The Most Challenging of all Commandments and Holy Sex!
Can sex be holy? And what has sex to do with being holy? Shoin, believe it or not, they are somehow connected. Not by the Oisvorfer chas v’sholom (heaven forbid), but by such luminaries as Rashi, the RambaN and others; what else is new? We will explore what they both had to say and why sex makes yet another appearance in our parsha. Ober ershtens (firstly)…
This past shabbis afternoon, while many of you were napping, the Oisvorfer was deep in thought and reviewing this week’s parsha of Kedoishim which, besides listing the horrific punishments in store for those who violate any of the 20 forbidden relationships listed last week -seemingly, the RBSO gave us one entire week of clemency to get them out of our systems- also provides us with a very healthy number of brand new mitzvis, 51 to be more specific. Included, is one that is perhaps the most difficult of all to observe. And guess what? It has absolutely nothing to do with abstaining from illicit relationships or the other two ‘yahorag-v’al-ya’voir’ (allow yourself to be killed rather than violate) commandments the RBSO set forth. It is, in the Oisvorfer’s not so humble opinion, the most challenging and difficult of mitzvis to observe. We will take a closer look at this commandment shortly. Speaking of abstaining, just last week in Achrei Mois, we mentioned that Avihu, of the Nodov and Avihu brothers, was punished (eliminated) because he abstained and did not speak up and say the right thing when he listened to some loshoin horo. He missed the opportunity presented. Ober this week, one parsha later, we will soon learn, that at times, abstention could be a good thing. Grada, sometimes, very good, if you chap, but that for another time. Seemingly, while abstention in one parsha can get you killed, abstention mamish but one shabbis later, can make one holy. It’s all about timing!
Avada you know that we have previously covered this parsha. Together with its sister parsha of Achrei Mois, and, as a standalone. Avada you are urged to visit the archives at www.oisvorfer.com to check out previous editions. Ober raboyseyee, we need to spend some time on parshas Kidoishim davka because it contains many of the mitzvis that are still operative in our times. Aren’t they all? In fact, not! And of the taryag (613) mitzvis the RBSO gifted us – greatly expanded by rabbis of yesterday and in every generations since, to a few thousand- the bottom line is azoy: most of the 613 mitzvis are no longer relevant in our times and here in golus (Diaspora). A rather large number of them have not been operative since the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, hence we have no ability to bring animal sacrifices. Another batch pertain only to those living in the holy land of Israel. Shoin: the mitzvis have been whittled down dramatically and today, the actual number of mitzvis that are obligatory and that can be performed, is in the 200 range. As an aside, isn’t it mamish despicable that most of us, avada the Oisvorfer included, cannot get close to observing those that remain? Of that number, approximately 48 are found in this week’s parsha and most are social in nature; fearing one’s parents, loving the convert, how we are to get along and treat one another, free love, and a few more. They are mostly in the ‘bain-odom-lichaveyroi’ (between man and his fellow man) category. The bottom line of them all is azoy: we are instructed to act like mentchin and do the right thing.
Though the parsha offers mamish a shmorgesboard of new commandments, including 38 loi sah-says (thou shall not do) and 13 positive commandments, most of the commentary revolves around a few words found in but a few pisukim. Here’s one that caught the Oisvorfer’s roving eyes. Says the heylige Toirah (Vayikro 19:23) azoy: “when you shall come to the land and you shall plant any food tree, you shall treat its fruits as forbidden; for three years they shall be forbidden to you, they shall not be eaten.” Shoin, when it comes to fruit, especially of the forbidden variety, if you chap, the heylige Gemora chapped that this mitzva was efsher also a message to those that regularly partake of forbidden fruit, if you chap, and gave us a warning. Says the Gemora: this mitzvah is davka aimed at those that require, and are accustomed to, instant gratification, for those seeking worldly pleasures, if you chap. The Gemora continues: through this mitzvah, the heylige Toirah is teaching man that he must overcome his desires for such instant gratification. How the Gemora knew that forbidden fruit from the tree, also meant other forbidden fruit, ver veyst? Veyter. Seemingly, since Odom, Chava and the snake, they are always connected. Veyter.
Our parsha opens with a commandment to be holy. Says the heylige Toirah (Vayikro 19:2) azoy: “speak to the entire congregation of Israel and say to them you shall be holy, because I Hashem your God, am holy.” Shoin, how does one become holy? Nu, that depends on who you ask and let’s begin with Rashi who tells us azoy: Since these words (to become holy) were told to the Yiddin just after delineating the sexual restrictions that ended last week’s parsha of Achrei Mois, the topics must be related. And since we were already warned to refrain from prohibited familial and other relationships that the RBSO finds abhorrent (homosexuality for one, and efsher also bestiality), the fact that the RBSO told us to be holy, must have some direct connection. And says Rashi, it means that we must refrain from such relationships. By doing so, we become holy. Moreover, we must also avoid situations that could cause us to somehow violate any of the restricted relationships. Meaning that avada we should not find ourselves in situations where any of these could become tempting and cause us to lose the battle and give into temptation.
Ober says the RambaN azoy: this cannot be pshat for we were already warned last week to stay away from those relationships. Therefore, it means azoy: one becomes holy by abstaining from overindulging (even) in permitted behavior. Limoshol, though we are avada permitted to have sex with our wives, the RambaN seems to be telling us that we should not have too much. Sadly, many Jewish woman follow the RambaN. The men, not so much. The RambaN refers to one who overindulges in Toirah sanctioned activities, as a ‘novol birshus hatoirah’. What the hec is a novol birshus hatoirah? Seemingly, it’s how the Ramban describes a person who acts disgustingly while technically within the boundaries of the Toirah’s commandments. In other words: his actions are excessive. And the example used? A person who marries several or many women and spends his days servicing them. Though man was -and according to many, still is- permitted to marry many women and zicher is permitted to have sex with all of them, still, such a person is described by the RambaN as the novol birshus hatoirah- a person who acts disgustingly within the boundaries of the heylige Toirah. Simply stated: the RambaN tells us to withdraw even from permitted activities. Shoin, yet another challenge, if you chap. Interestingly, though the RambaN could have given innumerable examples of excessive behavior, he chose too much sex when teaching us how to be holy. Seemingly, he wanted us to get the message: achieving holiness as the heylige Toirah instructs, requires abstention mamish from the strongest of desires and what stronger desire does man have than for sexual activity?
Who is right and who is wrong in this holy debate, ver Veyst? Ober the shaylo (question) is azoy: who says that being holy has anything to do with refraining from forbidden or permitted relationships? Efsher one can become holy by abstaining from other sins or by abstaining from overindulging in other permitted activities? Why is it always about sex?
Ober said Reb Yiruchum Livovitz so gishmak, azoy: one cannot compare refraining from forbidden sexual relationships to limoshol, refraining from stealing or overindulging at the shul kiddish -eating and drinking included- or the shmorg at a wedding or Pesach program. Why not? Because man was born with an inherent desire for (marital) relations. Grada he was also born with a desire for non-marital relations, if you chap. And this desire is part of his DNA and only grows stronger as he grows, if you chap. Ober, people are not necessarily born with a strong desire to steal or overeat. Therefore, one can only become holy by abstaining and by overpowering the yetzer horo (evil inclination) for forbidden sexual relationships. One must fight his natural inclination and predilections. Ober no such credit and no special holiness is seemingly obtained, from not stealing and overeating.
Ober what happens to a person who cuts down on sexual activity because his eishes chayil refuses his advances? Is he considered holy? And what about the person who is forced to curtail chapping activities for medical and other reasons? Does that person get ‘holy’ credit for abstention? Taka a nice try ober the answer is seemingly no! Says the Oznayim LaToirah azoy: one can only get ‘holy’ credit and become holy when abstaining if one is doing so for the right reasons and with intent to fulfill the mitzvah as commanded. Those who are reduced involuntarily or for other limiting reasons, be they physical or mental, get no credit. They are the same oisvorfs they were before. Shoin, enough sex talk.
Let’s quickly discuss the positive commandment and great mitzvah of loving one’s friend or neighbor as one loves himself. Says the heylige Toirah (Vayikro 19:18) azoy: Vi’ohavto lirayacha komoicho (loosely translated: we are to love our friends, or other Jews, even neighbors, as we love ourselves). One thing is zicher: we are not to love -in any way shape or form- the eishes chayil (wife) of our neighbors. Says Rashi, quoting the very famous Rebbi Akiva, a man who taka knew a thing or two about love, a man who taka fell in love and needed to work very hard before the girl he loved would love him as well, azoy: “this (loving one’s fellow Jew) is a fundamental rule of the heylige Toirah. Ober, let’s get real: it’s a nice quote and a very nice song (Rabbis Sons- album #1), ober, is it at all possible for one to love another as he loves himself? Not! Nu, since we featured the RambaN this week, let’s continue with his thoughts on the subject. Says he: while this sounds good on paper, is zicher a very lofty and inspiring idea, and should be practiced, it’s not! It’s impossible! How can a person be expected to love another person, another Jew, as much as he loves himself? Moreover, the emes, the very blunt emes, is azoy: Yiddin do not like one another. Frum don’t like those more or less frum. Conservative do not like the orthodox and farkert; even those in the very same shul, from similar backgrounds, do not for the most part like each other, let alone love them. What’s taka pshat here and what did the RBSO have in mind when He commanded us to dispense free love to our fellow Yiddin?
We can also ask azoy: given that love is an emotion, how can it be forced out of us and onto another? Love is not a performance or an act that we can perform on demand. What’s taka pshat, what does the RBSO want of us when He instructed us to love our fellow beings?
Ober, after pondering this question over and again, the Oisvorfer has come to the following serious conclusion. Maybe the idea of loving our friends entails that we must first love ourselves. Efsher we need to learn to love ourselves, to be comfortable within our own skins and to have confidence in who we are. Each of us -ok, most of us- have personality traits that we should be in love with. Love thyself! Only then, will we be comfortable in accepting others into our lives. Only then will we no longer feel the need to bad-mouth, and bring others down. And only then will we be properly positioned to share our love with someone else. Loving someone else should not entail a diminishment of self-love. Dispensing free love to our friends and all Jews must somehow be related to our own self- confidence and worth. And taka says the Targum Yoinoson Ben Uziel azoy: “And you should love your fellow. What you dislike yourself, do not do to another person.” Avada these words ring familiar as Hillel, the great sage said (Shabbos 31A) azoy: “What you don’t want for yourself, don’t do to your fellow Jew.”
Says the Mishneh (Pirkei Ovos 1:6) azoy: “You should acquire for yourself a friend.” Said the RambaM (Maimonides) azoy: “When you love, do not love by your own measure. Rather, love by the measure of the one you love. (If the one you love requires a bit more love, dispense it even if it’s more that you think you have and, or, s/he deserves. That’s giving real love, that’s loving your fellow Jew as you would like to be loved.) When both will have this in mind, each one will work towards satisfying the other one and eventually they will both want the same thing, no doubt.” Zicher something to strive towards.
A gittin Shabbis
The Oisvorfer Ruv