Sexual relations have an enormous influence on the soul. Not all human activities have an intrinsic inner connection. There are all kinds of activities that are rather insignificant; one example would be taking a walk. But sex is not one of those activities. Sex has an impact which is not only subjective; it is also something objective. Sex is a meaningful deed. In Kabbalistic literature, descriptions of any deep connection between spiritual entities use the term “copulation.” The sexual relation in itself is an expression of a basic drive which, in Kabbalah, is called the sefirah of Yesod. It is the power, the compelling desire, which comes from making connections. In that sense, sex is considered the supreme format for all forms of connection. It is one of those things that make a complete world.
By definition, sex has a physical side. It also has an emotional side. Sex can be connected with love, but not always. There is an English expression, “making love,” which was also borrowed from English into other languages. Surely making sex is not making love. Sex may have a connection with love, but even when it doesn’t have any connection with love, where there is no feeling like love involved, it is still a very powerful drive that has a specific meaning in itself which is not in direct proportion with the impact it has on the body, and not even with what I think about. Sex is not just a physical deed. When it isn’t connected with some kind of an emotion and a spiritual connection, it signifies an absolute lack of something. It is not that it didn’t happen, but rather that something particular happened in a negative way.
The sexual drive does not have the same practical driving power of, say, hunger. If you are hungry, it is not just a matter of a feeling or an emotion. If you don’t satisfy this urge to eat, essentially you are dead because your life depends on it. On the other hand, the driving power of sex may be far stronger than that of hunger. The drive for procreation is a particularly strong drive, and not only in creatures that derive some satisfaction or enjoyment from it, but also in those creatures where sex happens without their touching each other, even without their meeting each other.
This happens in the vegetable, in the flower. This flowering, this desire, this will, this compelling power sometimes supports life, and sometimes goes against life. There are all kinds of animals that die while they have sex, or are killed by their spouses while they have sex. There are a great number of plants in which there is a connection between their giving, making, and creating flowers, and their dying. The compelling power is such that this plant has to create a flower, even though that means in a different way, the end of it.
It is the fact that sex is forbidden that makes it high on the list of the things desired. But there is an inner, deeper feeling that there is something important about sex-and not just in extremely religious literature. You can find it in the very old mythologies. There is something about sex that is also frightening, frightening because it is something which makes you forget yourself. That fear is a part of the feeling that behind this deed there is something very deep. Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav once said, “Why is the power of sex so big? It is because it is the desire, the thing that makes people want to create.” It is the ability to create a new being with life in it that makes it so powerful.
In the Bible, in Genesis, when Eve speaks about the first child, she says, “I created a man together with God” [Genesis4:1]. Something divine is happening there, that a person can create a new life. This is something both frightening and elating, almost at the same time. That is the hidden part of what happens in a relationship, even when people are not aware of what they are doing.
Surely one of our advantages and disadvantages as compared to angels is that we have sex. This is one of the differences, and this difference gives us all kinds of powers, and also is a big threat, because it is a part of us that is not easy to control. There are certain times which are, at least psychologically, points of no return in desire. So people should be warned that there is something within them that is powerful, and which may be dangerous, which may be disastrous. You have something within you which is powerful and in a certain way uncontrollable, a spring which you should try not to release when you are not ready for it, for it may take you into realms that you, in your sane moments, would not enter.
I don’t know of any culture in the world without taboos about sex. Taboos may be many and very different; they may be very few. But they exist. There is enormous power in sex that is in some ways almost limitless-limitless in the sense that, if I compare the desire for sex to other bodily desires, those other bodily desires subside when they are no longer useful. Sometimes one can say “Okay, this desire has been fulfilled, and that’s the end.” Now with sex there is no clear line that makes it end in a certain moment.
This power, this desire, is a very strong one. There is a discussion of one verse in the Bible in the book of Genesis [4:7], that sin is “crouching at the door.” There is a question of how you translate “v’atah timshol bo.” In most English translations, it is translated “…and thou shall overrule or rule it.” But most of the Jewish explanations and translations say it means “?and you are able to rule it.” The verse is about the word sex; both about the temptation, and also about the ability to deal with it.
Despite what some may think, abstinence from sex doesn’t kill people. But what advice can we give to the young person, or not-so-young person, as to how to control it? If we had proven advice, it would be used everywhere. But we don’t. Most psychologists would agree that the main sexual organ is the brain-and the brain can be slightly controlled. So the thing is not to give sex ninety percent of my time.
In our society a habit has developed among many young people to always be attached to earphones and listening to music; that is not an intrinsic desire. It’s a new phenomenon and we can even remember a time when that habit didn’t exist. And still, it is there and it is powerful, and there are people who make it into a business of selling it, so all in all, it becomes overwhelming. The only way that people can restrain it, even slightly, is by trying to think about other subjects. The world contains a fair number of other subjects which are good for young people. If you make sex a subject of constant talk, then there is a good chance that people will be occupied with thinking about it. If you make sex the central point of education, then it will become the only thing people think about.
I’ve met many young people and I was also one myself. There are lots of other things to talk or dream about, things which help a person make a more harmonious use of his own abilities. But it’s not easy to do. We have hands, and we are taught not to kill with them. We have legs that are evidently able to kick, and we are told not to kick with them. Now if we make this a topic of constant talk, and everyday speak about violence and about how to avoid violence, and how violence is bad, possibly people will get an idea and start kicking.
The world contains a fair number of other subjects which are good for young people.
Transcribed by Rabbi Simcha Prombaum – reprinted with permission from Parabola