When I – a nervous twenty-something – married the boy/man of my dreams, I knew that I had no idea what lay ahead. I knew that I needed to learn and become fluent in several new languages, including those of healthy communication, family finances, sex, and taharat hamishpachah (laws of family purity).
New beginnings often seem scary, and getting married means taking on several new beginnings all at once. At some point during our hectic preparations for all these new beginnings, we learn about the laws of taharat hamishpachah. It’s no wonder that these classes tend to focus on the laws themselves, since we’re so pressed for time that we can barely pay attention (at least I couldn’t!). Yet if the classes are truly about imparting all the information we might ever need, then we are in trouble. Taharat hamishpachahis a huge topic, to say nothing of the basics of sex and relationship skills, which can be just as critical for brides-to-be.
I believe that our focus has to change. Yes, kallah classes should include the basics of taharat hamishpachah, as well as an intro to sex and tips for a healthy relationship.
But they should be focused on empowering the bride-to-be to use the information she’s learning in real life. So perhaps even more important than learning how to count seven clean days is ensuring that the kallah knows where to look up the halachot when she forgets them, and a recommendation of a local rav and/or yoetzet halakha to contact with questions. And at least as important as the basics of sex is a list of references to turn to when questions and issues inevitably come up. Every kallah should finish kallahclasses with a reference list in hand, which includes the names and numbers of various halachic resources, as well as references about sexuality, women’s health and fertility specialists and knowledge that it’s always okay to turn for help.
I also believe that organizations like the Eden Center have a fantastic opportunity to help women share the lessons they learned from experience in a way that a class can’t necessarily do. In this spirit, I’d like to share three lessons I’ve learned through experience.
- I had no idea how much control I felt over my own body until I started following taharat hamishpachah. When I got off the pill, I kept staining. Even after I got in a kosher hefsek, I continued to see brown on my bedikot. I felt that being separated from my husband for twelve days was quite long enough. I needed to do all I could to get clean as soon as possible. So I frantically did two bedikot a day, thinking that if one was problematic the next would be considered a hefsek and at least I wouldn’t miss yet another day. What I should have done, though, was given myself a break, because I caused a bruise and saw red. Luckily, I knew enough to recognize that I might have caused the problem and went to a bodeket taharah who confirmed the situation. The feeling that I was somehow responsible for my not getting clean was so ingrained that I didn’t even recognize it for what it was until I went to the bodeket taharah. Recognizing how unreasonable this feeling was made a huge difference in my ability to cope.
- As uncomfortable as that episode was, it taught me more about my body, about my assumption of “control” over my body, and about what my options are. My experience taught me more than anykallah course could have done, including the class for madrichot kallot that I was taking at the time. Nothing teaches as well as experience. Chances are that every woman following the laws of taharat hamishpachah will have some kind of issue to deal with at some point in her married life. Difficult situations, and even mistakes, are a part of life. They will happen no matter how hard we try to protect ourselves from them (and sometimes, as in my case, because we try to protect ourselves from them!). What we really need are the tools to understand what we are dealing with, the ability to recognize when we need help, and the reassurance that “this too shall pass.”
- I believe that the most important lesson that I’ve learned in my ten years of marriage is that each one of us is unique. What makes us laugh, what brings tears to our eyes, what turns us on, and so much more, can vary greatly from woman to woman. We need to learn to understand ourselves, because no one else can be as sure as we can that something feels good, or that something is wrong. Give yourself the time and space to get to know your body and pay attention to what it is telling you – on occasion, just because something “is supposed” to be a certain way doesn’t necessarily mean that it’ll be right for you. So by all means make use of all the literature and advice that might make things easier for you. Just take them with a grain of salt. If something doesn’t help, or doesn’t feel right, then chances are it isn’t right for you. And keep experimenting – you’ll never know until you try.