50 Shades of Devarim

Double Mitzvah Jewrotica Parsha

Written by Sender Rozesz. Sender Rozesz is a practicing attorney with a background in Jewish pluralistic education for adults. Sender Rozesz is Jewrotica’s resident Double Mitzvah columnist. The views reflected in his writing 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.

Rated R

Anyone familiar with BDSM knows that entire basis of the kink is expressed in one word: Trust.

In 50 Shades of Grey, Anastasia – a traditional and conservative girl – agrees to submit to Christian Grey’s unique form of sexual fun and discipline only once she finds that she trusts him. She trusts that he cares about her. She trusts that he is not elevating his own desires above her own well-being. The entire 50 Shades trilogy and movie revolves around the fluctuations in that trust.

As once explained in Psychology Today:

In the child’s game, Trust Me, one person stands behind the other. The one in front falls backward, trusting the other to catch them before crashing to the floor. Trust Me contains an element of danger, the risk of not getting caught and getting hurt. The person falling places great trust in the person catching. When the falling player trusts the catcher enough to let go completely, and the catch happens as planned, both players experience a moment of exhilaration that’s difficult to duplicate any other way.

BDSM is similar. The myth is that it’s abusive and weird—whips and chains! Actually it’s about trust. When trust trumps the possibility of harm, the result can feel incredibly intimate and erotic.

Our relationship with G-d shares many aspects of a BDSM relationship, and it, too, is based upon trust.

G-d expects us to trust him, even when he causes us pain. Thus, “He afflicted you and let you go hungry, and then fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your forefathers know, so that He would make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but rather by, whatever comes forth from the mouth of the Lord does man live.” Deuteronomy, 8:3. Indeed, as a dominant in a BDSM relationship might expect, G-d expects that we will eventually appreciate the pain, as Isaiah prophesied that we would one day declare: “I thank you, G-d, for behaving angrily with me.” Isaiah, 12:1.

When we have, in the past, demonstrated our trust in G-d, it has left a powerful impression. So powerful, in fact, that Jeremiah’s description of G-d’s heartache at having been forsaken by the Jewish people is prefaced by the following: “Thus said G-d: I remember for you the affection of your youth, the love of your nuptials; how you followed me after Me into the desert wilderness, a land that was not sown.” Our trust in Him – enough to follow Him into the barren desert – is one of G-d’s most powerful and fond memories of us, and is one which we invoke and incorporate into our prayers on Rosh Hashanah. It was us falling backwards, and trusting G-d to catch us. It was us surrendering our bodies to G-d, trusting that he would be there for us.

It is no wonder then, that the incidents that most angered G-d during our subsequent trek through the desert we incidents when we failed to trust him.

One of the most prominent of these examples is repeated again, in this week’s Torah portion of Devarim. In the Book of Devarim, Moses gives his final sermon to the Israelites, retelling the events of the past 40 years. That’s a lot of coverage for a speech. So, naturally, he abbreviates and skirts over many of the less significant stories. However, when he gets to the story of the spies, he stops, and goes over that particular episode in great detail. See Deuteronomy, 1:22-44.

Imagine a young newlywed couple. Perhaps even Christian and Anastasia Grey. The groom has by now demonstrated, time and again, his devotion to his new bride. She trusts him to the point that when he blindfolds her and says, “I am going to share my special Red Room with you,” she trusts him, and follows his lead.

But then imagine, as they walk down the hallway, nearing their destination, she suddenly says:

“You know what, take off the blindfold, I want to go see exactly what I’m getting into.”

His heart falls; this is not the trust that had been so enticing and titillating at the outset.

But he reluctantly agrees. He takes off her blindfold, and allows her to explore the Red Room on her own. She steps inside, and her mind takes in all of the different and strange items she sees there.

Cuffs. Slings. Riding crops. Floggers. Hoods. More blindfolds. Creepy little metallic tools sharp points.

She doesn’t understand – aren’t these instruments of pain? Does her husband intend to hurt her? She panics, and begins to cry. Her crying turns to wailing.

And her stricken groom realizes to his dismay that, not only did she not trust him with the blindfold, she didn’t even trust him enough to give him an opportunity to explain the purpose and nature of the Red Room. To explain that it was designed not for her pain, but for her pleasure, and at a far greater intensity that she could have ever imagined. And now, not only does she not understand, but she now feels that her earlier distrust of him has been justified and vindicated.

In 25 verses, Moses relates the failure of our trust, and G-d’s hurt response. Yes, we followed G-d into the barren wilderness, and trusted him. But now, as we approach the Promised Land, the Land of Milk and Honey, we are suddenly no longer willing to take His word that He will deliver it safely into our hands. We need to inspect it first.

G-d reluctantly agrees.

We send spies, who come back with a report that overwhelms us. The produce is huge. The inhabitants are strong. There are giants. Not only do we no longer trust that it is a good place for us, but we feel like we were smart to have demanded that we first inspect it. We feel like G-d was about to pull one over on us.

Gone is the trust that made our journey with G-d into the desert such an intimate experience. Instead, we stand bereft of that bond, and without any idea how to get back there.

Faced with the death of our trust-bond, G-d condemns that generation, consisting of all men between the ages of 20 and 60, to die. G-d would rebuild his bond and trust with their children, who would ultimately conquer and enter the Promised Land. However, every year until then, all the 60 year-old men would die, such that by the time the Israelites were ready to enter the Promised Land, there would be no men alive in the 60-100 age bracket (other than the members of the tribe of Levi, as well as Kalev and Joshua).

This Shabbat, in addition to reading the Parsha of Devarim, is also Tisha B’Av, the 9th day of Av. It is a day of national mourning for the Jewish people; a day on which both of our Temples were destroyed, and a day that marked several other calamities that befell our nation. Among the lesser-known aspects of Tisha B’Av is that it was also the day each year on which those men of the generation of Exodus that had turned 60 would die.

Thus, among its many other features, the message of Tisha B’Av, and this Shabbos, is about trust. It is about surrendering oneself to your lover, trusting that he or she will care and look out for you, and in so doing, reaching an unparalleled level of closeness and intimacy.

And perhaps, with such trust, we can reverse the negative effects of Tisha B’Av. and transform it into a day of joy and comfort, and where we can declare in all earnestness and sincerity: “Thank you, G-d, for behaving angrily with me.”

(Author’s Note: Trust does not happen in a vacuum. There is no virtue to trusting someone unless that person has earned it.)