05. The Woman’s Mitzva

As we saw in section 2, even though the mitzvot of marriage and ona devolve upon men, women are equal partners in the fulfillment of the mitzva. Without her responsiveness to her husband, the mitzva is emptied of all its meaning. Therefore, just as it is a mitzva for a man to express his love and desire for his wife, so too, it is a mitzva for a woman to express such feelings to her husband. Indeed, this is perfectly natural, as the Sages say: “A woman’s desire is only for her husband, as the Torah states (Bereishit 3:16), ‘Your desire shall be for your husband’” (Bereishit Rabba 20:7). This desire is sacred; through it, the love between the couple is revealed and the name of God dwells with them (above, 1:1). Moreover, the mutual desire of husband and wife serves as an allegory to express the relationship between God and Israel: “I am my beloved’s, and His desire is for me” (Shir Ha-shirim 7:11).

As we have seen, the mitzva to “love your fellow as yourself” (Vayikra 19:18), which R. Akiva calls “a major principle of the Torah” (Sifra ad loc.), reaches its ultimate fulfillment in marriage (Arizal, Sefer Ha-likutim, Ekev). Therefore, a woman, too, must bring her husband joy through whatever she knows will give him pleasure; the more she does so, the greater her mitzva.

The stronger the couple’s love and desire for each other, the more complete their union will be, and in this merit, their children will be even more wonderful (above, 1:4 and n. 4). Maharal writes that when a woman feels intense desire for her husband, she connects to the root of life and unity, and in this merit, she has children of the utmost refinement, who are deserving of redemption and liberty (Gevurot Hashem, ch. 43). This is what the Sages mean when they say, “In the merit of the righteous women of that generation, the Jews were redeemed from Egypt” (Sota 11b). By virtue of their desire for their husbands, and their expression of this desire through the mitzva of ona, despite all the hardships of servitude, they gave birth to the generation of redemption (above, 1:8).

In order to increase love, wives often adorn themselves in jewelry for their husbands. Ezra the Scribe even allowed peddlers to sell perfumes and jewelry, over any objections of the townspeople, “so that the women would not become undesirable to their husbands” (Bava Kamma 82b). According to tradition, God beautified Ḥava and braided her hair so that Adam would love her more (Eruvin 18a). The main purpose of a woman’s accessories is to arouse her husband’s desire for her (Tanḥuma Vayishlaḥ §12; Shir Ha-shirim 1:2). R. Hai Gaon writes, “May a curse befall a woman who is married but does not adorn herself for her husband, and may a curse befall a woman who is not married, yet adorns herself” (Sha’arei Teshuva §84). It would seem that he is referring specifically to the type of adornments that men find arousing, and this teaches us the main purpose of perfume, jewelry, and beautiful clothing is to increase the love of husband and wife.

When a woman does not love her husband, does not long to be with him, and does not enjoy sexual relations with him, she can drain the joy from his life. The Sages said of this: “There is no end to the goodness of a good wife, and there is no end to the badness of a bad wife” (Midrash Tehilim §59). Making a similar point, the Talmud (Yevamot 63a) relates that R. Ḥiya gave the following blessing to Rav, his disciple: “God should save you from a fate worse than death,” referring to a bad wife, as it says (Kohelet 7:26), “I find woman more bitter than death.” (See also section 12 below regarding women who have difficulty fulfilling this mitzva.)

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Translated By:
Series Editor: Rabbi Elli Fischer

The Laws of Shabbat (1+2) - Yocheved Cohen
The Laws of Prayer - Atira Ote
The Laws of Women’s Prayer - Atira Ote
The Laws of Pesach - Joshua Wertheimer
The Laws of Zemanim - Moshe Lichtman

Editor: Nechama Unterman