Revelations of Rachel

Revelations of Rachel

With all of America reading books by the experts on topics ranging from "How to Keep a Happy Parakeet" to "Total, Unequaled, Ecstatic Fulfillment in Sex and/or Marriage", as Jews we can get caught up in this popular syndrome.

Wandering from total sexual expression to the asceticism of Eastern "paths", the Jew is impelled to continue to search for the "right attitude". Most of us fall somewhere in the middle of the extremes - most American Jews are married or divorced but are still living within the traditional framework of marriage, children and family.

Advice from experts seems to soothe the wounds or tries to rationalize the break up of familes and help those involved adjust. The Jewish way of life as explained to us by our Sages and the Torah gives firm bedrock of advice and behavior patterns to the searching Jews to prevent situations of split and disillusioned families.

The number of individuals and families that have started using the laws of the Torah to guide their intimate relationships is growing steadily. Today's Rabbis and observant communities are experiencing resurgence in the number of women using the local Mikvaot on a regular basis.  

For different families, this resurgence has different reasons and meanings. For some women, this mitzvah of immersion in the mikvah may be a way of marking herself as a Jewish woman and may be the only mitzvah observed in the family. More often the acceptance of the relationship the mikvah gives to the couple comes with a general re-awakening of Jewish commitment on the part of the family; coinciding with Shabbat observance, keeping kosher and other mitzvaot.

"Rachel", a woman from Los Angeles, who has become a Baalas Teshuvah (one who returns to Jewish observance), talked about how the laws of intimacy and the observance of mikvah that she is now keeping, have affected her life.

Rachel, working in the field of public relations, had a marriage of several years standing when she began to be involved with the Chassidic philosophy and way of life.

As she and her husband experience the change in their relationship a lot of things happened that she did not expect!

Hinda:

How do you feel the Torah laws of intimacy and mikvah have affected your marriage?

Rachel:

I think that the mikvah laws are the most brilliant possible system for keeping a relationship between two people alive and exciting through all the ups and downs, which are inevitable in married life. It just seems so obvious to me now, that if there is an external structure which limits the amount of time two people are intimate with each other, it will make the time they do have together more precious.

Masters and Johnson, the most famous of all sex counselors, separate couples who come to them and forbid intercourse during the first part of their therapy partly as a means of reducing tension, but also in order to re-establish (hopefully) the passions and excitement which were there at the beginnning of the relationship which have subsequently been lost in the course of sex becoming too available and too demanding.

Jews have known this truth since the Torah was given, over 3,320 years ago!

But, I must say, when I first heard about the laws of mikvah, I was aghast. What? Surrender my ideas about sex? You mean I can't always decide how and when and with whom!! I was indignant. I did not want to give up control over that area of my life. Anyway, the laws sounded terribly puritanical and obsolete. And of course, I felt I was 'above' needing them.

But there was an instance of "try it, you'll like it!" While I first dreaded being "Niddah" (two week separation period) for fear I'd fall apart for lack of physical contact, I found that I almost didn't want it to end! I experienced a sense of inner strength, of self-respect and autonomy in the relationship which I had never felt before!

The laws of Family Purity are meant to give the woman a special status. It forces the man to see her not as a sexual object, as someone who is there to satisfy him and his needs, but as a person in her own right. it's also a time when the tension about "when" and "if" don't exist and since a couple's desire for sex is often not the same, this has an equalizing effect on the relationship. It also breaks up the routines which couples tend to get into and which are so devastating in a relationship.   

Most important, I think, is the constant reminder that no matter how smart we think we are, these laws, dealing with our most private life, remind us that we must be guided by something higher than our own minds and hearts on certain matters. We live in an era of "if it feels right, do it."

What kind of an attitude is that! You can rationalize anything that way and people are certainly doing just that. The beautiful part of being Niddah is that parts of each other's personalities become revealed that never could before.

I never had to really find out what my husband was like inside about certain issues and vice versa, because at times we "solved" things in the bedroom instead of the living room. In other words,  talking it out becomes crucial and fundamental. Once things are cleared emotionally - that's the beginning of relating on the more spiritual level that Torah requests of a couple in their intimate life.

There are times where it's hard and it's a discipline that is demanding. But each time I go through my doubts, I find if I take the time to really understand my own ups and downs about my commitment to mikvah, I find out more about myself as a spiritual and psychological being. What is my resentment all about? Very often not the things that seem apparent at first glance.

I've also got such good feelings and results in my marriage through keeping these laws that just empirically, experientially, I could never go back to our previous way of relating.

Hinda:

Most women are aware that in the monthly cycle the time of ovulation is generally 14 days before the onset of the next period. Knowing this,what are your feelings about the fact that mikvah observance, for some women, can increase the chances of conception?

Rachel:

I know that without becoming Orthodox, I probably wouldn't have decided to have more children. When we had my daughter six years ago, I did go through feelings of isolation and other changes, even though I loved her and felt all the maternal feelings. I was really into my career and "self improvement" courses.

I was too selfish to give up so much of my time and effort to another child.

Like most women in today's "modern" world, I began to see kids as a drag to my freedom, as noisy, messy, demanding and manipulative. Now my attitudes and values have changed completely. I welcome the chance to give. I put my family first now and see the inconveniences of a child as minor in comparison to the realization that this is perhaps the greatest mitzvah of all.

Although I always thought my creativity had to take on form in writing or speaking, communicating information of "significance", I never realized that what I was "creating" was really in the final analysis, transitory events which affected or impressed people, but which certainly weren't the monumental contributions to society that my ego wanted me to believe them to be.

Giving love, creating a warm, stable home where your children experience G-dliness, direction in life, feels self-worth and actualization as a spiritual being through the family rituals of Shabbat, davening...this has come to mean much more to me. The fun that I have with my children that centers around Judaism reaches deep into my sense of fulfillment.

Even objectively, this society is so concerned with the psychological problems that people have because of a lack of love. Nothing can replace the home and the nurture and love we receive there. A happy home? It's becoming an endangered species.

I still work. I like it. I get satisfaction from it, but it's less of a total self-definition, less of a career to which my energies are unswervingly dedicated to. Right now, while my children are young, they come first. I don't think mothers of  today feel compelled to stay home to be good mothers. 

When my baby was small and I went back to work part-time, it was important to me that I had the BEST childcare and I also continued nursing. The ingenuity and planning I put into my career made me realize if I looked at my home relationships as being even more crucial and significant, that I could certainly handle the multiple responsibilities.

I'm glad that the laws of Family Purity helped me make up my mind about children, because I certainly was swayed by Zero Population Growth talk and the anti-child bias of our society today.

I used to know a lot of people who thought they were very spiritual, but when it came to being with kids or making a commitment to a mate, they couldn't handle it.

Hinda:

You've mentioned the spiritual dimensions that these laws have brought into your relationship. Could you tell us a little bit more about how you would define this "spirituality"? 

Rachel:

To me, the relationship between a man and wife tell more about their spirituality than any one single thing about them. We really do manifest our G-dliness in our relationship to those closest to us. If we're inconsiderate, irresponsible and vindictive to our mates, then that says more about our relationship to G-d than anything else. You can fake piety in the synagogue, but you sure can't fake it at home, which is where it really counts.

I am not naive. I realize that the laws of Family Purity can't change a person's nature, or make someone more loving and kind. But the laws certainly set the groundwork for mutual respect, which is undoubtedly the most important aspect in marriage in my opinion. I've seen couples that claim to be very much in love...when they're in love! When they are not "in love" they can say and do anything to each other.

What is spirituality all about? Torah asks us to look at our relationship with each other, husband, wife, friends, neighbors, etc. as a clear barometer of where we are in relationship with G-d.

I think that in general, the Torah way of life fosters an unselfish attitutde in people - that is if it is practiced as it should be, not mechanically like a burdensome chore. The most important thing in marriage is to have the attitude of "what can I give", and not "what can I get".   

A Torah observant Jew is trained in this kind of mentality from the earliest years; you can't even take a bite of food without 'giving' a bracha (blessing) of thanks to G-d. You are always giving of your time, your money and your effort to do mitzvot. Giving of oneself is the best preparation for marriage.

If you're on the take, you're going to be constantly disappointed in life and in people. But if you always feel that there's so much more and more to give, then life is joyous and being with people means having the opportunity to give, even if it's "only" lending an ear, which maybe is the most important gift of all.

In our marriage, I feel like we've started all over again and I see that my husband and I are so much less selfish. We are grateful to each other sometimes just for the opportunity to feel the beauty of a Jewish marriage, something that almost transcends us personally.

Hinda:

With couples setting out in marriage knowing that they only have a 50% chance of survival, maybe even less in California, what could you say about the bond that has been created between you and your husband through Torah?

Rachel:

A shared goal in life makes it so much easier to have a stable relationship that is not torn apart by every little frustration or disappointment. Obviously, not all Orthodox people have wonderful marriages.

We're all here on earth to work on ourselves, to learn constantly to be more humble, more giving, more disciplined and loving. But if a man and wife are sincerely devoted to Torah then chances are great that they will take seriously the business of continuous self-improvement and will practice an attitude of forgiveness and compassion.

It's a lot easier to overlook some irritating trait in the other person, if your ideals and goals are the same. Before, I'd make an issue of every little irritation, now I realize that we're both serving G-d in whatever way we're able and that's enough.

As smart as I was, I was deluded into thinking that what the books call 'romantic love' was going to take care of all my problems. I was going to fall passionately in love with someone and that would be it. Boy! What nonsense. Well, that lasts until the first fight and then what have you got?

I have my insecurities, and sometimes I would panic when things didn't go the way I wanted, imagining all sorts of bleak scenarios. But I sure wasn't helped by the fact that I couldn't trust myself. I mean, I didn't know if I'd fall 'romantically in love' with someone else tomorrow.

It was hard for me to create stability and order. In the beginnning of marriage, after the illusory romance becomes a little tempered with reality,  time schedules, etc., a lot of the fantasies have to go. I know we both have fantasies about the type of person we might have married. We did a lot of "if only you had such and such a trait, things would be much better".

Now I see that he's doing what he's supposed to do as a man and I'm doing as a woman and it makes us respect each other greatly and keeps us happy with what we have. As long as my husband is sharing Torah with me, what more could I ask?

I'm grateful that through studying Torah he has become a more sensitive and thoughtful person. Marriage as a life commitment is not so remote and strange. There's no Prince Charming out there who could put me on Cloud 9. Even when I'm on Cloud 9 with my husband, it would all be meaningless without our common goals.

To get back to mikvah, that's the basics for me. When the Talmud says that it makes you feel like a bride and bridegroom, it's really true. You always keep the feelings of anticipation. If each married couple could imagine taking a short honeymoon in the midst of the hustle bustle of life at home - that could begin to describe a beginnning of what it feels like to go to the mikvah. Just you and your husband exist, alone in the world as the only couples who ever were in love. It's pretty amazing!   


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