Adaptation from Ohel Rachel, Nidda, chapter 3
While the world has entered a state of social distancing and isolation akin to a nidda status…. I couldn’t help but remember this chapter I translated from Sefer Ohel Rachel years ago, the Hebrew compendium of Torah sources on Jewish womanhood compiled by R’ Shlanger, student of R’ Moshe Shapiro זצ”ל.
I got up to chapter 19 in the project since when I laid it to rest until the time comes when I see it has way forward. This was chapter 14, the third chapter in the section on Nidda. The sefer is arranged according to the three mitzvot of women. This chapter begins with a general discussion on the essence of the Nidda state and ends with the deeper connotations “when the whole world takes on the state of a Nidda’ (for fuller context, you may need to read the preceding chapters!) Personally, I think that though never easy, nidda is always good news, since the nidda period is always followed by a process of purification and ultimately intimacy between the couple. Since our soul-mate is Hashem we are in a time ripe with the potential of mass return to Him (i.e. Teshuva) when He will take us into His embrace, may it be soon!
[my translation for this chapter starts here. My comments appear in italics and footnotes]
A good place to start unpacking the deeper spiritual properties of both the nidda and tumah state is by looking at the word itself.
The Ramban speculates that the Nidda concept is related to the Hebrew word מדוה which means “ache” and is associated with the fact that her limbs are heavy upon her at that time. The Ibn Ezra offers a similar suggestion and says that nidda is synonymous with some sort of חולי, illness. What is clear that during menstruation, the very part of her that is pivotal in achieving intimacy is involved in a process of renewal, much like the waxing and waning cycles of the moon. Through experiencing the diminishment of the moons light at its monthly interval when it wanes is the only way to reach its full luminosity in the following cycle.
Whereby the moon’s waxing and waning happens automatically, the woman’s transition from nidda to tahara takes a conscious choice. This is the heart of the Tahara – purification process that she actively engages herself in.
A Torah principle is that whatever is happening on a physical realm is an indicator of what is happening on the higher and more subtler levels within a person. Therefore, the monthly appearance of her menstrual cycle is not just a physical phenomenon but indicates a cleansing and renewal of her entire being; mentally, spiritually and emotionally. Because the process of shedding and renewal requires her focus and attention to ride with it, she is not totally “available” to actualize the marriage’s full potential. Engaging in physical connection at a time where her circuits are already occupied so to speak would turn the act into – surprisingly – an immoral one. The is because the definition of holy union is one where all the faculties and dimensions of both spouses are available and focused on each-other. Intimacy without the necessary concentration and dedication towards the other relegates the act to the realm of the physical. This is completely antithetical to holy marital intimacy, in which the physical dimension of the couple’s connection is just the expression of their unity on all the higher levels of their beings. This is actually a definition of all עריות, acts of immorality; where the physical act is stripped from all other layers of appropriate connection within the context of kedusha, holiness.
Just like the Torah prohibits relationships that don’t carry the sanctity and eternal commitment of marriage, the Torah prohibits intimate encounter with one’s wife under nine circumstances which are called the 9 moods, ט’ מידות. All of the “moods” interfere with the internal essence of their relationship to be fully expressed and therefore intimacy under their influence is strictly forbidden and is comparable to עריות, immorality. They are; drunkenness, mourning, nidda, coercion, thinking about someone other that who one is with, thinking about another wife [when polygamy was permitted], a kohain with a divorcee, and _______.
Nidda is therefore the strong counter-indication to marital intimacy, as is any one of the other nine circumstances [moods]. Chazal teach that children born from a union that took place during nidda or during any one of these moods carry a spiritual blemish.
From the negative we learn the positive; oneness in marriage can only be achieved when both parties are in a state of personal joy and wholeness. This is a profound turn-around from modern thinking that happiness is from some other person, object or experience. True wholeness comes from inside and it is when a woman is not trying to find her innate wholeness from someone outside of her [i.e. her husband] and takes responsibility for finding it within, she becomes ready to enter into the next phase of intimacy and connection.
The paradox here is stunning…. On the one hand, intimacy is punctuated by humility, vulnerability and a desire for connection. On the other hand, every month through the healing process of her menstrual cycle, a woman finds her core within herself again. Once she has reclaimed her intrinsic wholeness of the woman she is, she is then ready to bond with a man and together the two become something greater than the sum of their parts.
This is a graceful dance that hinges around subtle paradoxes of selfhood vs. relationship. Perhaps a woman might absorb the teachings about being a “receiver” so deeply that she feels lost when she in no longer in an active state of receiving. It is then that she recalibrates and finds her own center and source of wholeness that is not dependent on anyone else, other than Hashem Himself. She becomes a receiver from Hashem within a deep place within her being and this allows her to heal and renew her feminine capabilities vis a vis her husband. Being a receiver is not about weakness as much as it is about dedication, commitment, and strength to be a strong vessel. Only women can go and transform through their monthly cycles the way they do, in privacy, in faith, and with patience that the moon with shine its light again soon. In fact, it is all those qualities that she finds within herself during that phase that herald the redemption of the new moon in its time. Even what is objectively a “curse” has its gifts.
Tahara, purification, makes a clean break from the nidda phase. The “gift” of nidda, a chance to regenerate, can easily spill over into something much more sinister, namely the sentiment that the woman doesn’t need the connection that the mikve affords. It is too easy in our modern times to adopt the attitude of autonomy and approach life in this ego-centric way. A woman knows this is happening to her when the vicissitudes and challenges of life become a wedge between her and her husband, and she deepens further into her own world, carrying life’s burdens on her shoulders alone. This creates within her a feeling of stress and it’s first cousin, exhaustion. Her disappointment and disillusionment with her husband grow as her reliance on outside sources of validation and appreciation also grow. Slowly she shifts her focus from being internally defined to externally orientated and to that extent she grows more and more distant from her husband. This distance becomes the reality for her and it then ironically confirms her doubts and fears, creating a vicious cycle. She doesn’t realize it but her beliefs about her husband have created her reality and her experience of pain and isolation.
This woman may not realize it but she has allowed the essence of nidda to enter her psyche and begin to define her. It is no wonder that her shalom bayis starts to show signs of strain. Life’s challenges, be it with children, health or parnassa, livelihood, become too much to bear, as the couple is dealing with everything that is coming their way from within their isolated inner worlds.
The good news is that through the proper use of bechira, free will, she can purify her mind and soul, not only her body in a mikve. A small choice to become tahor stirs a monumental shift in her perspective, and she realizes that she can rely on her husband as the G-d given one to help her deal with what life sends their way. What is important is that they have each-other. According to halacha, Jewish law, as demonstrated by the laws of the Tahara process – the ability to craft such an uplifted and unified relationship is in the wife’s hands. Such is her feminine power.
Let us return to another connotation of the word nidda and its origins. The Targum Unkelus renders the word nidda as ריחוק – distance as in the verse in Vayikra (15,1), תהיה בנדתה – she will be בריחוקה, “distant”. Similarly, the verse in Yechezkel (Ezekiel 7, 19); וזהבם לנדה יהיה – translated as, “and their wealth will be distant from them”. This is the impurity of nidda, being trapped within the parameters of our own world, unable to allow the fuller context of relationship to penetrate and transform our experience of life. The essence of Nidda is the mistaken notion that we must go it alone, that G-d is far from us, that if we don’t do it, who will?
In the prophets, (also Ezekiel 36,17) the Jewish people are reprimanded for their smallness of mind (disconnection always starts with the wrong belief about our own smallness within the context of Hashem’s greatness) and subsequent misdemeanors. The Prophet describes their state; ,”כטומאת הנדה היתה דרכם לפני” – “like the impurity of Nidda are your ways before Me”. Similarly, in Ezra (9,11) the verse describes the very land taking on the properties of nidda; “”ארץ נדה היא – “a land that has become defiled (through its abominations).”
How can a land itself take on characteristics of purity or impurity? How can the deeds of a nation spread to the very soil on which they live?
Moshe Rabbeinu (our teacher) himself explains this to us when he contrasts the Land of Israel with the Land of Egypt (Devarim, 11,10). “Israel is not like the land of Egypt, in which you make use of irrigation to water your crops. The land to where you are headed to inherit is a land of hills and valleys and only through the precipitation of the heavens will you drink water. It is a land that Hashem seeks with special interest and intensity… a land where His eyes are always fixed.”
As I’m sure you are making the connection, Egypt shares the qualities of a nidda consciousness. It needs no-one and pulls itself up by its bootstraps with its intricate systems of irrigation. Israel, on the other, known for its mountainous terrain – a place of living life in the raw – in relationship with G-d, with the metaphoric peaks and valleys that that comes with. (Spiritual life is never flat – it is always striving and reaching, falling and recovering, eventually creating an upward trend of cyclical growth.) But most importantly, in all its realness, it is connected – receiving its rain from Hashem Himself, Whose watchful eyes never leave it for a moment. Every tomato is a gift directly from G-d – with no intermediating networks and stop-gaps. It is this awareness of the Divine within the mundane that sets Israel apart as a land of purity and holiness, the place where Hashem interacts most intimately with His whole creation. It is a land that not only believes in miracles but relies on them for its very existence.
This is our marriage with Hashem. Of course, a land can take on the defiled status of its people, when we fail to have the courage to enter into this direct relationship of receiving our needs from Hashem Himself. This is what the prophet meant when he said, “ארץ נדה היא” – this land is impure. And this is the very reason why it is only in the borders of the land of Israel that we are obligated in the agricultural laws of Terumos and maasros, the tithes that must be taken before any of the produce is consumed. We are able to perform these laws and all the laws of the Torah when we recognize fully that it is He is who is the source of the bounty, and the whole land becomes the private Home where He lives together with His people. Pulling the wool over our eyes and pretending that it is a land like any other and we can go it alone puts the land into its nidda state.
So too, being a vessel for the conduit of blessing and being humble enough to acknowledge that conduit transforms the married woman into seeing her life as complete only with her husband. This shift of the mind creates her purity and is the epitome of her humility.
 To this day doctors cannot explain why the same degree of elegance and synchronicity of all the other body’s functions do not appear with the dilemma of what the body does to deal with unneeded blood of the lining of the uterus when conception does not occur. Hashem could easily have created the uterus to absorb its lining back into the body.
 The moon – woman runs very deep. The moon is a symbol of malchus, royalty (as is clearly perceivable by the liturgy of kiddush levana, the blessing we make when the moon makes its first appearance in the new month, which is all about the malchus of David Hamelech.
 It is striking to note that the Hebrew word for holiness and promiscuity are almost one and the same. Holiness is vowelized as קדושה, “kedusha”, and a prostitute is pronounced “קדשה”, kedaisha. The root is the same. The essence of the root ק.ד.ש. is sanctity, i.e. designation for a particular relationship. In the case of holiness, the husband and wife are designated to each-other, and no one else. In the case of the immoral woman, she is designated to immorality.
 The Hebrew root of the word nidda is נד – which means to wander; a strong term for the experience of exile (as kayin was cursed with exile, נע ונד).