In the Torah portion of Metzorah, we read about the bodily discharges which can render a man or woman tameh, ritually impure. One of these is the menstrual discharge which makes a woman a Niddah. This Torah portion discusses the tumah (ritual impurity) aspect of a Niddah (Levit. 15:19-33) while next week’s Torah portion (Acharei Mot-Kedoshim) discusses the sin of having relations with a Niddah (ibid 18:19) and its punishment karet (premature death by the Hands of Heaven) [ibid 50:18]. The laws relating to this topic are referred to as the laws of family purity.
This article will discuss some of the spiritual concepts underlying these laws, the importance of learning and reviewing them, and the spiritual benefits associated with the study and observance of this mitzvah.
A Sanctuary for Hashem
Our sages say that when a husband and wife live together harmoniously and according to the Torah, their home becomes a dwelling place for the Divine Presence, as the Talmud says (Sotah 17a), “If a man and woman merit, the Shechinah (Divine Presence) rests between them.” Rashi explains that the letter yud in the man’s name (איש) and the letter hei in the woman’s name (אשה) spell out G-d’s name (י-ה).
Letter of the Ramban
In a famous letter
, the Ramban (Nachamnides) cites many sources to prove that the relationship between a husband and wife has intense holiness when they behave in a holy and appropriate manner.
- Chochma, Binah, and Da’at
Kabbalisticly, the man represents the Divine attribute of Chochmah (wisdom) while the woman represents the Divine attribute of Binah (knowledge). As such, the connection of the two is referred to as Da’at (understanding), which is a blend of Chochmah and Binah. (See Gen. 4:1
and Samuel I 1;19
where the word da’at is used as a euphemism for the intimacy between a husband and wife.)
The Keruvim (angelic figures) in the Holy of Holies appeared to be embracing each other in a manner resembling the embrace of a man and woman. Since the Holy of Holies is the most sublime place in this world, there must be great spiritual significance and power in such an embrace (when done in a holy manner).
The Talmud (Kiddushin 30b
) says that there are three partners in the formation of a human being–the father, the mother, and G-d. The parents provide the physical matter which forms the baby while G-d provides the soul, as the verse says (Gen. 2:7
), “And He blew into his nostrils a breath of life.” And (Kohelet 12:7
) “The dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to G-d, Who gave it.” Since G-d is “personally” involved in the formation of a baby, the act which begins that formation must be a (potentially) holy and sanctified act.
This will help us understand why a husband and wife may not be intimate during a time of ritual impurity. Just as one may not enter the Beit HaMikdash (Holy Sanctuary) in a state of ritual impurity due to the presence of the Shechinah, so, too, a sanctified relationship must be done in a state of ritual purity (Rabbi Binyamin Forst in his introduction to The Laws of Niddah Artscroll/Mesorah 20212).
The Importance of Learning the Laws of Family Purity
Our great leaders encouraged young (married) people to study the laws of family purity to ensure that they keep these laws properly as well as to merit many blessings. Here are several quotes to this effect:
Meriting Good Children
The Peleh Yo’etz writes (entry Niddah):
“According to one’s caution in the matter of maintaining holiness in the time of Niddah, to that extent will one merit to bring a holy soul to the child (that is subsequently born).”
A Segulah for Children
The Lubavitcher Rebbe wrote (Likutei Sichot 27:193) that the lack of observance of the laws of family purity (often due to a lack of knowledge about these laws) can be the spiritual reason as to why a couple is not blessed with children.
Conversely, a couple who observe these laws will merit Divine blessings for strong and healthy children.
Correcting the Past and Healing the Child
In a letter to the parent of a child who was born with several health issues, the Lubavitcher Rebbe hinted that the parents’ lack of observance of the laws of family purity may have been a cause of their daughter’s poor health (ibid, page 192). He suggested that they take upon themselves to keep these laws properly and that they influence others to do the same. This can retroactively correct (at least somewhat) their previous lack of observance.
It is implied that this might, in turn, have a positive effect on their daughter’s situation.
Observing the laws of family purity (including proper separation during the time of Niddah, counting the seven clean days, and immersion in a kosher mikvah) will strengthen one’s shalom bayit, marital harmony (ibid, page 195). One who is unsure about any of these matters should discuss them with an expert Rav who will advise them as to all the relevant halachot.
The Importance of Review
Rabbi Yosef Yozpa Sofer
quoted his father the Chatam Sofer
that it is only possible to observe the laws of family purity if one learns and reviews these laws. Otherwise there is no doubt that one will transgress (quoted in the introduction to Piskei Chatam Sofer on Niddah).
Segulah to Save from Sin
The best segulah (spiritual protection) not to transgress the laws of Niddah is to learn and review these laws from the beginning until the end (Chatam Sofer in Sifra Rabbah DeYisrael, pg. 199).
A young man once asked the Klausenberger Rebbe how he could achieve atonement for an (inadvertent) sin in the matter of family purity. The Rebbe advised him to study two pages of Tractate Niddah with Tosfot and to review them every day until he knew them by heart. Following this, he should study five pages of Tractate Shavuot with the Rif and Rosh. Finally he should study the laws of Niddah in the Tur, Beit Yosef, and Shulchan Aruch until he is completely familiar with these halachot. This will both atone for his past sin and assist him never again to transgress in this matter, wittingly or unwittingly (Responsa Divrei Yatziv, Y.D. 66).
Studying the Laws of Vestot
In his last will and testament
, Rabbi Yaakov of Lisa
(1760 -1832, author of the Netivot HaMishpat) advised his descendants to study and review the laws of vestot (times that a couple must separate based on the dates of the woman’s expected period) as this is a complicated and somewhat overlooked area of halacha. He also advised that they study the laws relating to maintaining holiness during intimacy (O.C. 240) as this matter can have a great impact on the holiness of one’s children and can assist them to become great in Torah and mitzvot.
Exile Is Compared to Niddah
There are several verses in Tanach where the Jewish people in exile are compared to a woman who is a Niddah. See Yechezkel 36:17
. Thus the Midrash (Tanchumah [Buber] Metzora 17
) writes, “Therefore, the Holy One compares the uncleanness of the Jewish people to the uncleanness of the menstrual period, when a woman is unclean and then purified. “
What is the meaning of this comparison? During the time of the month when a woman is a Niddah, the couple may not be physically intimate, yet they may still be alone in the same house (Yichud) and certainly remain in a state of emotional closeness. Similarly, during the time of exile, the Jewish people do not have the physical presence of the Beit HaMikdash, but we remain deeply connected emotionally and committed to Hashem as He is towards us. In the words of the Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni on Nasso Remez 701
), “Beloved are the Jewish people that even when they are impure, the Shechinah dwells among them, as the verse says (Levit. 16:16
), ‘Who dwells among them in the midst of their impurities.’”
In fact, just as the couple’s love can be enhanced during the time of Niddah as they connect on a deeper emotional level, so, too, the Jewish people’s attachment to Hashem can grow stronger within the darkness of the exile. See Likutei Torah, Bamidbar 8:3
and in many other places.
And just as the Niddah state prepares the couple for an even deeper love, so, too, this exile is preparing us for the deepest expression of Hashem’s love, that is, the ultimate redemption with Moshiach. At that time we will be purified from any future impurity, as the prophet says (Yechezkel 36:25
), “And I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you will be clean; from all your impurities and from all your abominations I will cleanse you.”
May this take place speedily in our time!
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom Umevorach!