Holiness & Intimacy In Marriage [#3184]

Question:

Regarding peace in the home, there is a view today that a couple should make a lot of use of “touch” and “talk”. There are marital experts who say that this combination of “talk” and “touch” is the way to succeed in attaining marital peace, and that this approach can save any marriage and prevent many divorces. I would like to know what the Rav’s view on this matter is. This is in particularly in light that which I heard the Rav say in a derasha on the topic of the sanctity of the Jewish home that our generation is far too permissive when it comes to using the sense of touch so freely.

Did the Rav mean that it’s inappropriate for a couple to act immodestly outside the house, or even in the home, in front of the children, when a couple shows some physical affection in front of others? Or did the Rav mean that a couple shouldn’t touch either so much, even in privacy? If that’s true, is this because of the Ramban’s words that “the sense of touch is shameful to mankind”, and therefore the Rav meant that the heavy use of the sense of touch goes against the holy way of building the Jewish home, even when this is not being done in front of others and when the children aren’t around? But if that’s the case, then how do we explain the fact that a couple’s marital peace usually gets better if they make sure to have regular intimate touch with each other? Should a couple’s shalom bayis (marital peace) be sacrificed if it will compromise on the kedushah (sanctity) of a Jewish home, because it would only be improving the external layer of their marriage, burying their souls in the process? So it’s better for the couple to remain without shalom bayis, than to have shalom bayis but compromise on their kedushah…?

This question is relevant to me very much and to anyone else who wishes to receive guidance from the Rav in these matters. I want to receive the Rav’s guidance on this topic even if I still remain with questions about this topic. I just want to receive more clarity about this matter, “It is Torah, and I need to learn it”. Much thanks to the Rav.

Answer:

Even in privacy, this is something that needs to be weighed out carefully (with sanctity of thought), and with sensitivity. It is a matter which depends on the general level of a couple.

Another factor to be considered is the particular period they find themselves in. One of the Sages said, “It is enough that they (the wives) save us from sin” (Yevamos 63a). So besides for maintaining shalom bayis (marital peace), a man also needs [physical intimacy with his wife] in order to be saved from sin [illicit relations].

Therefore, first a married man needs to figure out is how to create a situation in which he will have “bread in his basket” (Yoma 18b), [meaning that he has physical intimacy and relations with his wife which curbs his desire for illicit relations, because he fulfills his physical intimacy needs through marital relations with his wife].

However, this does not mean that one can indulge in physical intimacy without any restraint. This would go against the sanctity of the Jewish people, who are called “Yisrael Kedoshim”, “Yisrael are holy” (Niddah 17a). Chazal state that when a person feels his evil inclination overpowering him, it is permitted for him to have relations with his wife, if he goes into a dark room and covers himself with a garment (ibid). The Mishnah Berurah also says that even during times when one should refrain from marital relations [i.e. Rosh HaShanah or Shavuos], if one feels his evil inclination overtaking him, one is allowed to be lenient and engage in marital relations. So there are instances when a married man should engage in physical intimacy with his wife [and there is no concern of indulgence].

The Sages state, however, that when one indulges too much in physical intimacy within marriage, it is called kever, a “grave”, for the husband and wife, which “buries” them. If a couple lacks merits, chas v’shalom, they become “buried” through their indulgence in physical intimacy. So they need to clarify deeply what their current level is, what actions they need to do, what they are capable of doing (and vice versa), and what actions will bring them down from their current level. And not always are they both at an equal level.

When a couple engages in a lot of physical intimacy with each other, sometimes they may gain a more peaceful relationship with each other, but this is only because they are at a low spiritual level. The Sages warned that “The side of evil begins with unity, and ends with separation” [it may look like they are becoming closer through the intimacy, in the end they will become separated].