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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, and Shifting Beds and Sex in the Sukkah.
Sex: the most powerful of all human forces. It creates and topples careers. It spawns the next generation for all of eternity. It expresses the deepest love and joy, and inspires the most virulent hatred and enduring pain. It can be experienced in groups or solo; it can be a soothing relief or an all-consuming fire.
What are its origins? When and how did it start? Is it a well of raw energy that we simply stumbled into, or is it programmed into us, with a set of predetermined roles and standards?
“And God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness’…And God created man in His image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” Genesis, 1:26-27.
So G-d wants to make “man” in “our image”…and he does so, with the consequence that “male and female he created them.” We are taught that G-d created an androgynous human being, both male and female, attached back to back. And this combined male-female creation was “in G-d’s image” – the perfect human being, which possessed both male and female qualities and traits. Perhaps this is why G-d used the plural expression “in our image” – since He, too, incorporates both male and female characteristics.
But then G-d separated them into two distinct beings: a male and a female. The Zohar teaches that this was for the purpose of sexual union. So long as they were bound up in a single body, perfect they were, but they were missing the passion, the fire; the ability to separate as though they don’t belong together — but then to come together in the most intimate of ways, as the Torah later says “a man shall leave his father and his mother, and cleave to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Genesis, 2:24. We were separated (literally) from our other half for the single purpose that we could come back together in sex. In fact, Nachmanides says that this is the very meaning of an “Ezer K’negdo” – the “helpmate opposite him” referenced in Genesis, 2:18 and 2:20. He explains that, rather than simply having the male sperm traverse his own body to reach the feminine womb in that same body, G-d separated man from woman so that they would be opposite each other, facing each other in sexual intimacy.
Speaking of fiery passionate sex, we are taught that this is the origin of the male and female names. Prior to their separation, they were known simply as “Adam.” However, once they were separated to permit sexual intercourse, the male was named “Ish,” and the female was named “Isha.” Both of those names include the letters “Alef” and “Shin,” which together spell “Aish” – fire; “Ish,” however, includes the letter “Yud” and “Isha” the letter “Hay,” which together spell G-d’s name. Thus, our sages teach, a male-female union that is based solely on physical sensation is a fire that that can potentially consume its participants. If the couple shares the letters of G-d’s name, however – i.e., if their union is characterized by an awareness of G-d and a sense of the divine – then the fire is tamed by them, and their sexual union is wholesome, non-destructive and complete.
The Torah then tells us, in cryptic fashion, that “Now they were both naked, the man and his wife, but they were not ashamed.” Genesis: 2:25. Commentaries tell us that it was at this point that Adam and Eve engaged in sexual relations, in full view of the snake, who, consumed with jealousy and lust, determined to take Eve for himself. (Does this mean that appreciation of human feminine beauty transcends human beauty and spills over into other animal species? Or does it mean that the snake was fascinated by the intimacy of face-to-face sex, which is unique to humankind?) Fast forward to after Adam and Eve both ate from the forbidden Tree of Knowledge, and now Adam and Eve attempt to hide from G-d, explaining that “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I am naked; so I hid.” Genesis, 3:10.
The only reason we wear clothing in mild weather is because of the sexual natures of our bodies. Adam and Eve started out naked and unashamed in their sexual activity. But once they partook of the Tree of Knowledge, they instinctively covered their genitalia, sensing that the instruments of their sexuality should be covered (their first attempt at clothing did not include gloves or shoes – they were girdles). Their shame of their naked bodies resulted from a change in their perspective regarding sex.
Did sex change from an open and free act to a furtive and shameful one? Or did sex change from an unremarkable and natural bodily function to an intense and intimate one, that Adam and Eve instinctively felt should not be on display? (After all, they didn’t scramble for cover until they heard G-d’s voice, suggesting that it was an audience that made then uncomfortable).
Nachmanides’ commentary suggests that were several stages in Adam and Eve’s emergent sexuality. At first, they might have seen their genitalia as simply a physical means of reproduction, much like the mouth is the physical organ used to ingest nutrients. Then, however, they must have sensed that there is something beyond mere functionality, understanding that this is why they were separated into two distinct beings, and endowed with the ability to merge and to “become one flesh”; and why a man would forever leave his biological family behind in pursuit of this union. That, too, however, is really a feature of our physical nature, our intrinsic chemistry, our biological make-up. What the Tree of Knowledge introduced, on the other hand, was a mental and psychological shift; a view of sexuality that transcends our physical and emotional chemistry. Our capacity for kink, perhaps?
Regardless, it was clearly eating from the Tree of Knowledge that imbued Adam and Eve with a new appreciation for sex. This is frequently described as a negative – i.e. that eating the forbidden fruit introduced the evil inclination into our internal psyche, transforming sexual union from something innocent and light into something complex and dark. (In fact, some kabbalistic commentaries suggest that the snake actually did rape Eve, infecting her with its unholy nature).
However, it is equally clear that G-d had always intended for Adam and Even to eat of the Tree of Knowledge. The whole thing was a setup. He creates a delicious tree. He announces that it is no ordinary tree — it is the Tree of Knowledge. He creates the wily snake, and apparently gives the snake an appreciation for the tree, which it then promptly imparts to Eve. Nor did G-d wish for a boring ever-tranquil Garden of Eden. It was not for such an existence that He created the world. So he meant for Adam and Eve to eat the fruit. So perhaps our complicated, struggling and tortured approach to sexuality is exactly what G-d intended it to be – which is why even when man and woman were named Ish and Isha, they were named thus for the fiery nature of their sexual intercourse – a fire which is ever present in our carnal existence.