According to the laws of Family Purity, for a portion of each month, husband and wife are not allowed to be physically intimate with one another or touch one another. Many explain these laws as being a method of bringing rejuvenation to the marital relationship. This explanation rests on the understanding that we desire that which we do not have and therefore being “forbidden” to one another renews interest and attraction between husband and wife.
In addition to looking at the benefits of spending time apart in a relationship I believe that the laws of family purity encourage us to renew our respect for the Divine soul that rests within my spouse. Rav Shagar writes about the instances, like Moshe at the burning bush, during which those who encountered God chose to cover their faces. I believe that the “covering of the face” is an act that is similar to the time during which husband and wife take a step back from one another each month. Rav Shagar states that the covering of one’s face can be seen as deriving
“…from the recognition that the deepest revelation appears davka (precisely) through the covering of one’s face. As Rabbi Moshe Cordovero states, “The secret of revealing is through covering.” This is the recognition that it is impossible to meet that which is inner directly; the essence will always succeed in escaping our regular understanding. (Rav Shagar, Zikaron Le-Yom Rishon, p. 43.)
Rav Shagar is suggesting that we cannot look directly at that which comes from the realm of the soul. Lowering one’s face in order to not look directly at something is not a sign of embarrassment; it is a sign of the recognition that something deep is being revealed. The Divine cannot be controlled, held on to, or defined. It can be anticipated, experienced, and honored. Rav Shagar talks about the “mysteriousness of love” and suggests that the intimacy a couple share with one another has this “inner” quality that must be protected.
In this sense, the laws of family purity can be seen as a means of protecting and nurturing the inner Divine aspect of a relationship. Our partner is, and will always be, deeper than we can comprehend. The separateness established with the laws of family purity reminds us that even when we see the other, there is a lot that we are not seeing. When we realize that our spouse has a soul that contains infinite depths – we approach them with more questions than answers. My partner’s soul is forever changing and constantly revealing itself in different ways. I do not fully know my spouse and I will never fully know or understand or grasp who they are. This is part of what will make our life together continually interesting and mysterious. As a couple, being separate physically from one another is an opportunity to express our respect for our partner’s untouchable soul and feel inside ourselves a never-ending curiosity towards them.
David Lester is the author of “Jewish Marriage: the Ceremony, the First Year, and the Journey That Follows” published by Mosaica Press and distributed by Feldheim.