Distance Yourself From Immorality
It is written, “You shall not approach a woman in her time of unclean separation, to uncover her nakedness” (Leviticus 18:19). The gravity of the sin of approaching a woman in niddah emerges from its punishment: Excision! In addition, the Sages established other barriers to prevent the slightest contact with a woman during this time, besides not touching her (Ketubot 4a), in order to make it impossible to transgress serious prohibitions (see Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah and Tur, 195). If a person distances himself from her, he will always remain in holiness.
The Gemara teaches that a man should separate himself from his wife one day before she actually becomes niddah, otherwise he risks bringing death upon his children, G-d forbid. Furthermore, the children of the man who looks at her during those times will not behave well in life (Nedarim 20a; see also Yoreh Deah 195). Tractate Shabbat recounts the terrible story of a man who had greatly studied the written and oral Torah and had served Talmidei Chachamim, yet died prematurely. His wife took his Tefillin and went to the house of study to ask for the reason of his death, since it is said of the Torah, “[It] is your life and the length of your days” (Deuteronomy 30:20). She continually did this until finally Elijah the Prophet asked her, “My daughter, when you were in niddah, how did he behave with you?” She responded, “He was very careful not to touch me, even with his little finger.” Elijah then asked, “And while you were counting your clean days, how did he behave with you?” She replied, “He ate and drank with me, and slept with me without taking any particular precautions.” He then told her, “Blessed be G-d Who killed him, for he did not take heed of the Torah, which commands, ‘You shall not approach a woman in her time of unclean separation.’ ” Now this woman knew very well that he ate and drank with her without taking any precautions, which was forbidden. Given that he had transgressed a law, why was she so astonished at his death? It happened because, while knowing of the separation imposed by the Sages, her husband still believed that he had the strength to conquer his desires, and thus he was content with observing what is written in the Torah, meaning not to touch her, nothing else. He was nevertheless punished because he had infringed upon the words of the Sages (Shabbat 13b).
We should draw a lesson from this story. In effect, we who are ordinary individuals – attached to materiality, filled with desires and wicked thoughts – how much more should we flee from forbidden relationships, women who are niddah, and mixed dances! Because of our many sins, in our time we find families that have been struck by all sorts of misfortune because they have not observed the laws of family purity. Conversely, there are also many women who have had children because they correctly observed these laws, which are the very foundation of family purity. One of these laws is that after her clean days, the woman should immerge herself in a mikveh (Yebamot 47b), yet unfortunately some women scoff at this law in derision. When they are told to go to the mikveh, they reply that it’s primitive, and that they’re satisfied with washing themselves in a bathtub. They should realize that even if they wash themselves with all the water in the world, this would not constitute a tevilah (ritual immersion), and that they cannot purify themselves other than by immersing into a kosher mikveh containing 40 seahs of water, in accordance with the Torah.
With regards to this, the nature of the immersion should be understood. We very well understand why a man and woman should separate themselves during the period of impurity, or why seven clean days must be counted, but why immerse oneself into water? And why is this immersion also prescribed for a man who has become impure?
Let’s see how we can explain this. A man’s sin stems from his pride, as well as from the spirit of folly that takes hold of him (Sotah 3a). Consequently, becoming purified takes place by a complete submission to Torah. Now we know that water always represents Torah (Bava Kama 17a), therefore a man or woman wanting to be cleansed of his or her impurity should descend into the water with submission and self-effacement. The Torah is in fact compared to water that flows from a higher place to a lower one (Taanith 7a), and in the same way that it is acquired by humility (Perkei Avoth 6:5), one must descend into it to be purified. This is why it is forbidden for there to be the slightest bit of separation between one’s body and the water (Yore Deah 198). To be truly purified of all that we have which is bad, total contact is required with a volume of water equal to 40 seahs. What is the significance of the number 40? It represents the 40 days of the embryo’s development (Niddah 30b). If there is less than 40 seahs, the mikveh is not in accordance with the law, similar to the embryo, which has no form before 40 days. Moreover, in the mother’s womb the embryo is in an aqueous environment and in a humbling position, being folded onto itself (see Niddah 30b; 31a). In the same way, a person must immerge into 40 seahs by descending into the water with humility, just as one demonstrates self-effacement towards Torah.
The purification and holiness of family life therefore occurs essentially by means of the Torah, which sanctifies and purifies man, and whose words therefore do not accept impurity (Berachot 20b). This concept is alluded to in the Torah itself. In fact, it begins with the word bereshith and it ends with the words “before the eyes of all Israel.” Now the Sages have said that the entire world was created for the Torah and Israel, which is called reshith, which are the beginning and the goal of Creation.
In many ways, this evokes the holiness of the home through the intermediary of the Torah. The first letter of the Torah is beit, which suggests bayit (house), for the main thing is man’s home. In addition, the last letter of the Torah is lamed, which together with the beit forms the word lev (heart) to indicate that one should not follow the desires of the heart. The importance of the holiness of the eyes is also alluded to at the end of the Torah. There it is written, “before the eyes of all Israel,” for by purity of eyes one arrives at purity of heart, and it is the eyes and heart that lead a man to sin. This happens because “The eye sees and the heart desires. The eye follows the heart. The eyes and the heart are the two agents of sin, and then the body carries out the sin” (Bamidbar Rabba 10:2). In addition, the letter beit alludes to the house of study (“Beit Midrash”), and the letters beit and lamed evoke the study (limud) that occurs therein, which is worth more than following the thoughts of the heart and the eyes.
All this shows us that at its beginning and end, the Torah teaches us purity and holiness by means of study and abstaining from sin. Torah study entails many benefits, as the Zohar states several times (Zohar III:80b, 176a, 213a). It makes man worthy of holiness, which reconnects him to the Tree of Life and opens the door to the world to come for him. This is particularly true when studying at night, for then we are bestowed particular favor (Hagigah 12b). In fact, this is the time when spirits of evil and impurity move about in the world to make man sin (Zohar I:169b), and if they find him deep in Torah study (which leads to holiness), he derives great benefit from that in this world and in the world to come.
In addition, for the person who does everything possible to devote himself to Torah, G-d helps him so that his union with his wife during the night is also holy and pure, as in the case of Rabbi Eliezer. Concerning him the Sages said that when he had relations with his wife, it was if he were being coerced by a demon (Kallah Rabbati 1). He achieved this by the power of Torah, which is the foundation of holiness and purity.
To return to the subject of our generation, we see that because of our many sins there are numerous people who disregard these laws, for they have studied neither the written Torah, nor the Mishnah, nor the Gemara. Now it’s not for nothing that the Gemara asserts, “Whoever has relations with a woman in a state of impurity is liable to excision” (Keritut 1:1). We know perfectly well that Eve, who put her hand to the Tree of Knowledge, received her impurity as a punishment (Bereshith Rabba 17). The atonement for her sin consists of observing the laws of family purity, then the seven days of purity, for this repairs the wrong inflicted upon the seven days of Creation. In fact, without her interference, all of Creation would have been a hymn extolling Shabbat, a world that is entirely Shabbat (Talmid 7:4). This world was cut down because of man’s sin, and all that remains is Shabbat. All this must therefore be rectified by means of holiness and purity.
From all this we understand the seriousness of sins of this type, as well as the importance of abasing ourselves before G-d in holiness and purity in order to rectify them. What is essential are purity of heart and sanctity of eyes, as well as the study of Torah that leads to these. We should make an effort to conduct ourselves in a way that leads to holiness and purity, for concerning the verse that states, “You shall be holy” (Leviticus 19:2), the Midrash says, “Distance yourselves from indecency and transgressions” (Vayikra Rabba 24:4-6). Whoever conducts himself in this way to demonstrate his love for the Eternal is holy in the way that He is holy. G-d then answers him measure for measure, for we know that when the world was created, He wanted to create it according to the attribute of justice. However G-d knew that man could not survive in this way, for there are many that transgress His will. He therefore added mercy to justice (Bereshith Rabba 12:15), and in His pity created the world for Israel and the Torah, despite the existence of the wicked. A man should therefore adopt the same behavior towards his Creator and elevate himself in holiness and purity by means of the Torah. The Sages have said that most of the fundamental principles of the Torah depend on Parsha Kedoshim (Torat Kohanim Kedoshim 1:1), for in it we are shown the way to holiness and purity. Following this path will create a great abundance of good for a man and his wife. It will result in blessing and success both materially and spiritually. Amen, may it be so.
How should a person behave? Be holy! Separate yourself from all indecency. Pay careful attention to the details of the laws concerning a woman in a state of impurity: Neither touch her, nor sleep with her, nor dance with her. If not, we end up committing grave sins. We achieve this only by means of Torah study, which leads to holiness, purity, and a desire to elevate oneself towards G-d. These laws (Yoreh Deah 11) have a great deal to teach us concerning proper behavior, as well as how to reach a greater level of holiness and an abundance of good stemming from G-d.