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Jewish Ethics

Intimacy: The Foundation

The wedding ceremony between man and woman is ​the penultimate expression of who Jewish people are to the rest of the world

(Picture: Shutterstock)
Sex.  Society whirls in whimsy around sex and still remains shocked at its daily scandals. It is the elephant in the room that is very difficult to fully encounter.   We talk about sex all the time, and watch it bring downfalls. Sex is the overwhelming basis of many advertising campaigns, fashions, styles, and sitcoms.   And, in popular culture, sexual ‘freedom’ is considered a basic human right, whose infringement upon triggers a primal rage.  Sex is both the magnet and the confounder of the public.
 
How is the Jew meant to relate to this?  After all, the Jew has the same ​yetzer (desire) for sexual encounters as every other human, even like every other animal.   The primal desire of sexuality is like eating and drinking, according to Maimonides.  It is so basic to life that, in and of itself, is amoral—not bad, or good—rather, a necessity of the ​nefesh (lowest of the 5 parts of the soul).  

Sexual relations are part of the innate engine of life that will at all costs, not be extinguished.   Simply put, sexuality defines life itself.  At bar or bat mitzvah, the next level of the soul imparted, ​ruach, gives the ​mini adult the ability to choose or abandon what the Torah proscribes around sexuality, which is around the time that the body becomes ready to procreate. 
 
And, Indeed the first mitzvah is to procreate.  But procreate at age 12 or 13?  In fact, one of the greatest physicians and rabbis of all time, Maimonides, wrote that young women should think about marriage at around 12 years old.  To the modern world, this would sound unusual perhaps. But is it?
 
Pregnancy and marriage are surely not the norm in America, but are casual sexual relations at early or mid-teen years so unusual in the modern world?  No, in fact, they are the norm—the boyfriend girlfriend dynamic is established very early in American culture through valentines and multiple TV outlets showcasing early romance as an ideal.  Albeit, modern sex education discourages pregnancy and even teaches about how to prevent disease transmission, boy-girl mixing, dancing and touching is the American norm. 
 
How does a ​bat mitzvah girl or​ bar mitzvah boy process this information in a society where the literal ‘practice’ of sex without pregnancy is essentially encouraged? 
 
And yes, while the rare Jew promotes Maimonides’ advice of marrying in one’s teens, the context for this advice could be understood, when people lived to age of 40 on average.
 
Yet, more importantly than the context of shorter lifespans, the advice to marry early was based on the reality that the sexual desire is bubbling at these young ages, and that the first ​mitzvah to which a human is obliged is procreation. 
 
But it rings odd to our modern ears, since society doesn’t treat sexual relations primarily as a procreative act first and foremost; in fact, Western culture views sexuality as a pleasurable past time to undertake, punctuated by the occasional late break for children.   Sexual education in schools today far from addresses the heavy emotional component of sexual relations, and usually only superficially deals with the logistics of disease and pregnancy prevention.  
 
Sex is never treated as sacred, holy, nor even the basis for a healthy future family.  Most of Western society sees sexual ‘‘freedom’ treated as a rite of passage, a pre-marital goal, in many cases, and a ‘cool’ thing to do.  Indeed, sex for the sake of sex, regardless of marital status, is practiced widely and often perfected upon from a young age in today’s America. 
 
At the same time, TV ratings are sky high for shows where sexual indiscretions are the norm.  Reality dictates that the screen correspond with what is on the ground, and thus, the twisting sexual roller coaster is the center of what drives society’s undercurrent.  Yet, as swirling an underbelly of sexual relations have always existed, there was once a time when most people preferred that those sordid details did not seep into the public sphere.  That has rapidly changed with internet.   Embarrassment is a relic of the past.
 
In fact, there is a growing segment of the unabashed public that doesn’t mind to publicize digital details of both short and long-term relationships and to memorialize them forever.  This is well known with a click of a button, even an accidental button.   And, while the rare parent wants to see their son or daughter in that digital sphere of so called “procreative practice,” very few will protest the existence of such a rampant sphere and may even patronize it from time to time.  It is sadly normal. 
 
Digitized procreative acts are a product of the inevitable collision of an already normative teenage practice into adulthood with a growing comfort with the public eye. Everything is under the camera today.  Those not yet comfortable watching digitized casual procreative practice, can still enjoy soap operas, or daytime talk shows, where people literally try to beat each other up on stage for engaging in such practices with someone else’s wife.
 
The curious teen, after watching Jerry Springer, for example, may thus ask his or her parents, “Can I kiss my boyfriend now?”  On one side the spectrum, Professor YouTube, Dr. Disney and the Honorable Nick will answer a resounding “yes!”  On the other side, Jewish practice is to wait even for a simple kiss until the wedding day—quite a feat.  
 
However, this seeming archaism shouldn’t surprise the student of the inner workings of the Torah, where even a simple kiss should wait for the wedding.  Why?  It’s just a kiss.
 
If you have ever gone to Disney World, you will find this striking message as to how Israel is represented at the “Small World” ride, where each country is depicted in its cultural glory: Mexican dolls in their sombreros, playing guitar, Dutch in wooden shoes by the windmills and Chinese marching with the dragon parade.  How is Israel portrayed?  Felafel?  Hummus? Uzis?  The beach?  None of those.
 
The sons and daughters of Israel are proudly fully dressed under a ​chuppah (wedding canopy).  This is striking.  The wedding ceremony between man and woman is the penultimate expression of who Jewish people to the rest of the world, but not just at Disney. This is reflected in Torah as well, where the wedding canopy is likened to Mount Sinai itself at the wedding between the Jewish people and the Infinite Creator.   Israel is the bride and the groom is the Infinite. 
 
In fact, monogamous and everlasting consummation between consenting male and female is ​the secret weapon of Jewish survival, buried within it the foundation of the Torah.  This idea is expressed eloquently in ​Shir Hashirim (Song of Songs) where the mutual pining love of Jewish people for the Infinite Creator​ is likened to a beautiful young bride and groom, struggling to connect.  Again, the final consummation occured at the wedding night, the giving of the Torah. 
 
 
Yet, prior to the consummation at Mount Sinai, the Jewish people understood a few basic essential Torah concepts: Procreation (​pru u’rvu), the Sabbath (​Shabbat, called the day of Moshe earlier on), and the New Moon (​Rosh Chodesh).    
 
Before the ultimate unification, the commandment of procreation internalized the concept of human and Jewish continuity.  The Sabbath internalized the idea of suspending creative acts and taking significant pause in the unity of the Infinite Creator.  The New Moon internalized the idea of the cyclical nature of national life and Jewish family life. 
 
At Sinai, the Infinite Creator consummated the marriage, bringing world unification, and foundation to the marriage that lasts to this day.  Again, the consummation was not simply an act of procreation, as proscribed to naked Adam in the first mitzvah.  It was the combination of procreation, at the right time, in the right place with the right partner, brought down in the premarital lessons of Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh.
 
It is known from ​Kabbalah (the deep inner workings of the Torah) that the Infinite Creator governs each detail of the physical world utilizing divine emanations called ​sefirot.  Sefirot, of which there are 10 types, can be compared to spiritual lights that penetrate into physicality, making physicality function, impacting everything, including the body. Thus, each of the 10 ​sefirot corresponds to an area of the body. 
 
The ​sefirah attributed to the most intimate region of the body, the parts which are used in consummating a marriage, is called ​Yesod, or Foundation.   This would imply that the ​foundation of Torah is indeed  sexual consummation. Said again, the foundation of Torah is ultimate cataclysmic of sexual union, combining the holiest aspects of the physical body, in the right place, at the right time, with the right partner.
 
The union is precise, almost surgical, yet both explosive and transformative. The idea that the foundation of Torah is rooted in precisely timed sexual union also finds basis in the seven ​Ushpizin (holy guests) of the ​Sukkah, to whom establishment and transmission of Judaism is owed.  The sefirah of ​Yesod (foundation), mentioned earlier, corresponds to Yosef ​HaTzadik (Joseph the righteous one).  Yosef was given the title ​Tzadik due to the fact that his resisted his sexual urge in the setting of overwhelming temptation.
 
In fact, the Talmud describes the famous episode with Potiphar’s wife tempting him as painfully trying for Yosef; in fact, seminal emissions were starting to emerge from his fingernails, due to the fact that he resisted the innate desire of his sexual organ.   He almost failed, but didn’t; he knew it wasn’t the right place, the right time, nor the right partner.   But he was single in Egypt. What did he have to lose?
 
The result of this profound trial was that he went to Pharaoh's jail, when Potifar’s wife complained to her husband in revenge.  Let’s examine this.  Yosef was originally bought with the intention of being his master Potifar’s sex slave, Potifar a known bisexual.  Yosef resisted not only Potifar’s wife, but Potifar ​himself, as well, according to commentator, Rashi.  
 
Yet, Yosef went to jail for resisting his master’s wife, when she unsuccessfully tried to seduce him.   To be clear, Yosef was a single man, in another country, far from his family.   There was no Torah yet to tell him that perhaps having a relationship with a married woman wasn’t a great idea.   He knew this innately: hold off for the right place, right time, right partner.  The Egyptians were not following any particular marriage laws at that time. 
 
It is told that Yosef ​did indeed want to have intimate relations with Potifar’s wife and could easily have done so without any sort of external retribution.  The husband wasn’t home and the wife wasn’t about to tell.  Did he have a particular allegiance to Potifar, his abusive master, that didn’t allow him to do so?  Likely not. Yosef reason for existence was protecting his ​Yesod, his foundation.  Yosef knew that the area of the ​bris (circumcision) was the foundation of the connection that he had with the Infinite Creator.   He knew this from his great grandfather Avraham Avinu (Abraham) who circumcised himself and his son, Yitzchak (Isaac) as he was commanded by the Infinite Creator Himself.
 
Yosef simply was not going to forfeit the covenant between himself and the Creator for a one night stand in Egypt.  That relationship with the Creator took precedence over his intense physical desire. 
 
Kabbalah tells us that when Yosef was freed from prison on the New Year,  ​Rosh Hashanah, the shofar was blown, and this is the main reason we blow the shofar on R​osh Hashanah.
​ 
The shofar marks the release of Yosef from prison, where he was interred for simply holding back his sexual urges. To rephrase, Jews blow the shofar yearly marking the day that Yosef was released from jail, jailed for holding back his sexual desire.
 
Rosh Hashanah also corresponds to the creation of the first human being, Adam, which was a combination of male and female bound together, in God’s image.  After this uni-human was separated, the means in which they were to reconnect were through the sexual organs, and recreate this unity. Again—the foundation.
 
This truth was not lost on Moshe ​Rabenu (Moses) who did something very special for Yosef.  Moshe carried Yosef’s bones for forty years in the desert with the intention of bring them for interment in ​Eretz Yisrael (Israel).  Other than his own staff, Yosef’s bones were Moshe’s only personal items for forty years—yes, Moshe—the greatest prophet of all time. 
 
Moshe was the one who the Infinite Creator chose through which to transmit the Torah, before, during and after Sinai—and, yet all that he carried were Yosef’s bones. Moshe was keenly aware that Yosef was the ​yesod, the foundation of the entire Torah—the control of one’s sexual desire. Protecting the one who protected his ​bris/sacred circumcision was the basis for Moshe Rabenu’s protecting Yosef’s bones for future burial. This is what the Torah is all about.
 
And this truth was not lost on our sages who implemented on Yom Kippur the afternoon reading that enumerates how and with whom one’s sexual desire.  This is the holiest day of the year, where were are reminded of the holiest endeavor, protecting and preserving one’s sexual relations for only the holy moments and not for any moment one desires. 
 
Modern society has largely lost this idea, other than certain pockets, and, sadly, those pockets are often considered to be ‘backwards’ by popular TV culture. Popular TV culture would have one believe that sex is simply what one does, when one wants, with whom wants at any time, in any place, and even records it for others to see. 
 
The foundation of Torah says the exact opposite: that sexuality’s purpose is only in order to connect to the Infinite Creator—nothing more and, surely, nothing less.