Masturbation in the Kabbalah

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The Beginning

But we should really begin with the sheidim. R. Joseph of Shushan, one of the contributors to the Zohar (in the thirteenth century, in Northern Spain) wrote:

Around the crown of the penis ten sets of evil angels move about, urging forth wasted seed, and when the wasted seed is ejaculated, they come and wrap themselves in it, and thus create with it one Demon.
(Taamei Mitzvot, 40)

At the very moment when Christianity’s Scholastics were struggling to answer the infamous question – How many angels can dance upon the head of a pin? – our sages knew all too well that the head of a penis holds precisely ten groups of angels. These evil angels use spilled semen as a means for creating additional demons (the belief that masturbatory semen is used to create demons was also widespread in India before the Common Era).

What’s worth paying attention to here is that the evaluation of the act of masturbation has nothing to do with the actor’s intent or inner life, but with the “physical reality” that is affected by it. As such, there is no room here for a more individualized evaluation that takes into account the context of the deed or its nature, but only for a binary, black-and-white perspective: if you masturbate, you give your life over to dark forces.

R. Moshe de Leon, a lead author of the Zohar, also viewed masturbation as a particularly severe sin. In Sefer Ha-Rimon, he writes: Any who spills seed in vain shall fail to see the face of the Shechina. As such, one must be very careful to guard “this most holy organ” because “man bears the likeness of God” and, therefore, an impure use of the male organ will obviously create an impure effect on the Divine organ (which, in Kabbalistic terms, is the Sefirah of Yesod).

In Mishkan Ha-Edut he writes this explicitly:

For ejaculating in vain causes damage to the Sign and Secret of His Name, ya v’ya, for this Sign causes and continuously establishes the Worlds. And the secret of His Name ya v’ya is the foundation-essence of the World, for from there blossom out the higher souls and the Secret of the Hidden Waters through to the Secret that causes the Upper Souls, which is the Source of Life for the whole World.

So what is it exactly that happens when one ejaculates in vain? What is this deep “Secret”?

This “Secret” is a very deep part of the esoteric thought of the transcendental Sages of old. They believed that one who ejaculates in vain gives strength and assistance to the Other Divine Being’s side, and this side receives its element of Desire from the penis, which is itself the Secret of His Exalted Name. And this thus gives strength and assistance against him and for this reason spreads The Impurity and extends it for eternity.

In other words: One who ejaculates in vain is responsible for the spread of impurity in the world, because he gives strength to the Other Side, that is – the “Dark Force.” One should here note that just as the Dark Force stands in opposition to God’s own force, so too the severity attached to this sin derives from the nullification of the holiness of a mitzvah – namely, the mitzvah of procreation, pru u’rvu. The position of R. Moshe De Leon is clear (and explicit in his works): the true, deep problem according to him is the non-production of children, which is, in Pechter’s words, “A serious sin of causing injury to the Divine flow that operates through the Sefirot.”

That is to say, there is a direct confrontation here with a very Jewish notion that “requires worlds.” This Jewish notion (one exceptionally dear to me), according to which creation is a positive and good act, obligates us to extend existence and increase creation. As such, masturbation becomes a sin, not primarily because it increases demons and disturbers, but because it constitutes a rebellion against godly creation, against the prolific path of reality, and the turning away of that holy procreative force towards the barren.

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