Friday, March 27, 2009

Sexual temptation - Knowledge of Chazal and habituation

This gemora (Sukkah 52a) and the explanation of the Ben Ish Chai raises a number of important points The gemora describes Abaye following a couple who he assumes will sin. But they didn't and they didn't even struggle with temptation. Abaye was very upset since he had been sure they would sin. He assumed that he would have given in to a situation that they easily handled - that bothered him. Finally he was comforted by an old man telling him that he had a greater yetzer harah then they did. The Ben Ish Chai explains that Abaye was simply naive about these matters. This can be understood 1) that Abaye simply did not know how human beings reacted to interaction with the opposite sex and that he would have withstood it also. 2) Greater people have greater temptation and thus Abaye hadn't been aware that ordinary people don't have the same lust as great people. 3) Habituation makes sex less of a temptation. Therefore a person who lives a holy live and doesn't intereact with the opposite sex on a regular basis. has greater lust. Consequently this suggests that more normal interaction with the opposite sex is greater protection than stringent separation.

Sukkah(52a):Abaye explained that the yetzer harah is stronger against sages than anyone else. For example when Abaye heard a certain man say to a woman, “Let us arise and go on our way.” Abaye said that he would follow them in order to keep them from sin and so he followed after them for three pasarangs across a meadow. However they simply parted from each other and he heard them say, “The way is long and the company is pleasant.” Abaye said, “If I were in that situation I could not have withstood temptation.” He went and leaned against a doorpost in deep anguish. An old man came to him and taught him: To the degree that a person is greater than others, to that degree his yetzer (evil inclination) is greater than theirs.

Ben Yohoyada(Sukka 52a): An old man taught him that whoever is greater than others - his yetzer his greater. There is an obvious question. How was Abaye comforted by these words? If in fact his yetzer harah was greater than the young couple - who didn’t give into temptation – he also had greater power than they to break and conquer it. Why did Abaye assume that he would not have been able to resist temptation as they did? In fact it was so insignificant to them that they didn’t even notice that they had withstood temptation. It seems to me that his assumption that he wouldn’t have withstood the temptation is simply because he never had been exposed to such a situation. He had never even thought about it before. Therefore he wasn’t speaking from experience but just assumed that he would not have withstood temptation. However this situation happened to them regularly and therefore it was not surprising to them.

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