Daily dose of wisdom, Eruvin 21: holy abstinence

Today the Talmud diverges from the subject of drawing water from wells on Shabbat and mentions some philosophical and esoteric concepts. Among these is an explanation of Song of Songs 7:14:

“And at our openings [petaḥeinu] are all manner of choice fruits [megadim],” this refers to the daughters of Israel who inform [maggidot] their husbands about their passageway [pit’ḥeihen], i.e., they tell them when they are menstruating. Another version of this interpretation is: They bind [ogedot] their passageway and save it for their husbands.

Why would the girls inform their husbands? The Bible requires abstinence for seven days after a woman begins menstruating (Leviticus 15:19). A righteous woman would inform her husband of this so they would not come to sin. The implication here is that the rest of the month the wife does not need to say anything about her availability for intimacy. She is assumed to be available, both physically and emotionally. This is the sign of a healthy relationship: neither partner withholds intimacy to influence or punish the other. When one partner needs affection, the other is ready.

The second interpretation is odd, of course a married woman cannot share her opening with anyone except her husband! The “Petach Einaim” explains that this is a praise to the women who approve of their husbands travelling abroad to learn Torah, even through they will be alone for a long time. The lack of regular marital intimacy causes them bodily pain. These women are choosing to put off their sex life to earn a greater spiritual life. Our sages teach that through such acts women earn a greater reward than the men.

In addition, the Gemara explains based on Ecclesiastes 12:12 that one must be more careful with the words of the sages than the words of the Bible itself. This requires a lot of explanation. A loose metaphor we can make is that the building your own path through life needs more effort than accepting outside wisdom and running your life based on that. Rabbinical law is based on and protects Biblical law, but is much more complex and addresses many more nuanced situations. As you go through life and figure out what works for you, you should be gaining in wisdom and developing rules for the situations you get into. Of course you need to start by learning existing wisdom, but the main effort is personalizing it to work in your life and help you grow towards your own mission.


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