to understand how best to harness our sexuality. The world is replete with crimes of passion and sexuality. Sexual frustration, confusion and misused sexuality destroy marriages and lives far too often. Sexual immorality, particularly adultery, is cited in tractate Yoma as one of the three reasons for the destruction of the first temple. (The 3 being: murder, idolatry and sexual sin).
The Bible and the Talmud are not shy about the subject of sexuality, which indicates just how important this subject is. We live in a society of hedonism, sexual freedom and self-gratification. But, as Shlomo haMelech said: “There is nothing new under the sun”. One thing we definitely learn from reading the Torah, is that sexual misconduct has always been a problem. If only we could see the value in doing things Hashem’s way, maybe we could save ourselves a lot of heartache!
Sexual modesty and family purity are among the primary religious obligations we have as women. By dressing, speaking and behaving modestly we can reduce sexual temptation; and by adhering to the separation of niddah, we can keep the spark of “holy lust” kindled in our marriage relationships. Hashem wants His people to distance themselves from all impurity, unpleasantness and damage. That is why He gave us the instructions about proper conduct, including separation during niddah.
I pray each of you are blessed with shalom bayit!
Be blessed and be a blessing,