In a marriage guided by the Torah, the sympathy between a man and a woman should steadily increase throughout their marriage. As they come to know each other better, they grow together on a personal level, meeting life’s challenges together, sharing and giving to each other. Ever-increasing closeness and mutual admiration must also find expression in the private areas of their joint lives, constantly strengthening in intensity. Although this area is not the exclusive basis of the bond between the couple, they both realize its central importance in bringing them constantly closer. As the Netziv MeVolozhin writes, ”Hadeveikah tikarvam liheyos echad — Their intimacy shall bring them closer to becoming one” (Ha’amek Davar, Berez'shis 2).
On the other hand, we see in the non-Torah world a great concern with the boredom that sets in as the marriage progresses, which ruins the relationship between them. This is loudly attested to by the high divorce rates, the hesitancy by many to get married, and the preoccupation with the problems of married life growing stale and insignificant in the eyes of so many people. Recent figures published by the British government show that the average duration of a marriage in 1990 in Western culture was nine-and-a-half years (Professor Richard Whitefield, chairman of the National Campaign for Family in Britain).
Some years ago, an area of research developed to attempt to better understand society’s role, as a whole, in the failure of the institution of marriage. A school of thought emerged which pointed out that there is great difficulty in maintaining a long-term, healthy, wholesome relationship for both sides. The conclusion of the researchers was that in marriage there is an overfamiliarity which breeds contempt.
The Gemara (Niddah 31b) explains the apparent reason for the laws of taharas hamishpachah, family purity: a man should not become overly familiar with his wife and therefore detest her, “ragil ba vekatz ba.” Although the mitzvah of taharas hamishpachah falls into the category of a chok — a mitzvah which defies human understanding and which we follow purely to observe G-d’s will — our Sages offer us an insight into the reason for this mitzvah which we can comprehend.
People often make the mistake of viewing the separation at the time when the woman is a niddah as merely a burden of self-control. It is clear from the Gemara, however, that one of the reasons for the separation is for the reunion which takes place after the separation. The Gemara says that the reason for the separation is that “a woman should be as beloved to her husband [after her immersion in the mikveh] as she was at the time of their wedding” (Niddah 31b). It is clear that the Torah does not command this separation for the sake of the separation. Rather, we separate in order to revitalize the bond between us. And by means of the separation the reunion will be more amiable and desirable than ever.
Inherent in the time of separation is a strict adherence to a set of laws known as the harchakos, the limits which govern the relationship between husband and wife during the time that the wife is a niddah. Strict adherence to these laws is the secret to success. With their thorough and penetrating understanding of human nature, our Sages established the harchakos in order to prevent situations of physical tension at this time of separation. Our Sages forbade any action which could eventually lead to closeness, and these harchakos must, therefore, be observed meticulously.
Included in these restrictions are any physical contact whatsoever; the passing or throwing of objects to one another; eating from the same utensils, etc. (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah 195). These harchakos are referred to by the Gemara (Sanhedrin 37a) as a hedge of roses (Shir HaShirim 7:3). This hedge or fence of roses serves as a protective border to prevent us from transgressing Torah prohibitions. Our Sages knew with their pure wisdom that a man would be under great tension during the forbidden times if not for the institution of these harchakos. They understood the nature of man on a deep level and knew that without these fences it would be nearly impossible for him to live in the same room with his wife.
The observance of taharas hamishpachah is one of the preconditions to ensure a correct relationship between a man and his eizer kenegdo. Marriage requires periods of separation in order to give vitality and renewal to the marital bond. Our Sages are teaching us that the separation at the time of niddah increases the connection between man and wife. This separation is not required in any other relationship. Parents and children — and brothers and sisters — do not require a separation in order to strengthen their relationship. This is a unique characteristic of the marriage bond, and a key to its vibrancy. The observance of this mitzvah, therefore, carries with it a fringe benefit. It ensures that a marriage maintains its freshness and luster. Torah-observant Jews should never experience stagnation in marriage. Rather, with the progression of a marriage, there should be an ever-increasing bond.
Adapted from “Two Halves Of A Whole” by Rabbi Yirmiyohu & Tehilla Abramov. Available at www.jewishfamily.org