- The Good Stuff
- Contact Us
Written by Sender Rozesz. Sender Rozesz is a practicing attorney with a background in Jewish pluralistic education for adults. The views reflected in his columns represent his own personal views, and are not intended to reflect the views of any organizations, institutes or associations with whom he may be affiliated. For more Double Mitzvahs by Sender Rozesz, check out A Woman’s Vow, Sexual Motive, Choose Your Own Spouse, The Post-Honeymoon Journey, A Wise and Understanding People, The Blessing of Fertility, Abominations, Coitus Interruptus, Sexual Struggles,The Unspeakable Language of Passion, Cut vs. Uncut, The Silence of Bitterness, Sex and the Holiest Day of the Year, Shifting Beds and Sex in the Sukkah, and Sex…In the Beginning.
Ever had sex on a cruise ship? Ever had sex when it was raining outside? Ever had sex as though you and your partner were the last people on earth? Powerful stuff, huh?
Then why is it that, when the sensual stars aligned for Noah — pouring rain outside, the ark rocking on the waves of the largest ocean in history, he and his family the last people on earth — Noah did not use the opportunity to have great sex? In fact, nobody on the ark was allowed to have sex for as long as they were aboard. The ark was a sex-free zone.
We learn this first from G-d’s instruction to Noah: “You shall come into the ark, you and your sons, and your wife and your sons’ wives with you,” (Genesis, 6:18), to which Rashi comments: “the men separately and the women separately. From here, we deduce that they were prohibited to engage in marital relations [in the ark].” A few verses later, the Torah states that “Noah came, and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives with him, into the ark.” Genesis, 7:7. This time, Rashi adds the reason for the separation: “The men separately and the women separately, because they were prohibited from engaging in marital relations since the world was steeped in pain.”
So the no-sex rule comes across pretty clearly. But how about the reason? Was the world in fact steeped in pain? I imagine that death came fairly quickly for the world’s inhabitants; drowning doesn’t take very long. And the rest of the time? The world was being cleansed, purified. The world must have been rejoicing in it’s new pristine condition. What was it about the world that was steeped in pain throughout the period of the flood?
The answer requires an understanding of the direction that sex had taken at the time. As we read through the early verses of Noah and their commentaries, we learn of many wrongdoings that the generation that perished in the flood were guilty of. In fact, Rashi says that the main trigger for the flood was because of robbery. Nevertheless, the sexual promiscuity prevalent in the world at the time pervade the Torah’s description of the events leading up to the flood. There were the “B’nai Elohim” that would forcibly take women on their wedding night, and that would bed “even a married woman, even males and animals.” See Genesis, 6:2, and in Rashi. “Even cattle, beasts, and fowl would mate with those who were not of their own species.” See Genesis, 6:12 in Rashi. The Midrash Rabbah (26:9) tells us that “the generation of the Flood was not wiped out until they wrote marriage documents for the union of a man to a male or to an animal.”
Where did all of this come from? And who were these troubling “B’nai Elohim” that seem to have caused so much trouble?
As it turns out, there was a dark side to Adam’s sexuality that is not explicit in the text, but that nevertheless shaped the sexual landscape of his children.
Lilith, according to some early (controversial) sources, was Adam’s first wife. According to the Alphabet of Ben Sira – a book discussed in the Talmud as one that was deliberately excluded from canonization in the Tanakh – Lilith was created from the earth like Adam. However, neither of them agreed to “be on the bottom.” Thus she was replaced with Eve, who was formed from Adam himself. This changed the male-female dynamic, permitting Eve to be a “helpmate” and “the flesh of my flesh.” See also Zohar 1:34b, 3:19.
Lilith makes a comeback, however. Here’s how:
“Adam lived one hundred and thirty years, and he begot in his likeness after his image, and he named him Seth.” Genesis, 5:3. “Until then, he had separated from his wife.” See Rashi, quoting the Midrash. Does this mean that Adam was celibate for 130 years? Not quite. According to the Zohar, Adam was sexually active with Lilith in some way during that period. Some sources suggest that this was against his will, some suggest that his own weakness (masturbation) was responsible for rendering himself vulnerable to her. If Lilith (at that point) was more of a spirit, and without human form, both could be true. This would explain the following passage in the Babylonian Talmud (Eruvin, 18b):
R. Jeremiah b. Eleazar further stated: In all those years [130 years after his expulsion from the Garden of Eden] during which Adam was under the ban he begot ghosts and male demons and female demons [or night demons], for it is said in Scripture: And Adam lived a hundred and thirty years and begot a son in own likeness, after his own image, from which it follows that until that time he did not beget after his own image… When he saw that through him death was ordained as punishment he spent a hundred and thirty years in fasting, severed connection with his wife for a hundred and thirty years, and wore clothes of fig on his body for a hundred and thirty years. – That statement [of R. Jeremiah] was made in reference to the semen which he emitted accidentally.
In any event, the Zohar and other sources further relate that Adam’s demon offspring played a large role in the sexual seductions and promiscuities that ultimately led to flood. Indeed, the corruption was so widespread, that when the flood finally came, “even the three handbreadths of the depth of the plowshare were blotted out and obliterated.” Rashi, Genesis, 6:13. According to the Zohar, the “three handbreadths of earth” is a kabbalistic reference to the base physical pleasure of sexuality, which had become so disconnected from its sublime and sacred purpose that it needed to be replaced in its entirety.
Thus, more than anything else, the Zohar sees the flood as a sexual reboot. And because sexuality is so intrinsic and vital to who we are, the very world was steeped in pain, as its sexuality was torn from it and reset to begin anew. While in this sexual quarantine, G-d did not want any chance of Noah or his family (or even the animals in the ark) infecting the fresh sexual start with remnants of the old, toxic world.
It is difficult to say whether the reboot worked, as our sexual natures appear, for all intents and purposes, to be vigorous, curious and passionate, and constantly warring with our judgment and our inherent sense of morality. Is our battle greater or less than the battle fought by the pre-flood generations? If greater, is that because our morals are stronger now than they were, and a worthier opponent of our unbridled lusts? If less than, is that because our sexual urges are of a diminished intensity? And if there is a difference, how much is due to the flood, and how much can be credited to the Torah‘s impact on our lives?
It’s difficult to say; but the battle – and life – goes on.