Monday, August 14, 2023

Sex as a metaphor for love of Torah & G-d

In researching my present sefer on sexuality  - it has become obvious that the current attitude towards sexual issues is different then it was in Biblical and Talmudic times. Then it was not only more openly discussed and used as a metaphor in Biblical and Talmudic texts as well as Kabbalistic writings  - but there was also a very positive appreciation of sexual attraction and pleasures. In fact love of Torah and love of G-d are expressed as sexual feelings. Is it just a metaphor or is it that intense spirituality is on a continuum with  human sexuality? Below is just a small sampling of texts.

Sanhedrin (106a): R. Johanan said: Woe to the nation that may be found [attempting to hinder], when the Holy One, blessed be He, accomplishes the redemption of his children: who would throw his garment between a lion and a lioness when these are copulating!

Ramban (Shemos 30:13): The reason that our Sages have called the language of the Torah “the Holy Language” is because the words of the Torah and the Prophets and all issues of holiness were said in this language. It is the language that G‑d speaks in with His prophets and his congregations – including the Ten Commandments and other prophecies. The various names of G‑d are in Hebrew including that which created the world…The different parts of the universe were all originally given their names in Hebrew…. However the Rambam writes in Moreh Nevuchim (3:8): Don’t think that Hebrew is called the holy language out of pride or to fool people. Rather it is correctly called that because there are no words in it for either male or female sex organs… except as metaphor. Don’t make the mistake that from “sheigal” in Tehilim (45:10). That is referring to a woman who is set-aside for sex – and not intercourse itself. Similarly what it says in Devarim (28:30) is referring to taking a wife for a concubine. In fact there is no need for his explanation because it is quite obvious that the explanation is as I have explained. Furthermore the explanation he has given is not true. The cases involving “sheigal” indicate that in fact it is describing sexual intercourse and not just alluding to it… The Sages do speak in “a clean way” but that just indicates that normal Hebrew is in fact describing sexual intercourse…

Rambam(Hilchos Teshuva 10:3): What is the nature of the love that man should have for G‑d? It should be an extreme and excessive love to the degree that his soul is totally bound up with the love of G‑d and he is constantly obsessed with it as if he is lovesick. A lovesick person is never free from the passion of his love for that woman and he thinks about her constantly whether he is sitting or standing or at the time that he is eating and drinking. The love of G‑d should be even greater than this and should be implanted in the heart of those that love Him and are obsessed with Him constantly as we are commanded to, “Love Him with all your heart and all your soul” (Devarim 6:5). This concept was expressed by Shlomo (Shir HaShirim 2:5), “I am lovesick.” In fact all of Shir Hashirim is a parable describing the love of G‑d [with the metaphor of love of a woman].

Rosh HaShanna(4a): With the reward from the fact that Torah is as cherished to Jews as shegel (sexual intercourse) is to non‑Jews – you have merited the precious jewelry of Ophir.

Eiruvin(54b): Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachmani asked why are the words of Torah compared to a hind in Mishlei (5:19) “Let her be like the loving hind and a graceful roe..”? It is to inform you just as a hind has a narrow womb and is therefore loved by her mate at all times as the very first hour- so are the words of Torah beloved by those that study them at all times as they did from the first. And why are the words of Torah compared to a “graceful roe?”That is because Torah confers grace on those who study it. "Her breasts will satisfy you at all times” (Mishlei 5:19). Why were the words of the Torah compared to a breast? Just as a breast – whenever the child sucks it he finds milk in it – so it is with the words of the Torah. Whenever a man thinks about them he finds deep reasons and ideas in them. “And he will be lovesick and obsessed with her always (Mishlei 5:19) [and he will act like a fool and a crazy person and abandon his work in order to run to learn Torah and the Torah will protect him – Rashi, Maharasha]. For example R’ Eleazar ben Pedas. They say about R’ Eleazar that he sat and studied Torah in the lower market of Tzippori while his cloak lay in the upper market of Tzippori [he forgot it because of his preocuppation with Torah – Rabbeinu Chananel]. R’ Yitzchok said that once a man came to take the cloak and found a poisonous snake in it.

Rav Tzadok(Shaar HaYichud): And thus I have seen written in a book which was written by a holy man and he said that the sect of Shabtsai Tzvi which did that which it did- because they were involved in the study of Kabbala when their hearts were full of the lusts of this world. Consequentially they took literally the metaphors of kabbala. Thus when they saw in the Kabbala literature terms such as sexual relations, hugging, kissing and others similar expressions it aroused in them lusts and adultery until they became very wicked people. And similarly I am aware of one rav from the previous generation who was considered to be a scholar and kabbalist and he printed a book on kabbalistic matters with the haskomos of the gedolim of that generation. And afterwards he sinned by committing adultery. There is no question that this was caused by his involvement in kabbala and his taking literally the metaphors of kabbala as is clear from what he wrote in his book. I am writing this in order that people are warned how carefully they must be when studying esoteric material as our Rabbis have said.


  1. The problem discussed here extends well beyond just the issue of men being incited to sexual sins due to the influence of Kabbalistic literature.

    A more fundamental issue is the apparent paganism of attributing sexual acts to Hashem or to higher beings than man.

    These quotes are from a rationalist Torah website critical of Kabbala:

    But while in all other instances the kabbalists refrain from employing sexual imagery in describing the relation between man and G-d, they show no such hesitation when it comes to describing the relation of God to himself, in the world of the Sefiroth ... The "sacred union" of the King and the Queen - Zohar I, 207b uses the term ‘Zivuga Kadisha'; III, 7A - the Celestial Bridegroom and the Celestial Bride, to name a few of the symbols, is the central fact in the whole chain of divine manifestations in the hidden world.... In God there is (according to the kabbalists) a union of the active and the passive, procreation and conception ... This sexual imagery is employed again and again and in every possible variation ...Dimly we perceive behind this mystical image the male and female gods of antiquity, anathema as they were to the pious Kabbalist ... The critics of Kabbalism have fastened on this point as proof of its essentially pagan character ...[The kabbalists] attributed to G-d the most indecent and lowliest of the five senses, i.e., sexual mating. ...Can there be a greater disgrace and shame than to attribute to G-d Whom we serve genitalia, penis, testes, a woman and womb (see Zohar Parshas Behar Daf 109, Idra 296) ... And when he mates with her, he affords her pleasure in her womb, so that their liturgical poet (=Ari) in his brazenness says: "Her husband embraces her, and in her Yesod (=sexual organ), in which he affords her pleasure, he threshes threshings" -- (from ‘Askina Seudasa‘, sung on Sabbath Eve).

    The Rambam's third yesod is the complete denial of any physicality in connection to Hashem. I believe the Rambam paskens that one who believes Hashem has a body is a MIN.

    Would anyone well learned in Kabbala care to respond to these criticisms of Kabbala?

    1. A simple response is this:
      1) Even the Eitz Haim only speaks of the highest level as Ein Sof.
      2) Ein Sof, as it is given a name is not HaKodesh Barukh Hu but rather a lower level/creation(Klach Pitchei Hokhma 1, Leshem Biurim Shaar 1:1, Rav Yaakov Hillel Shorshei HaShemot 1:1, Bati L'Gani ad loc.).
      3) The Arizal writes:
      ואמנם דבר גלוי הוא כי אין למעלה גוף ולא כח בגוף חלילה. וכל הדמיונות והציורים אלו לא מפני שהם כך ח"ו אמנם כדי לשכך האזן לכשיוכל האדם להבין הדברים העליונים הרוחניים בלתי נתפסים ונרשמים בשכל האנושי לכן נתן רשות לדבר בבחי' ציורים ודמיונים כאשר הוא פשות בכל ספרי הזוהר וגם בפסוקי התורה עצמם כולם כאחד עונים ואומרים כדבר הזה

      In otherwords it is only metaphor just like in the TaNaKh.
      4) Rav Shimon Algassi writes in his sefer Yesodot Hatorah Ikar 3:4 that everyone who reads the TaNaKh, Chazal, the Zohar or the Kitvei HaAri and thinks that they are talking about HaShem having a body is a min and has no place in the world to come.
      5) ALL of the major Gedolim for the last 300+yrs have studied Kabbalah, the GRA and his students, the Chassidic Admorim, the Sephardi Gedolim all of them. Who are these supposed rationalists to come along and tell us that the Rabbanim from whom we have recieved our mesora were all Kofrim?

    2. I am not well versed in Kabballah but your question seems to miss the point of the article that this imagery was used before the publication and popularization of Kabballah.

  2. Rabbi Tzadok,

    The Rambam's "negative theology" emphatically teaches that we may only employ affirmative attributes of Hashem which were taught by actual prophets, based on Berachos 33b, see Moreh Nevuchim I:58-59.

    Can you explain why these Kabbalistic physical "metaphors" do not severely conflict with the Rambam's "negative theology"?

    1. Again, the Rambam employs such metaphors as seen in the first text cited. Why are you focusing on kabballah while ignoring the post?

    2. You mean aside from the fact that the Rambam only makes that stipulation in regard to prayer or that the Kabbalistic Sefarim are not talking about HaShem?
      Kabbalah talks about the worlds of Adam Kadmon and below, it never directly talks about HaShem. Specifically it talks about the things that we can effect with our prayers, and since HKB"H is unchanging HKB"H is never affected by our prayers.
      Second to that, I have never heard anyone claim that the Moreh was Halakha.
      Rav Eliyahu Mani wrote an entire sefer demonstrating how Kabbalah does not conflict with the Rambam, it's called Kise Eliyahu. Or you could read Sefer Shomer Emunin by Rav Yosef Igras. Either one should answer your questions fully and completely, which is probably why any aspiring Mekubal needs to learn those two sefarim practically baal peh before moving on to works like Otzrot Haim.

      Was Rabbi Akiva, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, Rabbi Nehunia Ben HaKanna and the other Amoraim who wrote Kabbalistic works and their colleagues all Kofrim?
      What of the Ramban, the Rosh, the Tur?
      What of Rabbi Yosef Karo, as student of the Ramak and then the Ari? The Magen Avraham? The Rema? The Maharal? The list goes on.

      An internet forum is not the appropriate place to discuss deep and complex Kabbalistic concepts. In fact the Ben Ish Hai writes that is forbidden to translate them into English(Rav Pealim 1 YD 56) Nor do I feel the need to defend our Mesora against some Johny come lately "Rationalist".

  3. When posting topics such as you just have, you should use "romantic" in place of those terms you used.
    That is the more accurate meaning. Even if you contest that with one of your sources, the Talmud also says; "HaKol Yodin......elah Hamenavel......."

    1. Please show me a relevant source. Talking about a specific kallah at her chasanua has nothing to do with the mentioning of the terms sex and sexual intercourse. You might want to check out Ramban (Shemos 30:13) where he criticizes the Rambam who claims there is no Hebrew expression of sex organs or sexual relations and that is why it is called Lashon HaKodesh.

      Are you allowed to learn gemora or Tanach which refer to sexual issues? What do you do when you beging Kiddushin - A woman is acquired in 3 ways by money, a document and "romance"?

      Sorry to confuse the issue by bringing sources that disagree with your understanding.

      Actually one 16 year old bachur said the mishna meant that he acquires a wife when she "enters" into his house.

       Shabbos (33a): As a punishment for obscenity,33 troubles multiply, cruel decrees are proclaimed afresh, the youth of Israel's enemies34 die, and the fatherless and widows cry out and are not answered; for it is said, Therefore shall the Lord not rejoice over the young men, neither shall he have compassion over their fatherless and their widows: for every one is profane and an evil-doer, and every mouth speaketh folly. For all is his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.35 What is meant by, ‘but his hand is stretched out still’?-Said R. Hanan b. Rabbah: All know for what purpose a bride enters the bridal canopy, yet against whomsoever who speaks obscenely [thereof], even if a sentence of seventy years’ happiness had been sealed for him,36 it is reversed for evil.

  4. RDE,

    1. A very interesting project. What motivated you to put this together?

    2. You mean that the current attitude IN THE FRUM WORLD is different, less open, less positive. Note that among the folks around us, sexuality as open and positive is quite the norm. How ironic.

  5. Dear RDE,

    A few months back we had a debate about some very similar issues. I recall we offered different views on the Rambam, who I claimed was more openminded to Sexual pleasure in the Yad than in The Moreh.

    I am interested to know if your interpretation is still the same, i.e. that there is no difference in his positions .

    many thanks

  6. If I remember correctly, Yehudah HaChassid, in Sefer Chassidim, says that one's love for G-d should bring one more pleasure than an orgasm (he also mentioned playing with one's children as a pleasurable activity that should be surpassed by one's pleasure in serving G-d).

    1. (1) ספר חסידים - סימן יד
      שורש אהבת ה', ואהבת את ה' אלהיך בכל לבבך (דברים ו ד), ציוונו בוראינו לעבדו ביראה, שתהא אהבת נפשינו קשורה בנפשו בשמחה ובאהבתו ובלב טוב. ושמחת האהבה כך היא עזה ומתגברת על לב אוהבי ה', שאפי' ימים רבים שלא בא על אשתו ויש תאוה מרובה כנגדה ובשעה שיורה כחץ, אינו נהנה כנגד תגבורת ותוקף יראת ה' ושמחת בוראו, וכל חבת שעשוע ילדיו כלא היו, כנגד שעשועי לב האוהב את ה' בכל לבו ובכל נפשו ובכל מאודו, בכל הרהוריו איך לעשות האוהב הבורא ית', ולזכות את הרבים ולעשות קידוש ה', ולמסור עצמו באהבת הבורא כאשר עשה פנחס הכהן אשר מסר נפשו באהבת יוצרו לקנא לשמו. יד ושלא לחמוד ממון במקום שיש קדוש ה' במונעו לקחת ממון, כמו שמצינו באברהם (בראשית כג) אם מחוט ועד שרוך נעל, וכן באלישע שלא רצה לקחת ממון מנעמן:
      ושלא לבטל דברי תורה בשביל תענוגים ושעשוע ילדיו וחיבת נשיו. וגם לעזוב טיולים וראיות נשים ונעימות מזמורים, כדי שיהי' לבו שלם בשמחת ה', וטורח ועמל בדבר שהוא רצון הבורא. ועליו לקחת משל מבשר ודם אם הי' יודע דבר שהוא רצון המלך, לעולם לא יניח ולא ישקוט עד שישלים רצון המלך, שהוא רמה ותולעה כמוהו, ויהי' שמח שמחה גדולה על אשר באו מעשיו לפני המלך. מכ"ש לרצון הבורא שהוא חי וקיים, על אחת כמה וכמה שיש לו לטרוח ולבקש איך יעשה וישלים רצון מצותיו:
      העובד מאהבה, עוסק בתורה ובמצות הולך בנתיבות החכמה הראוי' ועוסק בתורה. ואוהב את ה' אהבה גדולה לא מפני דבר שבעולם, ולא מפני יראת הרעה, ולא כדי לירש את הטובה, אלא עובד באמת מפני שהקב"ה אמת, וסוף הטובה לבא בכללה. וצריך לאהוב את הבורא אהבה עזה ורבה עד אשר יחלה לאהבתו, כאדם החולה לאהבת אשה, והוא שוגה תמיד באהבתו, בשבתו ובקומו בצאתו ובבואו, גם בעת מאכלו ומשתהו לא ינום ולא יישן מפני אהבתה. יותר ויותר מזה תהי' אהבת הבורא בלב אוהביו ותמיד ישגו בה,

      כמו שצונו (דברים ו ד) בכל לבבך ובכל נפשך וגו', וזה שאמר שלמה בחכמתו דרך משל כי חולת אהבה אני (שה"ש ב ה):
      וזהו דבר ידוע כיום, וכשמש לכל מבין, אשר לא תהי' אהבת הבורא קשורה בלב האדם עד אשר ישגה בה תמיד, כגון שיעזוב כל אשר בעולם חוץ ממנו, כמו שצונו (דברים ו ד) בכל לבבך, ולא יתכן זה אלא בדיעה שידעהו. לפיכך זה האמת וכללו של דבר, כי צריך לו לאדם להבין ולהשכיל בחכמות ותבונות המודיעות לו את קונו, כפי כחו שיש לו להבין ולהשכיל ולהשיג:
      והבורא יתברך שמו ויתעלה זכרו הנכבד והנורא, צוה לנו לאהבה וליראה שמו, דכתיב (דברים ו ד) ואהבת את ה' אלהיך, ונאמר (שם שם יג) את ה' אלהיך תירא, והאיך הוא הדרך לאהבתו וליראתו, בשעה שיתבונן האדם במעשיו של הקב"ה הגדולים והמופלאים אשר אין להם ערך ולא קץ, מיד אוהב ומשבח ומפאר ומתאוה תאוה גדולה לדעת שם הגדול הנכבד והנורא, וכן אמר דוד (תהלים מב ג) צמאה נפשי לאלהים לאל חי. וכשהוא מחשב בדברים האלה בעצמו, הוא נרתע לאחוריו וירא ויפחד שהוא ברי' קטנה מאד ושפלה עומדת בדעת קלה ומעוטה לפניו, וכן אמר דוד (תהלים ח ד) כי אראה שמיך מעשי אצבעותיך וגו' מה אנוש כי תזכרנו:

  7. The idea that sexual desire is closely connected to the desire to connect to God (dveikus) is, in my opinion, almost self-evident from many sources. In fact, I would argue that sexuality was created precisely to provide a model of this ideal spiritual connection between man and God.

    One example is the Zohar's description (Tikkunei Zohar, end of 66) of the mental process of yichud Hashem in the recitation of Shema, where the removal of other thoughts in preparation for yichud Hashem is described as analogous to the removal of clothing in preparation for union with one's mate.


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