There is a story told in the Talmud of a woman who merited to raise many wonderful sons. They were each handsome, learned, talented, kind and holy. When she was asked what she did to create such fine boys she replied, “My husband and I never united before midnight.”

Now, according to modern, Western thought, this narrative may be a bit difficult to follow. It may sound a bit archaic if not nonsensical to presume that the timing of conception and marital relations can influence the character of a child. There is no Jewish law that prohibits relations before midnight. So, what exactly is the Talmud trying to teach us here?

First of all, before examining Talmudic logic, we have to expand our conceptual framework a bit, “put on our Jewish glasses” if you will, and take a deeper look. Upon deeper insight, there is profound meaning in this simple narrative, and in fact, this simple story hints to some of the most fundamental and vital principals of Jewish thought on intimacy. Chassidic thought offers an intriguing explanation.

This particular woman’s home was a hub of sorts for all kind of family and community doings. The settling down time of her home life only came after midnight. Before that there were people coming and going, children were awake, Torah learning and chattering could be heard around the house. Her focus scattered throughout the house and its various activities.

After midnight however, all was quiet. And it was in this quiet space, undisturbed and totally focused on each other and the holiness of this sacred act, that they joined together. It was in this quiet space that this couple could wholly connect.

Before we go any further let us first dismiss some myths that surround the very concept of Jewish sexuality. There are many people who make the mistake of equating Christian/Catholic beliefs about physical intimacy with Judaism’s beliefs, assuming that physical intimacy is viewed as a weakness of man, a dirty, animalistic and undesirable act. In the words of Rav Ya’akov Emden (1698-1776) in regards to this matter, “Chaliliah V’Chalilah. (G‑d forbid!)” Not only is healthy intimacy encouraged according to Jewish law, it is commanded.

Historically it is known that years before Christianity forbade its clerics from marrying or having intimate relations, our rabbis were giving explicit advice to married men and women as to how they could enjoy holy, intimate relations. The rabbis made female pleasure an obligation incumbent on every Jewish husband. No man is permitted to use his wife solely for his own personal, physical gratification. Thus intimacy, in the framework of Jewish marriage, like any of the other Torah commandments, is to be enjoyed, enhanced and sanctified.

It is said of the Great Sage of the Talmud, Raba, that he always began his classes and lectures with a joke. He explained that the very telling of the joke opened up his students’ senses. It established an essential connection, it set the stage for the learning that was to follow.

Connection is a vital ingredient in any relationship. One can pray to G‑d, but if there is no “connection” to G‑d, something fundamental and transforming is lost. A teacher can teach his students, and a student can learn information, but if there is no “connection” between the teacher and his pupil, then, there is no relationship; there is simply teaching.

Likewise, a man and wife can marry and can bear children but without essential connection something valuable and holy is lost. Why is it that a woman will typically prefer a hand plucked flower from a neighboring field as a gift from her husband as opposed to say an electric juicer? Because a juicer is practical, it has function and purpose and consequence. A juicer, however needed and anticipated, provides a means to an end. A flower on the other hand is ultimately meaningless. It has no actual purpose per se. Yet it is and perhaps always has been the quintessential act of romance.

Just like Raba with the telling of his joke, the mere act of giving a flower (or a hug, or a kind word etc.) is so dear, so valuable because it “opens the senses” and allows for connection in one of its purest forms.

This concept is expounded upon in the works of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (the “Alter Rebbe,” 1745-1812). He writes of the idea of “mashpia” and “mekabel.” A “mashpia” is one who gives; a “mekabel” is one who receives. In most kabalistic texts, the man is given the title “mashpia” and the woman, “mekabel.” It is clear to see, based on our anatomical make-up, why this is so. A man’s reproductive system is external and “outward,” while the woman’s reproductive system is internal and hidden. The very act of intimacy thus requires the woman to “receive.”

However, it is in precisely this unity, where our sense of essential self is totally intertwined with our partner, where the lines of giving and receiving are blurred and morph into each other again and again. When we are sharing this love and connecting in this intimate way, we are able to be both a giver and a receiver simultaneously. This is a G‑dly level, and this is the time that we are likened to our Creator for it is here, in this singular place of total unity, where the potential exists to be a partner in creation.

This is why the Torah provides guidelines for conduct during relations, namely to provide the parents with every opportunity to totally focus on their actions and to participate in creation. The purpose of these guidelines is to help focus the couple on the sanctity of their connection and on its infinite ramifications. The goal is also to eliminate the possibility of distraction in order to maintain this connectedness and focus when intimacy moves out of the bedroom.

We recite the daily prayer, “Bless us, our Father, together as one...” It is this “one” that is so beautifully and profoundly expressed in marital intimacy. Intimate relations is a gift from Above to be guarded and cherished. It is at once pleasurable, beautiful, powerful, and G‑dly.

A mere physical act can produce a child, but an intimate connection performed with intention and passion can create a soul.