Saturday, September 7, 2013

Rambam - sexual sins are a serious problem in all ages & all societies

In a recent discussion with Rav Nosson Kaminetsky, he showed me a very important observation of the Rambam that is relevant to many of our discussions. 
Rambam(Issurei Biah 22:19), ... You will never find a society in any era that did not have a serious problem with sexual sins and transgressions
 Not only are there problems in decadent societies  but also in the frumest society with the strictest community decrees - sexual issues such as adultery, homosexuality, child abuse are a significant problem. As a number of commentaries have pointed out, to the degree that one tries to restrict individuals in a society - to that degree the yetzer harah increases. On the other hand  if you loosen restrictions and have a weaker yetzer harah and habituation to temptation - but the ready access compensates and you still have problems. We still retain our free-will and opportunity for sin.
Update Sept 7 2013

Levush (O. C. Minhagim #36): It says in Sefer Chassidim (#393), “Where men and women can see each other such as at a wedding meal - one should not say the beracha of shehasimcha bemo’ono. That is beause that there is no joy before G‑d when there sexual thoughts.” However we are not careful to observe this ruling possibly because in contemporary society it is normal for women to be frequently found together with men. As a consequence of this reality, sinful thoughts when seeing women are not so prevalent [as when the sexes were kept separate] because they are viewed neutrally as one would view geese due to the constant habituation. Therefore since it has become normal to violate this concern – it is ignored

Sukka(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.

Avnei Milium(Introduction):… Our Sages say that whoever is greater his yetzer is greater. That is because there is no comparison of one who has bread in his basket to one who doesn’t. When the spirit is closed in, it makes a greater effort to break through the restrictions and escape. Therefore one who holds to the path of Torah without letting his lust to express itself – does not have bread in his basket because it is highly unlikely for him to do a really disgusting sin. Therefore his yetzer harah becomes stronger and the power of his lust which is being restrained is aroused to escape the restraints and act. It is different with a person who is not a tzadik since his yetzer harah has bread in its basket. Meaning the yetzer harah has the ability to influence through lust. Since the yetzer harah is not locked in, it doesn’t make efforts to go out. This is what Tosfos (Kiddushin 31a) concerning that the one who is commanded has a greater yetzer. That is the one who is not commanded to do the mitzva has bread in his basket because if he wants he can ignore the mitzva. However it is known that one who gets habituated to constant pleasure that it is no longer pleasing to have the same thing everyday. Therefore the power of lust and its strategies change everyday as is known that the way of drunkards is to search new ways to get pleasure…

Alshech (Vayikra 19:1-2): People have a yetzer harah. To the degree which they control it and sanctify themselves it increases in power. This is expressed by our Sages in (Sukka 52a): “Whoever is greater his yetzer is greater.” Therefore someone who is becoming spiritually great G‑d adds to his holiness  - at first “ruach”. Later as he becomes even greater and his yetzer harah becomes stronger, he is given soul to help him…


  1. Is there not a psychological phenomenon in which a person with a secret desire he's ashamed of becomes a public advocate of the opposite position, for example a man with homosexual thoughts becomes an anti-gay crusader?
    And if that's true what does that say about men who want five year old girls to wear thick black stockings and cover their hair because it's "tznius"?

    On another note, k'sivah and chasimah tovah to you and yours.

    1. It says you prefer public lewdness and pritzus so you can enjoy the girls on the street.

  2. "Not only are there problems in decadent societies but also in the frumest society with the strictest community decrees - sexual issues such as adultery, homosexuality, child abuse are a significant problem."

    That isn't an accurate summary of this Rambam. Rambam is NOT comparing very frum communities to no-so-frum (or not frum) communities. Rambam is only comparing communities from one generation to communities of another generation, even if both are of the same frumkeit.

  3. The Rambam simply says that "you will never find a community, in any time, that does not have those who are dissolute with regard to sexual immorality and forbidden relations." (פרוצים בעריות וביאות אסורות). The words "serious problem" are not in the Rambam, and the Rambam makes no statement about comparing different communities of any kind.

    For myself, I would be interested in knowing who the unnamed commentaries are that R' Eidensohn cites later in the post.

    1. How many incidents of sexual sin do you required for it to be considered a serious problem?

  4. On the other hand it's unlikely that in history there was so much exposure of these sins in the limelight. After all we are in the info age.

    The saying "b'ikvesa m'sheecaha chutzpa yasga" (in the heels of the messiah, hypocrisies will be mind blowing) may not necessarily mean that the hypocrisies will increase. It may as well mean new technologies will produce better limelight to better expose the mind blowing hypocrisies.

  5. This Rambam raises a question: is it beneficial or proper to say "community Ploni doesn't/can't have a problem with sexual impropriety because of level of learning/leadership/tzniut/etc.?"

    I guess I'm writing this with vidui on my mind... K'tivah v'chatima to all.

  6. A fascinating subject!

    The ירושלמי in מסכחת יומא פרק ששי הלכה ד' is more explicit in explaining that this is why food and drink were prepared for the messenger who took the שעיר לעזאזל on Yom Kippur:
    שאין יצר הרע תאב אלא דבר שהוא אסור לו, כהדא רבי מנא סלק למבקרה לרבי חגיי דהוה תשיש אמר לי' צחינא אמר לי' שתה שבקי' ונחת לי' בתר שעה סלק לגבי' אמר לי' מה עבדת ההיא צחיותך אמר לי' כד שרית לי אזלת לה

    There's a very interesting ערבי נחל in Parshas וישלח on this subject.
    In essence, he seems to say that in עקבתא דמשיחא when the נשמות are on a lower מדריגה of בחינת עקביים it is extremely difficult to fight the Yetzer Horah without this "פת בסלו" - we simply don't have the inner strength.

    Hashem therefore made חוצפא יסגא - we no longer have any SHAME and therefore transgression feel more POSSIBLE, thus making the Yetzer Horah WEAKER.

    However, he notes a crucial caveat: This only works for someone with Yiras Shomayim, who doesn't want to sin but finds himself powerless against his lust. Having the feeling that sinning is possible weakens his evil inclination and makes it less tantalizing allowing his Yiras Shomayim to "take over".

    On the other hand, for someone who LACKS Yiras Shomayim the effect is exactly the opposite - easy access actually CAUSES him to sin.

    He also mentions that AFTER sinning נעשה לו כהיתר - the urge becomes LESSENED, otherwise Teshuva would be even more difficult....

    Perhaps DT would want to translate? It's from the piece starting וענין תקנה זו...... and especially וזה מה שרצינו לפרש... הנה כי כן יצא לנו שקלות ההשג...

    Applying this עצה, perhaps if someone suffers from inappropriate sexual urges but really has יראת שמים, he could possibly use this cognitive approach as follows:

    When he sees something forbidden but is NOT actually at the point of an actual transgression, namely that he isn't מאריך במחשבה ומצייר עריבות העבירה במחשבתו (see פסקי תשובות ס' ע"ה ס"ז) at that point -when it's "possible" but he didn't actually transgress - he uses the עצה of the Gemara in Shabbos קנב. "חמת מלא צואה ופיה מלא דם והכל רצין אחריה" - to rectify what could be termed his "emotional distortion", and since he has the prerequisite פת בסלו + יראת שמים it might work better.....

    I hope this made sense!


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