Wherever intimacy as a mitzvah is found there the Shechina
R Banaah entered the Maarat HaMachpeilah (the burial
place of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs) and saw Avraham sleeping in Sarahs
arms and she was looking fondly at his head. The Maharal explains: When it
says that she was looking fondly at his head, it means that every joining of
a man and woman denotes a union of the man with the woman. When the Gemara
states that he was sleeping in Sarahs arms, this indicates Avrahams
unification with Sarah. And when it says, she was looking fondly at his head,
it indicates Sarahs unification with Avraham, that is, her strong desire and
atractiontowards him. Therefore, we may deduce that Sarah also unites with
Avraham until both are merged he with her and she with him. And with this the
union is complete in all its respects.
And that which the Talmud says regarding the Jewish women
in Egypt: they had relations between the fields, demonstrates that they loved
their husbands so much that due to their dire circumstances they made use of
any available opportunity for intimacy.
And when you are able to understand the words of wisdom of
the Kabbalah, you will realize that when there is unity in marital relations
like the connection and unity that existed in Egypt as a result of the womens
longing then there is in the union a Divine aspect. Because separation
denotes the physical and unification is purely a divine quality.
know my children, that there is no holiness of all the
types of holiness comparable to the holiness of marital intimacy if a person
sanctifies himself in accordance with the instructions of our sages. The Shloh
Hakodeshs statement is dramatic. In essence, Rabbi Yeshaya Horowitz is saying that
the holiness of marital intimacy transcends the holiness of the Shofar on Rosh
Hashana, the prayers on Yom Kippur and the sanctity of the Shabbat.
These ideas appear to conflict. In terms of the maile-female
relationship, the term love conjures up images of togetherness, intimacy and
romance. Passion, touch, an inner connection these are all terms which we
associate with the concept of love.
Holiness, on the other hand, conjures up images of devotion,
separation and sanctity. Sanctity conjures up images of untouchable and the
divine. We are tempted to think of holiness in terms of ascetics, separation
Indeed intimacy and holiness appear divergent, possibly
irreconcilable. The dichotomy of the two concepts receives prominence in
numerous religious writings. The Christian view of life demands a denial of
physical indulgence, condemning it as a submission to the evil and animal
desires contained within the sinful human soul. There is no synthesis of the
physical ad spiritual. Instead, they present as opposites of each other.
The centrality of intimacy in Judaism is demonstrated by the
fact that only two mitzvot are repeatedly referred to throughout the Talmud and
Rabbinical literature as mitzvah, simply the commandment. Those mitzvot are
the obligation to procreate, Pru Urevu, and the husbands obligation to
satisfy his wifes desire for marital intimacy, Onah. Pru urvu and onah are
the paradigm mitzvot because they reflect the uniquely Jewish approach of
sanctifying the physical world through the observance of Mitzvot. These Mitzvot
are the most dramatic examples of the phenomenon of elevating the physical
world to the heights of the spiritual.
Judaism teaches that only someone who has learned to
experience and appreciate the pleasure of this world will be capable of fully
appreciating and praising G-ds greatness. In that regard, the marriage
relationship represents the ultimate synthesis of the spiritual and physical, a
gateway to heaven like none other.
Indeed, a study of the Talmudic, mystical and rabbinical
texts which relate to marriage, presents a very romantic and intimate picture
of the marriage relationship. These writings instruct the marriage partners to
ensure that their mutual intimacy takes place when they are not clothed. The
Zohar adds that at the peak of their intimacy, the husband and wife should be
kissing. It adds that this is a time for quietness and that the spoken word is
forbidden. And the room should be darkened.
What is the deeper meaning of this apparent emphasis on the
sensuality and romance of marriage? How does one reconcile this seemingly
physical imagery with nothios of sanctity and spirituality?
The Torah tells us that marriage represents not only the
coming together of two people here in this world, but also the uniting of their
two souls in the heavens above. Furthermore, this union was planned and
predated the birth of the two partners. In fact, it is the coming together of
the two souls above which translates into the physical union of the two people
here in this world. In other words, the source of the physical union in this
world is the spiritual union which mirrors and precedes it in the world above.
Thus the attraction of man and woman often reviled as a weakness associated
with base carnal urges actually stems from the souls innate desire to reunite
with its soul mate.
For that reason, the Torah tells us that the physical
relationship which the couple enjoys, must mirror the spiritual relationship
above. Yes, it is possible to interpret the instruction of the rabbis to be
unclothed, to kiss and to be silent in romantic terms. In fact, the source of
these instructions is spiritual. The perfect union involves the fusion of both
the spiritual and the physical in the union of man and wife.
The union of the souls in the world above is total. Only two
spiritual bodies can really be united as one. If the relationship in this world
is to resemble that spiritual union, it too must be close in every possible
sense of the world; hence the necessity for the couple to remove their clothes
in order to be together as one.
Quoting from the sentence in the Torah where G-d instructs
the master who keeps his maidservant to look after her, the Talmud says that
the master should not behave like the Persians who are intimate while they are clothed.
In a similar vein, the Ritva says, even if he does remain clothed out of a
desire to be modest, this is not the loving, affectionate way of being
The Torah speaks of the physical union in the loftiest of
terms. The sanctity of the union of husband and wife is compared to the
sanctity of the highest of the four spiritual worlds the world of Atzilut. More specifically our rabbis have
drawn a comparison between the union of husband and wife and the famous vision
of the prophet Yechezkel in which he refers to the image of four animals. Each
animal had four faces and four wings. The mystics point out that these four
wings are represented by the four combined lips of husband and wife during
their intimacy; hence the kiss which elevates mand and woman to the highest of
Furthermore, the act of kissing represents the ultimate act
of mutual love. It is unique in that both parties are giving and receiving
simultaneously. Whereas speech reflects the revealed connection between
husband and wife, kissing manifests their hidden connection, their shared
We find the moving story of Chana in the Book of Shmuel. In
contrast to her sister, Pninah, Chana was barren. She sought refuge in the
Tabernacle in order to plead with G-d about her plight. She spoke meaningfully
and softly. Her lips moved but there was no voice. G-d heard her crying and
blessed Chana with a child, Shmuel. One of the reasons why the Amidah prayer is
recited quietly is because its sanctity is comparable to that of Chana when she
was praying to G-d at that time. So, too, is the sanctity of intimacy and it is
for that reason that the couple should not talk during that time.
On a cosmic level, the relationship between man and woman
mirrors the dynamics of mans spiritual connection with G-dliness. The nature
of man as the giver and the woman as the receiver has already been referred
to earlier. The ability for man to give spiritual delight to the higher worlds
and the divine attributes is regarded as the male element. The ability for man
to receive spiritual sustenance from above is regarded as the female element of
this spiritual dynamic.
Ultimately, the Torah calls for a relationship between
husband and wife which allows for the fullest expression of their love in a
passionate bond. In turn, that relationship and its expression reflect a union above and an awareness which draw the
couple together not only physically and emotionally but spiritually as well.
Tamar Frenkiel writes: Romantic love is egotistical,
seeking one round after another of pleasurable feelings, but with no further
aim. Even extended relationships, which go beyond mere romance are founded
primarily on the desires of the partners for companionship and security essentially
Rabbi Avraham Friedman speaks of a fundamental,
irreconcilable difference between the nature and quality of intimacy performed
for his own pleasure and intimacy performed as honoring an obligation to
another. He explains that in the former, the emphasis is on the oneself, while
in the latter, the concern is for another. In the former, intimacy is an
exercise in greedy self-interest and gratification; in the latter it is a
glorious opportunity for selfless concern and altruistic benevolence. In the
former, he is the taker, in the latter, he is the give.
The Torah provides us with a penetrating insight regarding
the physical spiritual interface in Judasim. At the time of the building of the
Tabernacle following the exodus from Egypt, the Jewish people were
instructed to contribute the materials required for the construction. The women
chose to contribute their mirrors which they had carried with them when they
The mirrors had a special significance; while in Egypt, the women would use the
mirrors to make themselves attractive to their husbands so that they could bear
children and continue the future of the Jewish peple.
Rashi explains that the angels questioned the decision to
use these mirrors for the Tabernacle, considering they had been used for
enticement. G-d responded by saying that there contributions are dearer to Me
than all the others. Significantly, the laver in the Tabernacle was formed
from these mirrors in order to restoe peace between husnbsd and wife by giving
a woman suspected by her husband of infidelity to drink from its waters.
There are numerous religious which preach celibacy and
asceticism. They look upon the sexual drive as a human weakness. The leaders of
these faiths are taught to overcome these urges by refraining from any forms of
physical intimacy. Other faiths and many cults teach promiscuity and
licentiousness as a means to obtaining spiritual enlightenment. Judaism rejects
both extremes. Torah offers its adherents a profound and meaningful synthesis
between the physical and the spiritual and a means by which each medium complements
The inclusion of a spiritual and sanctified approach to the
relationship introduces a quantum change as the couple transcends their own
egos, needs and desires as the relationship reaches far higher and touches the
Excerpted with permission from Spirituality and Intimacy by Rabbi Raphael Aron. Click here to purchase