What does the Torah teach about Sex and Passion?

            May 2013    
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Passion and Sex

By Avi Lazerson

What does religion think of passion and sex? Many religions view sex and passion as a necessary but with an aspect of evil involved. To be considered holy, one must refrain from passion and sex. Such is the teaching of churches that do not permit its clergy to wed.

What is the position of the Torah regarding sex and passion?

We can understand the Torah's position by reading a small portion of the Torah which seemingly has no relevance to our question. "And the washbasin was made from copper, and its base was made from copper from the mirrors of the masses who amassed at the door of the meeting tent." (Exodus 38:8)

On this verse, Rashi, the master commentator, explains that the Jewish women had mirrors in their possession which they used when they would beautify themselves. And even this they did not withhold from donating to the building of the Holy Sanctuary. Moses found this disgusting since these mirrors were used for the evil inclination; the women beautified themselves to be attractive to the men. Moses did not want to accept these mirrors for use in the holy sanctuary.

G-d said to Moses that he should take them because they are very dear to Him in comparison to all the other donated materials since it was with this that the women were able to establish multitudes of children in Egypt. As Rashi explains, that when their husbands were weary and tired from the hard and strenuous labor that they were required to perform, the women would come out to the field with food and drink for them. As they ate, the women would take their mirrors and look into it with their husbands and tell them to see how beautiful they were and this brought the men to passion. From this the women became pregnant and eventually gave birth to another generation of Jews. From these very mirrors that the women donated to the holy sanctuary, the wash basin was made and the water from it was used to bring peace between the husbands and wives in the case of the sotah (suspected wife).

If we were to apply a bit of analysis to the above commentary which is based on a teaching from the Medrash Tanchumah we would note that there is a difference of opinion between Moses and G-d. Moses did not want to accept the mirrors for he knew that women used this to make themselves beautiful to attract the men. He felt that this instrument was used for promoting passion and sex. Passion, he reasoned, had no place in serving G-d. A person must fight against his hot passions when he serves G-d and instead use his cold intellect and logic to direct his life.

However G-d viewed passions differently. He, in His infinite wisdom, saw that passions could be used for good or for evil. Of course G-d created man to possess both logic and passion and often they are at opposite sides of behavior. But to serve G-d without any emotional feeling is not what G-d desired. He wanted man to serve him with both his heart and head, to combine the cold logical intellect to the warm emotion in one action, the performance of G-d's mitzvoth.

Too often though we find that our emotions tell us to do one thing and our logic is against such actions. What is the best is when both the cold logic and hot emotions agree to do something. Only then is there a wholeness in the action.

The Jewish women in Egypt as well as the men knew that G-d wanted us to be fruitful and multiply, but the men were too tired from their labors. They were slaves who were beaten and forced to perform difficult physical work from early morning to the end of day. They did not believe that bringing new children into the world under such circumstances was proper - who needs to give birth to someone destined to be a slave and suffer a lifetime of slavery? Their bodies did not possess the natural strength to have normal desires for their wives.

The women were of a different opinion. They beautified themselves in order to arouse the passion in their husbands that their husbands should overcome their weariness and cohabitate with their wives. In this case the women's role was essential that there should be young Jews who would eventually come out of Egypt. The women's use of their mirrors was sanctifies by G-d Himself. This was the most proper use of mirrors that saved a generation from disappearing. Therefore, G-d told Moses that he should accept these mirrors as building materials for the wash basin.

And so it was, the wash basin in the holy sanctuary was made from the mirrors of these righteous women who used them to arouse the passion in their husbands to desire their wives.

From these we can clearly see that Judaism views sex and passion in the realm of marriage as an important thing. Judaism does not view sex as dirty or evil in the framework of marriage but rather a fulfillment of G-d's desire and will for us to be fruitful and multiply.

Passion, like much of life, can be used for the positive or negative. This is just one aspect where Judaism differs from many of the other religions of the world. We are fortunate that our tradition is alive with many teachings that help us to understand how to live a good and proper life.


from the May 2013 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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