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What’s So Bad About a Little Hanky Panky?

By Tzvi Fishman
10/29/2008, 12:00 AM

I can hear the scorners now. For their sake, I advise them to take a vacation from this blog and to purvey their sarcasm elsewhere. Warning: it is not a wise practice to ridicule the teachings of our Sages.

Someone wrote to our site with the following question:

“Why make such a fuss over sexual transgression? You don’t find websites dedicated to the prohibitions of stealing, or slander, or having a barbecue on Shabbat. What’s so bad about a little hanky panky?”

We will base our very general answer on the Torah portion of Bereshit, which we read in synagogue last Shabbat. Readers who would like to learn more about the subject are invited to explore the underlined links. Others, who would rather not face the seriousness of this subject to the Jewish People and the world, can skip this blog and stick to INN’s team of excellent political commentators.

What's so wrong with a little hanky panky?

While all transgressions of the Torah damage both the transgressor and pollute the world as a whole, the consequences of sexual transgression are especially devastating. After all, it was a little “hanky panky” that brought about man’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden. In addition, as our Sages teach, it was sexual transgression that brought about the Flood in the days of Noach. And it was primarily sexual transgression that led to the destruction of the Temple and to the exile the Jewish People from the Land of Israel, for, as the Talmud teaches, the Jewish People never believed in idols, but rather pretended to worship them just to take part in the sexual immorality that went hand-in-hand with their worship (Sanhedrin 63a).

And, in our time, to a very great degree, it is sexual transgression that is delaying the rebuilding of the Temple and the coming of Mashiach.

As everyone knows, there are deeper meanings to the Torah than the simple reading of the text.  For instance, Rabbi Kook emphasizes that the story of Creation is not be taken literally as a scientific account of the beginning of the world, but rather it is to be understood as a metaphor teaching us important moral principles, including the basic understanding that G-d is the Creator and King of the world, and that we are to follow His commands. Similarly, the holy Zohar teaches that the primordial sin was much more than eating the “forbidden fruit.” In effect, eating the “forbidden fruit,” in defiance of the will of G-d, caused the moral decline that led Adam and Eve to sexual sin. In G-d’s original plan for the world, the sexual act was to be experienced without animal lust. But the serpent’s (the evil inclination’s) temptations caused Adam and Eve to fall from their heavenly level. Instead of waiting for the supreme holiness of Shabbat to engage in the act of marital relations, their sudden moral impurity drove them to engage in the act while it was still day, before the sanctity of Shabbat had set in. Thus their serpent-inspired lust blemished the supreme holiness of their union, bringing about a detachment from their exalted connection to G-d, and their expulsion from the Garden (Tikunei Zohar, 16, Folio 31a). Because Adam and Eve were the pinnacle of Creation, their sin also blemished all the world, causing a distancing of the world from its Creator and Source. Ever since, mankind has been trying to get back to the ideal existence symbolized by the Garden.

It should be of special warning to Internet aficionados that the first sin was caused by a seemingly casual act of viewing, as it says, “And when the woman saw that the tree was good….” Without delving into the secret meaning of the text, mankind’s downfall was brought about by the eyes. Unto this very day, how many countless victims fall prey to the same wandering after their eyes by viewing erotic sites on the Internet! No one is free from this temptation, as we learn from the continuation of the Bereshit story. Even angels, upon seeing the beauty of the women on earth, fell from their celestial standing (Bereshit, 6:4). Without a safe Internet filter, (and entrusting the code to one’s wife,) no man is immune from the danger.

Unfortunately, Adam was not able to rectify his sin completely and lead the world on a holier path, as the Torah portion relates, “And Hashem saw that the wickedness of mankind was great in the earth, and that all the inclination of his heart was only set upon evil all the day” (Bereshit, 6:5).  The Zohar explains that the sin of the generation was the wanton spilling of semen in vain, even publically without any shame (see Zohar, Bereshit 56a). The Talmud and many other Torah commentators concur that the sin that led to the Flood in the days of Noach was rampant sexual immorality (Sanhedrin 57a; and see Ibn Ezra, Rashi, Radak, Sforno on Bereshit 6:11-12, and Zohar, Bereshit, 57b).  

There's more to life than politics

Thus, once again, the downfall of mankind came about through sexual transgression. Unfortunately, even though Noach was righteous and guarded the laws of sexual holiness, he was not able to stem the continuing immorality of mankind after the waters of the Flood receded from the earth. This task fell upon Avraham and the Jewish People when they entered into the Covenant of the Brit. From that moment on, the Jewish People were commanded to guard their lives in sexual purity and to be an example of this exalted standard to the world.

With G-d’s help, we will write more on this theme in the next coming weeks. In the meantime, it is worth thinking about these very first basic lessons of the Torah, and applying them to ourselves, for upholding the covenant of sexual holiness constitutes the foundation of our lives, both individually and for the Jewish Nation as a whole.