The magnificent system of harchakos is all the more pertinent for men, because without it, men would lack the self-control to stand up to the requirement to avoid having relations with their wives during the forbidden times. Yet these same harchakos need to be handled with great sensitivity by the husband, because this time can be quite difficult for one’s wife.
For a woman, all these small gestures which express closeness are most important. Because she is sensitive by essence, all of the seemingly small signs of affection are central and meaningful to her at all times. But because the man needs these fences, the woman is deprived at the time of separation of expressions of affection and closeness so important to her. This is where the need for our great sensitivity comes into play. We need to fill the lack in ways which are permitted by the halachah.
Our Sages are not telling us to stop relating to our wives at this time. They are not saying that we can’t continue to have a wholesome and happy relationship with our wives and to keep the mitzvah of v’ahavta l ’reiacha kamocha, love your friend as yourself. Sometimes, a man mistakenly thinks that because his wife is a niddah, he must not show any signs of feeling towards her. Then, this same man, who has virtually ceased relating to his wife while she is a niddah, cannot understand why she is so cold toward him when she becomes permitted, tahor. They were separate for almost two weeks, and now he can’t fathom why she is spurning his advances. He has just spent two weeks ignoring her and limiting his communication with her, reasoning that he must not show signs of closeness. This is an error because the mitzvah of u’mibesarcha al tisaleim, “do not ignore your own flesh,” is not canceled out at this time.
A husband is capable of giving his wife emotional support. A man should be capable of differentiating between expressions of closeness and expressions of care, concern, and feeling. The husband’s obligation to be close to his wife and to be a source of emotional support for her is a constant mitzvah. At all times, a woman should feel that she is the most important person in her husband’s life.
The halachos which deal with the time of separation are not designed to hamper the couple or put stumbling blocks in their path. This time must pass pleasantly and not be filled with tension or strife, G-d forbid. It is a time which should bring added closeness, albeit of a different kind, to the relationship between the couple and strengthen the bond between them. At no time is a husband released of his obligation to give emotional support to his wife and to observe v'ahavta l’reiacha kamocha, love your friend as yourself.
Our Sages teach us that the basis of the mitzvah of taharas hamishpachah is that the separation and reunion should become an enhancing factor in our marriages, cementing the relationship between husband and wife. If we don’t rise to the challenge of being sensitive to our wives when they are niddos, we are losing the major benefit we can gain from this mitzvah. On the other hand, if we approach this mitzvah with the right attitude, then it can, and will, be a major cementing element between ourselves and our wives and enhance the closeness necessary to help us build our mishkan me’at, our miniature sanctuary.
Adapted from “Two Halves Of A Whole” by Rabbi Yirmiyohu & Tehilla Abramov. Available at www.jewishfamily.org