Love-Based Lust

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 PG-13

Is there any relationship between the lust and sexual desire that we feel towards someone, and the love that we might have for that same person?

On the one hand, there is surely a reason that one of the terms that we use for sex is “lovemaking.” There is a reason that romance movies and novels are so wildly popular, and their sexual scenes, so full of passion and intimacy, are so hot! Sometimes we feel as though sex is the only natural response to the intense love that we feel.

On the other hand, there are may people that we love deeply but for whom we harbor no sexual attraction at all. Freud’s Oedipal theories aside, we love our family, but have no desire to have sex with them. Is it a different kind of love? Clearly. It is a kind of love that doesn’t lead to sex. But why not? How about a long-term committed relationship between two unrelated people? How about a couple that has been married for 20 years? Do they still feel the kind of love that leads, inexorably, to passionate sex?

In the 2000 film The Family Man, a wealthy, arrogant, and self-centered bachelor, played by Nicholas Cage, wakes up in an alternate reality, in which he is married to his college sweetheart, and working hard to raise a family as a member of America’s middle class. There is a point where he is staring at his wife, and marveling at her beauty. She blushes self-consciously under his gaze, and asks him: “How can you…look at me like you haven’t seen me every day for the last 13 years?”

As the audience, we, of course, know the answer to that question: he hasn’t seen her every day for the last 13 years. This is new to him, and so he looks at her in that new way. The sad bit is, if he hadn’t just popped into her life from an alternate reality, if he had woken up to the same person for every day for the past 13 years, we would absolutely expect the marvel and passion to be gone.

Interestingly, women seem to be more immune to the numbing effect of familiarity and extended proximity than men. Otherwise, Nicholas Cage would not have woken up to fulfilling romantic relationship with Téa Leoni; he would have been besotted with her, but she would not have reciprocated those feelings. After all, she did see him every day for the past 13 years.

With women, it seems that love does indeed initially lead to sex, at which point a firm association between love and sex is formed. Thereafter, love leads to sex, and sex is a reaffirmation of that love. It is why a woman might prefer a romance movie to a porn flick. Sex in the context of romance and love makes sense. Sex solely for the sake of sex? That’s a guy thing. And for the most part, it works. The woman gets love (and sex), and the man gets sex (and love).

Obviously these are huge generalizations. There are undoubtedly women that might prefer (soft) porn to a romance movie. There are undoubtedly men that are great romantics, and cannot abide the thought of loveless sex. And even the women that generally prefer romance might enjoy occasionally indulging in sheer naughtiness; and even men who enjoy sex with no strings attached might enjoy the deep comfort and intimacy of sex as an expression of love.

But generally, it appears to be a guy/girl thing. So my wife tells me.

So is G-d a guy or a girl?

This week’s Parshah, V’Etchanan, is all about G-d’s relationship with the Jewish people. It includes a detailed recap of the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, and a candid discussion of G-d’s jealousy for the Jewish people’s affections. Thus Moses issues stern commands, prohibitions and warnings regarding the Jewish people’s worshiping of idols, or mingling with those that do. As the Parshah winds down, Moses makes the following fascinating statements:

Not because you are more numerous than any people did the Lord desire you and choose you, for you are the least of all the peoples.

Rather, it is because of the Lord’s love for you, and because He keeps the oath He swore to your forefathers, that the Lord took you out with a strong hand and redeemed you from the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt.

Deuteronomy, 7:7-8.

Now, the Hebrew word for “desire” here is Cheshek (חשק). To put things in perspective, the only other time that this particular word was used was after Shechem’s rape of Dinah, when he and his father, Chamor, went to Jacob to ask for Dinah’s hand in marriage. Chamor described Shechem’s feelings for Dinah as follows: “My son Shechem, his soul desires (Chashka -) your daughter.” Genesis, 34:8. Shechem’s feelings for Dinah at that point were passion and lust, as the word Cheshek is often defined.

So Moses is explaining the nature of G-d’s lust and passion for the Jewish people. He rejects the notion that G-d’s lust might result from the Jewish people being “well-endowed,” i.e. large in number. For we are not, and certainly were not then. (This is not intended as a comment on Jews’ other endowments.)

Rather, Moses says, G-d lusts for the Jewish nation because He loves us. Why does he love us? Who knows? Perhaps it is biological: we are the children of our forefathers, with whom G-d entered into a covenant. Perhaps it is our national personality: we are stubborn, we are determined, we are deep, we are innovative, and we are passionate. Regardless, it is G-d’s love for us that ignites His lust and passion.

For G-d, of course, one would not expect the familiarity and long-term nature of the relationship to have a numbing effect on His ardor; for Him, after all, three thousand years pass in the blink of an eye. Plus, our extra-marital activities keep things interesting. While He has certainly displayed his intense jealousy when our own affections have strayed, we haven’t really seen Him experience the “7 year itch” (unless you count the last 2,000 years of uninterrupted exile).

But in terms of the dynamics of love and lust, it does seem that love certainly can be – and perhaps should be – the foundation for ongoing passion and lust. For long-term couples, this certainly takes work, but this week’s Parshah demonstrates that a deep love is certainly capable of inspiring lust.