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by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler
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Parshas Haazinu


The Holiness of Marital Relations

And he shall say, Where are their gods, their rock in which they trusted. (DEVARIM 32:37)

Once a travelling Jew arrived at midnight to the city of Gusteenin. Not knowing anyone in the city or where to go, his hopes were lifted when he saw a light burning in a house. As this was his only lead towards finding accomodations, he tried knocking on that door.

That door was the house of Rabbi Yechiel Meyer Lifschitz, the town's rabbi. However, the guest remianed unaware of the identity of his distinguished host even after he saw him answer his knock at the door The rabbi invited him in and asked what he could do for his guest

"Well, I have not eaten for quite a while," the Jew revealed.

"I do not have any cooked food ready, so it will take a short while for me to prepare some for you. Meanwhile, have some cookies and whisky," the rabbi told his guest. The rabbi served the cookies and whisky and then prepared a delicious meal which the guest readily ate.

Afterwards, the rabbi offered him the only unoccupied bed in the house, which was his own. The guest did not bother to take off his muddy boots before lying down and quickly fell asleep in the rabbi's bed. Not having anywhere to sleep, the rabbi stayed awake the whole night.

The next mormng, when the family got up, the rabbi did not allow them to enter the room where the guest was sleeping in order to prevent them from accidentally waking him up. The rabbi himself walked around slowly, so that he would not disturb the visitor.

When the guest awoke he went to shulto pray. There he found out that he had spent the night at the house of the distinguished rabbi and that the rabbi himslef had personally taken care of him.

The guest was disturbed that he had caused such a bother to the rabbi and went to his house to apologize.

The rabbi said, "I will not accept your apology."

Once again the guest tried to appease the rabbi, and again the rabbi refused. Finally the rabbi said, "If you promise to do what I shall tell you, then I will accept your apology."

"I promise," answered the guest.

"Alright," said the rabbi, "Only under this condition will I accept your apology. Every time that you will come to our city, you will stay at my home!"

The suprized guest accepted the rabbi's generous condition and stayed ate the rabbi's house whenever he came to Gusteenin. CHESED YlBANEH, p. 72)

Rabbi Lifschitz exerted himself well beyond the basic obligation to accomodate guests, in order to insure the traveler's comfort. In so doing he showed extraorinary chesed to a complete stranger to whom he had no obligation. We can learn from his example how we should extend ourselves to do chesed for our spouses to whom we are in fact obligated. Through the act of marital relations there is a great opportunity to practice that chesed.

The Talmud says: "And He shall say, 'Where are their gods, their rock in which they trusted?'" This is Titus the Wicked when he sent curses and blasphemy towards Heaven. And what did Titus do? He took hold of a prostitute, entered the Holy of Holies [in the Temple], spread out a Sefer Torah, and sinned with her on it. (GITTIN 56b)

Why did Titus perform such an action in the Holy of Holies and not in some other place? Why did he do such a thing and what was he trying to symbolize? Why did he spread out a Sefer Torah, and what did he think he would gain by such an action?

Our Sages say that when the Jewish people would go up to Jerusalem to participate in the mitzvah of aliyah l'regel, the partition before the Holy of Holies was drawn back and they were shown that the image of the keruvim was that of a male and a female intertwined intimately. They were told, "Look how much you are beloved by G-d, as much as the love between a man and woman!

Why would such a sight be seen in the Holy of Holies?

The answer is that the relationship between a man and his wife is the closest possible relationship that a human being can experience. It is such a holy and important bond that we are commanded to enter into it. This relationship should provide us with a glimpse into the depth of the relationship that exists between man and his Creator, one of complete closeness. That is what the forms of the keruvim are showing. Since this is placed in the Holy of Holies, it shows us that we should strive to be as close as possible to the Creator, and also that there is nothing inherently unholy about rntercourse rn its proper context. On the contrary, it is a true form of holiness. Therefore, it is appropriate for the keruvim to be in that most sacred place, the Holy of Holies.

Titus wanted to dispute this idea. He contended that a sexual relationship has no intrinsic holiness and that it is purely a coarse, animal act. Hence he brought a prostitute to the Holy

of Holies and right there engaged in the sexual act with her. A prostitute symbolizes sex devoid of holy intentions, as a person engaging in a sexual relationship with a prostitute is only interested in the physical act itself.

Titus was saying through his actions that just as he was engaged in sex with no holy intentions at all, so too is all sex unholy. He believed it was a mistake for the form of keruvim engaging in sexual intercourse to be in the holiest place. He was in fact mocking the Torah, which had commanded the mitzvah of placing the keruvim in the Holy of Holies.

That is also why he spread a Sefer Torah underneath him and committed the sin on it. He was proclaiming through this action that there is no holiness in the Torah. He tried to desecrate the Torah with his impure thoughts and actions. He could not conceive that anyone could possibly perform the sexual act and remain holy.

Experiencing the Holiness of Marital Relations

Titus believed in his theory, but the Torah teaches us otherwise. The union of a man and his wife is not an animal act. Animals know only bodily pleasures and have no idea of spirituality. But the Torah teaches us that this act, if done with the right intentions, is a holy act of union. Hence the intertwined figures of the keruvim rightfully belong in the Holy of Holies. The Torah is proclaiming to the world that the sexual relationship between a man and his wife can be the holiest possible, and there is no more fitting place to make such a proclamation than in the Holy of Holies.

To attain holy feelings during intimate relations, a person must feel deep love and affection for his wife. He must have in mind that she constantly does chesed for him. He must feel that he owes her the world. He wants to repay her by being close with her in the most profound way possible, which is through intimate relations. He should not be interested in using his wife as a "sex object," but rather his whole orientation should be that of bestowing kindness.

Actually, our Sages say that it is forbidden for a man to have relations with his wife if he feels hatred towards her.3 The minimum requirement is that he is not allowed to hate her at the precise time of relations. This teaches us that a person needs to feel love towards his wife if he wishes to engage in relations. If he feels any resentment towards her, then the relations will not be a union, but rather an animal act, and that is not the behavior that Hashem requires of us.

It is also forbidden to have relations when one's wife is not entirely willing. Here, too, we find the idea that a unity is supposed to come about through relations. There must be complete good feeling on the wife's part, and any reluctance prohibits us from having relations.

Successful relations occur only after a day was filled with agreement, cooperation and chesed. If throughout the day your wife felt that you care about her, then there will be successful relations, the kind that the Torah intended. But if she felt throughout the day that you are not interested in her, then how can she be willing to be close to you? Only when a person is willing to give to his wife will he able to have successful relations.

We find that some of our Sages were very brief during their intimate relations with their wives.5 They were afraid that they would succumb to pleasure and would lose the proper intentions. But we are not on such a level, and our intentions should be concentrated on trying to give pleasure to our spouse and to do chesed for her. If that is our goal, then the relations are a continuation of the chesed that we do during the day, and serve to strengthen our bonds.

When we take this approach we will also experience how holy this seemingly base act can be.

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