After a lively discussion yesterday with members of the Twitter JewCrew about Mikvah, Taharat HaMishpacha and its personal significance, I was asked if the Kallah Classes I had taken before my recent marriage made a difference in how I saw the mitzvah of Mikvah and how I view the mitzvah of Taharat HaMishpacha. My answer was way too long to be squeezed into 140 characters, so I promised to blog it.
Firstly from Kallah Magazine – “What are Kallah classes? Kallah classes are given one on one or in a small group to teach Jewish brides the laws of Taharas Hamishpacha (Family Purity) including laws concerning preparation for and immersion in the mikvah, laws of Niddah, Jewish views on topics concerning intimacy and Shalom Bayis.”
(Men are also supposed to learn the laws with a revered Rabbi).
Secondly, let’s define Niddah – A woman is said to be a Niddah when she is menstruating, or has menstruated without yet completing the associated ritual requirements. Childbirth also renders a woman Niddah.
My first go around with kallah classes was when I was 20 and getting married for the first time. From what I remember from that long ago the one on one class was more of an instruction manual, how to go the mikvah and when, when you can touch your husband, when you can’t. I do not remember being given any hashkafah (religious philosophy) at all about the significance of the mitzvah. It was a how-to class. Nothing more.
This time around, even though initially I resisted the request by the rabbi to take classes again, it was a different story. I told the rabbi that I had been married for 12 years, been to the mikvah over 100 times, knew the laws inside and out, what more could I possibly learn. How wrong I was! Yes I knew the basics, but I needed the hashkafah big time!
It was precisely the fact that we didn’t have to dwell on the minutiae of the laws for too long because of my familiarity with them, that we were able to focus on the spirituality of the mitzvah, of the holiness of the marital bond. I was able to take my experiences from my first marriage, learn from them and use that toward strengthening my experience with this marriage.
It helped that my teacher is an awesome woman. A woman who has been married to her husband for well over 20 years, someone whose face glowed every time she talked about him. I wanted that. I wanted to still love my husband and talk about him like that 20 years from now. Teach me, I said, teach me to still look at him the same way after all that time.
There were many things that we discussed that are not appropriate for me to air in this public forum, but I will say that our talks opened my eyes and gave me a perspective that I cherish now, and will cherish forever.
Let me just give one example. We talked about the importance of the Harchakot. What are the Harchakot? Distancing behaviours observed when a women is Niddah and forbidden sexually to her husband. In my view I had thought these practices ridiculous. Why would passing a plate directly to my husband turn him on? Or fixing his collar? Holding his hand as we walk down the street – where is the harm in that? It isn’t sexual. Why are we punishing the woman for having her period?
The way this awesome teacher explained it to me that it isn’t about forbidding all these things because the woman is “impure”. It is about keeping these things special for a time when the couple can be together in all ways. Its purpose is to prevent simple touches from being mundane and boring. The purpose is to make every physical interaction between the couple very special.
Put it this way. You kiss your husband goodbye every morning when he goes to work. And every evening when he comes home. Every day it’s the same. After a while the feeling isn’t special any more. When you haven’t kissed him in 12 days, trust me, that goodbye kiss in the morning is more powerful than anything.
The minimum amount of time that a woman is Niddah / spiritually impure is usually 12 days. After those 12 days she goes to the mikvah to immerse herself and purify her body and soul. It is not about being dirty and getting clean, as in fact a woman has to be squeaky clean before she immerses. It’s about washing away the previous month, and being renewed for a new month.
When a couple has not been together sexually in that time, the anticipation of mikvah night is huge. A husband will be told by his wife when she plans on immersing. It’s a reunion that is so beautiful and so precious and so right and so very private. It would not be that way if there had been no physical separation for a certain period of time. It’s like a honeymoon all over again.
It isn’t easy. No one will lie to you and say that it is. No one will tell you that you are not allowed to spend time alone together either. You just have to be aware of your limits. We are all human, and we hopefully want to be with our spouses in every possible way – but the rewards of observing these laws are huge. Marriage is about intimacy which isn’t just sex. It’s about being in the moment with someone you love. It’s about sharing your personal physical and emotional space. The Niddah period gives a couple time to work on their emotional connection.
To be honest with you all, I learned about a whole different side of marriage with my Kallah teacher. She taught me how to appreciate the Harchakot, and how to make the most of my marriage in many ways. I doubt that I would have been able to learn all of that if her own marital bliss had not been evident and if I would not have felt comfortable discussing all aspects of a marriage with her. Maybe because I was previously married I had a level of comfort speaking about these things.
Taharat HaMishpacha, Niddah, Mikvah – many young people think it is all about sex. It is not. The purpose of these mitzvoth are to enhance one’s marriage and to keep that marital bond strong and sacred.