Thursday, October 16, 2008

Man + Woman = Androgyn?

I found these Jewish thoughts on a some aspects of immersion ("baptism", mikvah) to be interesting.


Family purity is a system predicated on the woman's monthly cycle. From the onset of menstruation and for seven days after its end, until the woman immerses in the mikvah, husband and wife may not engage in sexual relations. To avoid violation of this law, the couple should curtail their indulgence in actions they find arousing, putting a check on direct physical contact and refraining from physical manifestations of affection. The technical term for a woman in this state is Niddah (literal meaning: to be separated).

Exactly a week from when the woman has established the cessation of her flow, she visits the mikvah. Immersion takes place after nightfall of the seventh day and is preceded by a requisite cleansing. The immersion is valid only when the waters of the mikvah envelop each and every part of the body and, indeed, each hair. To this end, [prior to her immersion - Kent,] the woman bathes, shampoos, combs her hair, and removes from her body anything that might impede her total immersion.

Immersion in the mikvah is the culmination of the Taharat Hamishpachah discipline. It is a special moment for the woman who has adhered to the many nuances of the mitzvah and has anticipated this night. Sometimes, however, the woman may be feeling rushed or anxious for reasons related or unrelated to this rite. At this point, she should relax, spend a few moments contemplating the importance of the immersion, and in an unhurried fashion, lower herself into the mikvah waters. After immersing once, while standing in the waters of the mikvah, the woman recites the blessing for ritual purification and then, in accordance with widespread custom, immerses twice more. Many women use this auspicious time for personal prayer and communication with G-d. After immersion, woman and husband may resume marital relations.

And then a little later in the article:

Trite as it may sound, mikvah offers couples the possibility of repeated "honeymoons" during the course of their marriage. Boredom, a seemingly innocuous state of affairs, can beleaguer any relationship and chip away at its foundation. The mandatory monthly separation fosters feelings of longing and desire -- at the very least, a sense of appreciation -- which is followed by the excitement of reunion.

Over the course of a lifetime, open-ended sexual availability may well lead to a waning of excitement and even interest. The monthly hiatus teaches couples to treasure the time they have together and gives them something to look forward to when they are apart. Every month they are separated -- not always when convenient or easy-but they wait for one another. They count the days until their togetherness, and each time there is a new quality to their reunion. In this regard the Talmud states: "So that she will be as beloved as on the day of her marriage."

This reminded me of a teaching from a Jewish scholar of old:

Do not deprive one another—except when you agree, for a time, to devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again; otherwise, Satan may tempt you because of your lack of self-control. (1 Cor 7:5 - HCSB)

The article continues:

The man-woman relationship thrives on a model of withdrawal and return. The Torah teaches that Adam and Eve in their original form were created as an androgynous being. Subsequently, G-d separated them, thus granting them independence on the one hand and the possibility for a chosen union on the other. Men and women have been pulling apart and coming together ever since. The mikvah system grants the married couple this necessary dynamic. Within their commitment to live together and be loyal to each other forever, within their monogamy and security, there is still this springlike mechanism at work.

I'm not convinced that the Torah teaches that Adam and Eve were androgynous in the Beginning (although it did strike me just a week or three ago that Eve "was taken out of" Adam (Gen 2:23 - KJV)), the claim does remind me of Yeshua's statement that:

... in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like angels in heaven. (Matt 22:30 - HCSB)

This author's "push-pull" imagery reminds me of the meaning of the phrase rendered in the King James as "help meet", which I understand to mean "helper against", as in Yin-Yang.

And more:

Human beings share a nearly universal intuitive tendency for the forbidden. Solomon, the wisest of all men, spoke of "stolen waters which are sweeter." How many otherwise intelligent, calculated individuals have jeopardized their marriages and families in pursuit of the illicit because of its seeming promise of the romantic and the new? Mikvah introduces a novel scenario: one's spouse -- one's partner in life, day after day, for better and for worse -- becomes temporarily inaccessible, forbidden, off limits. Often this gives couples reason and opportunity to consider each other anew. In this "removed" span of time, from this new vantage point, they view and approach each other with enhanced appreciation.

And finally, a hint of immersion's role in Christianity:

The single greatest gift granted by G-d to humankind is teshuvah -- the possibility of return-to start anew and wash away the past. Teshuvah allows man to rise above the limitations imposed by time and makes it possible to affect our life retroactively. A single immersion in the mikvah late in life may appear insignificant to some, a quick and puny act. Yet coupled with dedication and awe, it is a monumental feat; it brings purity and its regenerative power not only to the present and future but even to one's past.

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