HMS 5765-29 – Taharat HaMishpacha I – Introduction

Halacha L’Moshe Mi Sinai
Lessons in Memory of my brother Dale Alan Konigsburg
April 27, 2005 – Number 5765-29

Taharat HaMishpacha I – Introduction

Religions can be many things. They can open doors to new understandings of the spiritual realm. They can help us understand ourselves and guide our motivations to higher causes. A good religion can make meaning out of our life and direct us to the right path in every aspect of our lives. If a religion is to last for the long run, for a thousand years or more, however, it must also speak to the human condition. It has to help us live better lives. There are three major drives found in all humanity. A long term religion has to help us with these three drives.
The first drive is hunger. When we are without food for long periods of time, finding something to eat will take over every other priority that we have. The second drive is for power and control. We want to have the power over our surroundings to bend them to our needs. The third drive is the sexual drive. The need not just to have children, but to have sexual pleasure as well. In the ancient world, there were three ways to deal with these drives. One way was Pagan, the second was Christian, and the third way was Judaism.
Paganism saw our hunger as an opportunity to worship. Eating was how we showed the gods that we appreciated all the many bounties they had given us. Over eating and over drinking were the signature rituals of Paganism. Power was a sign that the gods loved you. Power is money and the one whose crops grew heavy and whose cattle were fertile, were blessed by the gods. Sex was part of the magic practiced by pagan priests and priestesses. If we were fertile here on earth, it reminded to gods to be fertile as well and thus our agricultural produce would increase.
Christianity, as practiced by the early church, took an opposite approach. Gluttony and drunkenness were serious sins. Holy people often fasted. Power was the root of all evil and holy people took vows of poverty, giving all of their possessions to the church. The only reason for sex was to have children, otherwise it was the source of original sin. Holy people took vows of celibacy.
Judaism was different. When it came to food, we had the laws of Kashrut. Kashrut taught us that there are foods we can eat and foods that we can not eat. The drive of hunger may be strong, but it must not control our life. We must control it. No matter how hungry we are, there are food we are permitted and foods that are never permitted. When it came to power, we had the laws of Shabbat. Six days we can labor and earn money and take control of the world, on the seventh day, we rest and become a part of the world again. Six days we make the world into what we want, the seventh day we live with what we have. We are in control, not our drive. When it came to sex, Judaism gives us the laws of taharat Ha Mishpacha, the laws of family purity. They tell us when we are permitted to enjoy sexual relations and when such relations are forbidden. Once again, the drive does not drive us, we are responsible to control our drives.
Many people feel that these laws are no longer important in Judaism. They were sexist laws and in a modern society we don=t have any need for religion to get involved in our sex lives. We have this fear that if religion will tell us when we can perform this most intimate act of our humanity, than it will add levels of guilt and repression into moments that should be loving and free. Like every other aspect of human life, however, even our sexuality need the reminders that make up these laws of holiness in our family. We need to look at them again, with modern eyes and see that they are not as outdated sometimes as we feel they should be. They are not designed to make us feel that sex is shameful or dirty, rather they are designed to help us understand that sex is one of the holiest things we humans are capable of doing and that we should not take such actions for granted. We should always be looking for ways to bring more holiness into our intimate relations.
Next week: Taharat HaMishpacha II – Sex Laws

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