I’m getting married soon and I have some confusion regarding tashmish. What is the proper hashkafa regarding it? Over the years, I’ve received conflicting attitudes towards it.
One the one hand Judaism considers it to be very holy, to the extent that there was symbolism of tashmish in the kadosh hakedoshim.
Yet on the other hand it’s looked upon as being dirty and something that should be avoided. Proofs:
– There’s no Hebrew word for tashmish.
– one is tamei after performing the act.
– One is not allowed align his bed on a East/West axis, because the shchina resides in those directions.
– takanas Ezra, to prevent excessive relations.
There are many other indications, but I think you get the drift.
In short, I’d much appreciate if you can explain this dichotomy of attitudes to me.
The question is a very good question, as it can be confusing because there are different factors playing a role here. I would advise you to discuss this with your chosson teacher, and if you don’t have one, I can recommend some excellent people for you to talk to.
Although such topic matter really needs to be discussed on a one-to- one personal basis, nevertheless I will answer your question briefly. It is true that Judaism regards the union between husband and wife to be of the a very holy act, and a heavenly one also. It is a union that the husband, who represents the “yud” in H-shem’s name, binds together with the woman who represents the “hey” of H-shem’s name, and together from this union we have “ ki “ka”h” H-shem tzur olamim”. This is represented on the physical level also. H-shem gave a male the unbelievable power to transport life, from himself, and to implant it into someone else. A man’s seed contains nishamos, and when it binds with ones wife it can create new life, something no one in the world can create on his own! Therefore it is a burst of G-dly energy and it actually creates! This tremendous power has to be used only in the proper place, time and environment. When done at the wrong time and place, it is like crossing to high voltage wires… which can make an explosion.
On the other hand, since H-shem wants very much that we should procreate (in the correct way) he gave us a strong drive to want to do so. However the yetzer hora pushes us to indulge and turn this lofty act into a low down, pleasure seeking experience. This brings us a world that looks the way it does, with promiscuity, the making of women into a pleasure object, and there is no need to elaborate on it. (It is important to note that the torah want a man to enjoy what he is doing, and that it why he made the union pleasurable, however it has to be done in the correct way.) Therefore we have a balance of mitzvah and loftiness, but on the other hand we have to make sure to keep it elevated. Similar to when a person eats a meal, it is a mitzvah to eat, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to live, but on the other hand we at in a mannered respectful way. There is practically no place that we find more etiquette then when it comes to eating. This is because we have to be careful not to turn it into an animalistic act. We have to eat – but like a human, not an animal.
Now we can address your questions.
The reason that Ezra instituted that we go to the mikvah is in order to prevent overindulgence, and as part of a way to keep the balance correct and to keep things on track. Although nowadays there is no obligation for to go to the mikvah after relations, it is a commendable thing to do.
The reason that one is “tameh” after relations is because of the loftiness of the act! A man’s seed, contains life in it, which in part, gives holiness to the act, but on the other hand, the dead seed, in a way is a loss of life. Whenever there is a loss of life there is tumah. The greatest tumah is a dead body. A niddah is also tameh and one of the ideas behind it is that when a woman gets her period it is the ending of her cycle, when the body expels the egg and blood vessels that were potentially supposed to create a new life. Note: The mitzvos of tumah and tahara are a chok, and we don’t know the real deep reason of the creator. I am only coming to help us understand things a little better.
Regarding which way the beds should be see Rabeinu Yona Brachos3a in the pages of the Rif D:H Kol Hanosain, that he explains this.