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|Laws of Marital Relations Part 3|
|Written by Rabbi Mordechai Eliahu|
|Monday, 03 August 2009|
By Rabbi Mordechai Eliahu, Former Chief Rabbi of Israel, excerpted from his book, “Darkei Taharah,” Chapters 19-24.
Laws of Marital Relations (Rabbi M. Eliahu) - Part 1
PREPARATIONS FOR MARITAL RELATIONS
Our Sages said: “What should a man do so that his children will be prosperous and healthy? He should strive to please Heaven and please his wife. How does one please Heaven? By distributing charity to the poor, and things of this nature. How does one please his wife? Rabbi Eliezer says that he should arouse her feelings of desire during marital relations. Rabbi Yehuda says that he should make her happy during marital relations, as it says, ‘Someone who carries out a commandment will come to no harm’” (Tractate Kallah Rabati, Ch. 2).
The “Beit Yosef” (Section 240) explains that the meaning of pleasing one’s wife according to Rabbi Eliezer are the preparations surrounding marital relations, which require a husband to show his wife signs of love and desire; and the meaning according to Rabbi Yehuda is that the husband should make her happy by having relations with her when she gives him signs that she so desires, even if it is not one of the times of her Ona (excluding the times she is forbidden to him due to her period of Niddah).
PUT HER IN THE MOOD
The preparations preceding marital relations are often more important for the wife than the marital relations themselves. Therefore, before nighttime, the husband should express extra happiness and love toward his wife, to enhance the love between them, to please her by his actions, to speak words of endearment, with kisses and hugs, and similar displays of affection.
The Talmud (Berachot 62) tells about Rav Kahana, who wanted to learn the proper way of conducting marital relations, so he went and hid under the bed of his teacher, Rav (who was known never to have said an unnecessary word in his life), and heard Rav speak happy, endearing words with his wife before performing the act. Surprised to hear such pleasantries, Rav Kahana blurted out from underneath the bed, “The mouth of Rav is like the mouth of a hungry man who has never eaten a cooked meal!” Why did he respond this way? Because Rav, who was renowned for his holiness, seemingly spoke in a lightheaded fashion, to satisfy his lust. Rav said to him, “Depart from here – it is improper to do as you have done hiding under the bed!” To this, Rav Kahana answered: “It is a part of the Torah, and I need to learn.”
Regarding this issue, Rabbi Yochanan said that if the Torah had not been given, we could have learned modesty from a cat, industriousness from an ant, faithfulness from a dove, and derech eretz (the proper conduct before marital relations) from a rooster. What is the derech eretz we learn from a rooster? First he courts his mate and then he does the act. And how does he court his mate? Rav Yehuda said in the name of Rav, he tells her, “I will buy you a lengthy gown that will stretch down to your feet,” hinting at this by spreading his wings to the ground. And what does he say after the deed, by bowing his head down toward the ground? “May the crown on my head fall off if I have the money and don’t buy you that gown” (Eruvin 100B).
The later Torah authorities (Achronim) wrote that Rabbi Yochanan is not coming to teach that a man should lie to his wife (since the rooster knows that at the time of the promise he has no money to buy a gown) – rather that the obligation to placate and please one’s wife we could have learned from a rooster, even before the Torah was given, and now that we do have the Torah, we have learned the obligation of placating one’s wife from the Torah itself, not by lying, but by praising her good qualities and capabilities, and by telling her things that he is able to fulfill, or that he promises to fulfill as soon as he is able. This is what Rabbi Akiva did with his wife, when they lived in a barn, and he had to pull out the straw from her hair, nevertheless, he told her that if he was able, he would buy her an expensive piece of jewelry called “Jerusalem of Gold.” Later, after he was rich, he kept his promise to her (Nedarim 50A, and Shabbat, 59A).
When this type of loving interaction precedes marital relations, the husband is fulfilling the commandment, “Love your fellow as yourself,” for if he rushes forward to engage in the act, he satisfies his own lust, but leaves his wife unsatisfied and estranged. This is not the way of the pious, but of common folk. Regarding this type of behavior our Sages said: “It was taught in a Braita, Rabbi Meir would say, ‘Whoever weds his daughter to an unlearned commoner is like binding her up and leaving her in front of a lion – just as a lion overpowers and eats without any shame, a common man strikes his woman and forces himself on her without any shame” (Pesachim 49B).
The wife also must share in the preparations for marital relations in a modest and hinting fashion, arousing their husband’s desire, as our Sages have said: “Women have a pleasant trait in that they modestly display their desire, while a man demands it openly” (Eruvin 100B).
From the time husband and wife begin the intimacies leading to marital relations, they should not speak about other matters, in order not to let foreign thoughts enter their minds. Our Sages said that even the small talk between a man and his wife at the time of their relations are recounted to a man at the hour of his Heavenly judgment (Chagigah 5B). This refers to speaking about foreign matters, but a married couple can speak modestly about intimacies and matters related to their relations, as much as they please. And if it is necessary, a husband is obligated to please her with all words of favor and endearment, so that she will be in the proper mood.
SANCTIFY YOUR THOUGHTS
A man must be especially careful in this matter not to converse with his wife during the marital act itself, and not to talk about foreign matters leading up to it, because this can cause damage to his children if he doesn’t behave stringently in this matter (Nedarim 20A).
A man must engage in preparations to sanctify himself, for holiness (kedushah) does not rest on a person unless he purifies his soul through the proper preparations. There are many levels to this, and every husband should learn what level is fitting for himself and his wife. Helpful in this matter is to study, before having relations, such things as the “Letter of Holiness” of the Ramban; the Gate of Holiness in the “Baale HaNefesh” of the Raavad; or “Hilchot Daot” of the Rambam; commentaries on the Torah portion, “Kedoshim;” and other similar studies, everyone according to his level.
This sanctification is very important because the seed of the father and mother derives from the seat of thought, as is known. Thus a person should understand, that his children will be inclined toward faith and service of G-d to the extent that he sanctifies himself before engaging in marital relations.
The Ramban writes:
“Behold, when a husband unites with his wife, if his thoughts and imagination are focused on words of wisdom and Torah and proper character traits, these thoughts in his brain have the power to influence the make-up of his seminal seed, and this is the secret of the rods which Yaacov placed before the sheep. In the same light, the Gemara relates that Rabbi Yochanan would sit outside the mikvah, so that when the daughters of Israel emerged from their ritual immersion and glanced at his goodly and holy image, they would give birth to handsome and holy children like him” (Letter of Holiness of the Ramban, Ch. 5; and Berachot 20A).
The Ramban emphasizes that a man should cleanse and purify his thoughts at the time of marital relations, and not think about sinful and immoral fantasies, rather only think about pure and holy matters (loc. cit.).
The Ramban further emphasizes that a husband should say and do things that make his wife feel happy and loving toward him, so that she also should have pure and holy thoughts. Thus both of them will be united in the mitzvah, with their thoughts united, and the Shechinah resting between them. Thus the child who will be born will be formed in the purity which they created during their union (Ibid).
Therefore, a husband should prepare his wife for their union by saying things that will bring her to share his purity of intention, some of them to arouse her love and desire, and some to draw her to the reverence of Heaven, to saintliness, and modesty (Ibid, Ch. 6).
“In conclusion, when you see that you are in the proper state to engage in marital relations, you should make sure that your wife is in the proper mood too, and don’t be hasty to arouse your lust, so that your wife will be in a calm and receptive frame of mind, filled with love and desire, so that she will reach her climax first” (Ibid).
There is a custom of the saintly to wash one’s hands before marital relations, in order to do so in holiness and purity. And there are husbands who immerse in a mikvah to cleanse themselves from the impurity of “keri” on the day that his wife performs her ritual immersion, or on a day he wants to have relations.
While one’s hands are still clean, it is beneficial to recite the verse of Tehillim, “May Your pleasantness, L-rd our G-d, rest on us; establish for us the work of our hands; the work of our hands may You establish” (Tehillim 90).
At the time of the act, one should only have the mental intention of these words:
לשם יחוד קודשא-בריך-הוא ושכינתה
Other people are accustomed to say: “In the Name of the Holy One Blessed Be He and His Shechinah, behold, I am about to perform the mitzvah of Ona, as it says, ‘And her marital duties you should not diminish,’ with the mental intention of drawing down a holy soul.” Others say the 23rd Psalm, “The L-rd is my shepherd, I shall not lack.…"
Some people say a long version of the Yichud: “In the Name of the Holy One Blessed Be He and His Shechinah, in reverence and love, and love and reverence, in the name of all the Nation of Israel, behold, I am ready and prepared to perform the mitzvah of marital relations, to unite with my wife and cleave to her, as it says, ‘cleave to his wife, and they become one flesh’ (Bereshit, 2:24), in order to rectify the root of the mitzvah in its exalted place. May it be Your will before You, L-rd, our G-d and G-d of our fathers, that you grant me and my wife strength and ability and assistance, and the proper preparation in this coupling, to draw down an abundance of influx and blessing from their exalted source to all of the holy worlds and to our beings, spirits, and souls. Just as Rachel and Leah, who built up the House of Israel, merited to give birth to righteous, wise, understanding, perfect, upright, and wholesome children, so too, let my wife and I give birth to righteous, wise, understanding, and strong children, who will merit a long and healthy life, and let us rejoice in them, and in their children, and in their children’s children; and may they merit to have exalted, holy souls forged from an exalted source. Just as You aided and influenced the coupling of Yaacov and Leah, as is written, “And he laid with her that night… and she became pregnant and gave birth to a fifth son to Yaacov… and she called his name Yissachar’ (Bereshit, 30:16-18), and Yissachar and his offspring grew to be wise and understanding of the Torah, so too, may the present moment be a time of favor, and may You help me and enable me in this coupling of me and my wife. May it come before you as if I had all of the proper intentions a person should have in this matter. ‘May Your pleasantness, L-rd our G-d, rest on us; establish for us the work of our hands; the work of our hands may You establish.’”
Other books have other variations and prayers.
Women also have different prayers they can choose from. For example:
“May it be Your will before You, that You rest Your Shechinah between me and my husband, and unite us in Your Holy Name, in place in our hearts a pure and holy spirit, and banish from us all evil thoughts and fantasies, and grant us a clean and refined nefesh (being) between us, and may we not have eyes for anyone else in the world, but him for me, and me for him. May he appear in my eyes as being the best man in the world, and the most handsome and charming. And may it appear in my husband’s eyes that there is no woman in the world more beautiful, charming, and devout than me, and may all of his thoughts be focused exclusively on me, as it says: ‘Therefore a man should leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife, and they become one flesh.’ May it be Your will before You, O G-d, that our union ascend in a pleasant fashion, a wholesome union with the fear of Heaven and the fear of sin; a union that will bring wholesome, righteous, perfect, and upright children; a union that will result in healthy, lasting offspring; a union of blessing, as it says, ‘The L-rd has been mindful of us; He will bless us; He will bless the House of Israel’” (Tehillim, 115:12).
THE DIRECTION OF THE BED
It is written in the Talmud: “It has been taught, Abba Binyamin says, ‘All my life I took great pains about two things, that my bed should be placed north to south’… And Rabbi Yitzhak said, ‘Whoever places his bed north to south will have male children’” (Berachot 5B). The Kabbalists wrote that they should be in the same direction that man was created, his head to the east and his feet toward the west. They explain “north to south” to mean that at the time of the marital union, his head to the east, his right hand toward the south, his left hand toward the north; and his wife’s head toward the east, her right hand toward the north, and her left hand toward the south.
Also among the poskim (deciders of Jewish Law) there is a difference of opinions. Therefore, whatever way one chooses has virtues. For those who follow the ways of the Kabbalists, the preferred direction is the husband’s head to the east and his feet to the west. If this is impossible, then marital relations should be with his head to the north and his feet to the south. The feet should not be in the direction of the east. If it is impossible to place the bed in one of these directions, the man should take heed to change the direction he lies in at the time of the union so that his feet will not be facing east.
Fpr those who follow the simple reading of the text, it is preferable that one’s head be toward the north. If this is not possible, next best is toward the south. If this too is impossible, then the head should be to the west. If this is also impossible, then the head can be toward the east. (The direction of the bed should be according the direction of the compass, for instance, north, south, and not dependent upon the direction of Jerusalem).
Laws of Marital Relations (Rabbi M. Eliahu) - Part 1
|Last Updated ( Monday, 07 September 2009 )|
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