06. Women and the Virtue of Nonverbal Cues

The Sages say, “Any woman who propositions her husband to fulfill the mitzva [of ona] will have children the like of whom did not exist even in the generation of Moshe” (Eruvin 100b). This is what our matriarch Leah did: “When Yaakov came home from the field in the evening, Leah went out to meet him and said, ‘Come to me, for I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes.’ And he lay with her that night” (Bereishit 30:16). It was on that night that Leah conceived Yissachar, whose descendants were Torah scholars and leaders, as we read: “Of the Yissacharites, men who knew how to interpret the signs of the times, to determine how Israel should act: their chiefs were 200, and all their kinsmen followed them” (2 Divrei Ha-yamim 12:33).

The Talmud then questions this conclusion in light of the Sages’ dictum: “A woman propositions in her heart, while a man propositions verbally; this is an admirable trait in women.” If so, how could Leah have verbalized her proposition? Furthermore, how could she have been rewarded with a tribe of wise descendants? The Talmud explains that it is commendable for a woman to “make herself pleasing to him” – showing him signs of her affection and adorning herself for him to arouse his desire. That is, she propositions him “in her heart,” by means of nonverbal cues. This is what Leah did when she said, “Come to me.” She was expressing her love for Yaakov and her wish for him to come to her tent so they could sleep in the same bed and be close to one another. She did not explicitly request that they have sexual relations.

The reason that it is improper for her to verbally proposition him is that a man’s stamina is limited, and he is not always capable of fulfilling the mitzva of ona, which requires him to be pleasantly stimulated and aroused to the point that he can have intercourse with his wife. The mitzva of ona thus depends on the man and what his physical stamina and workload permit (as explained in the next section). A woman, by contrast, can achieve orgasm every night, and even multiple times in one night. Even when she is tense, making it difficult for her to achieve orgasm, she can be responsive to her husband’s advances and take pleasure in his joy. If she were to proposition him explicitly and verbally when he is in a state that would make it difficult for him to consummate their union, he might find it humiliating. Instead of eagerly anticipating sexual relations and finding it intensely pleasurable and enjoyable, he might start dreading it, fearing that he will be unable to do his duty. Sometimes this anxiety can cause impotence. Therefore, a woman should be coy and not proposition her husband verbally. Rather, she should use nonverbal cues that come from her heart, so that when he is not sure of his ability to fulfill the mitzva, he can respond affectionately but without the humiliation of being unable to reciprocate fully.

Additionally, when a man is so depressed and powerless that he actually feels impotent, devoid of his vitality and virility, and it seems to him that even if he wanted to, he does not possess the strength to stimulate an erection strong enough for sexual relations with his wife, then if he is fortunate, and his wife expresses her love and desire through nonverbal hints and cues, like with a warm embrace, it can revive him. It can awaken within him the desire and ability to fulfill the mitzva and consummate their union. Thus, she adds joy and light to his life (see 1:8 above).[4]


[4]. As we learned, nonverbal cues are meant to preserve the husband’s self-respect. However, as the couple’s relationship becomes stronger and more secure, the wife should do whatever will make her husband happy. Some men prefer that their wives talk openly. Some prefer that their wives take more initiative, finding that it arouses them to pleasure their wives. When a woman knows that her husband prefers it, then this is what she should do. This is not immodest; rather, it is a mitzva, as she is doing this to bring him joy.

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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