The Anatomy of Seduction

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

How does seduction work? How do we get seduced to do things that we know aren’t good for us? What is it that worms its way behind our defenses and flings our gates wide open to the enemy?
This week’s Parshah, Re’eh, begins with G-d presenting a choice to the Israelites:

Behold, I set before you today a blessing and a curse. The blessing, that you will heed the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you today; and the curse, if you will not heed the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn away from the way I command you this day, to follow other gods, which you did not know.

Deuteronomy, 11:26-28.

It sounds simple enough. Follow the commandments and receive life and blessing; neglect them for the worship of other gods and receive death and curse. Obedience and fidelity = reward. Disobedience and disloyalty = punishment. Not a complicated formula.
So why have we invariably turned to disobedience? What is the inexorable attraction of the dark side of the force that causes us to ignore the simplicity of the Divine formula?
Later in the Parshah, there is a passage addressing one who is seduced to idolatry, which is fascinating on multiple levels, and gives us enormous insight as to the way the Torah views seduction.

If your brother, the son of your mother, or your son or your daughter, or the wife of your embrace, or your friend who is as your own soul, tempts you in secret saying, “Let us go and worship other gods,” which neither you, nor your forefathers have known, of the gods of the peoples around you, whether near to you or far from you, from one end of the earth to the other end of the earth. You shall not desire him, and you shall not hearken to him; neither shall you pity him, have mercy upon him, nor shield him. But you shall surely kill him, your hand shall be the first against him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people.

Deuteronomy, 13:7-10.

Note the four sources or directions from which the Torah anticipates the seduction might come:

  1. One’s maternal brother;
  2. One’s child;
  3. One’s loving wife; and
  4. One’s best friend

Does the Torah specify these four to emphasize that even to loved ones such as these may one show no mercy? Or is it that these four represent the chinks in our armor, the cracks in our resolve; those that wield the power over us to bring us to do things against our conscience and better judgment? From the discussion of the commentaries regarding a maternal brother, it appears that, indeed, these four relationships are mentioned to highlight those that have the greatest degree of influence over our behavior.

Maternal brothers spend time in the same womb, and spend their early formative years being nurtured by the same mother. They don’t compete with each other over their fathers’ inheritance. Eventually, brothers tend to develop their own independence and follow their own path; however, their bond to one another makes them particularly susceptible to the ideas and passions of the other. This is the first line of seduction.

Our children are the second line of seduction. Even closer than siblings, there is little that we won’t do for our children, whom we love unconditionally. We recognize that it is our job to raise our children and to impart our values to them – and not the reverse. However, when our children present us with new and foreign ideas, we try to embrace them, to expand our perspective to see the world through our children’s eyes. Yet that exposes us to the danger of losing our own clarity and moral compass, when what our children truly need, is for us to hold steadfast, an anchor in a stormy ocean, an island of tranquility in the midst of the world’s chaos.

A spouse is the third line of seduction. For it is our spouse who knows our weaknesses, our vulnerabilities; our spouse to whom we have opened up and in whom we have confided our dreams and fantasies. And we are committed to a lifelong pursuit of our spouse’s happiness, in which our ability to satisfy our spouse and to keep him or her happy is a significant component of our sense of self-worth. We are easily seduced by our spouse.

Finally – and it is truly fascinating that the Torah places this relationship at the top of the hierarchy of influence – there is the best friend. In many ways, a best friend – for those of us fortunate enough to have one – has an even more intimate knowledge of us than our spouse. After all, a spouse still requires a certain level of distance for the relationship to work. A marriage will flounder if there remains no sense of mystery, nothing more to be pursued, mined, explored. With a best friend, however, nothing is held back. Everything is shared. Successes. Failures. Unflattering moments. A best friend, “who is as our own soul,” knows us best, and therefore is the most effective seducer.

(An interesting biblical example of a friendship that endured while the other three relationships failed is that of Judah, Jacob’s fourth son. In Genesis, the Torah departs from the tale of Joseph’s kidnapping and sale as a slave, and turns to a seemingly non-sequitur narrative of a specific period in Judah’s life. It begins with describing Judah’s alienation from his (primarily maternal) brothers, “and he turned away until [he came] to an Adullamite man, named Hirah.” Genesis, 38:1. This friend, Hirah, would be present at every significant event in Judah’s life, high or low. Judah then gets married and has sons. Years later, his sons die, and then his wife dies. To be comforted in his morning, Judah turns to his steadfast friend, Hirah, and together they make the trip to Timnah to inspect the shearing of Judah’s sheep. As the tale unfolds, Judah’s widowed daughter-in-law, Tamar, presents herself to Judah as a prostitute. When Judah solicits her, Tamar agrees to provide her services on credit, provided that Judah leave her with collateral until she is paid. One can almost imagine Judah handing his things to Hirah, and asking him to wait outside. Later, when Judah seeks to pay the prostitute the agreed price, he sends none other than Hirah to seek her out to make payment. While this is the last that we hear of Hirah, we know that his was a friendship that lasted decades; one in which Judah was able to completely relax, without pretense; and one in which Judah found solace after the death of his wife.)

The Or Hachayim explains that these four people are also symbolic for four different stages in our relationship with temptation.

The “maternal brother” is the temptation with which we are born, as a sibling that emerges from the womb of the same parent. As G-d said of the earliest generations, “for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” So we are pre-conditioned to struggle with temptation.

Our “children,” however, are the weaknesses to temptation that we have acquired through our transgressions and indulgences. For each time that we fail, we increase our susceptibility to temptation, and make the next battle even more difficult. This enhanced weakness is our “child” – the product of our actions.

The “loving wife” appears when we have grown so accustomed to indulgence that we have acquired our own little voice in our head, a spiritual and seductive presence within us that actively works to undermine our better judgment, and to defeat us from within.

Finally, the “best friend” represents the nadir of our ability to battle our darker impulses – for we have so identified with our darker side that the line between “us” and “it” has become so blurred as to make the two sides indistinguishable. We have lost control of the battlefield, and we no longer recognize the source of the voice that speaks to us and directs our actions; wherever it’s from, it sounds reasonable.

Nonetheless, Torah warns us not to overestimate or be intimidated by these seductive forces. None of them are permanent, and each of them is permitted to exist and function only at our pleasure. We retain the ultimate control and ability to rid ourselves of the destructive elements of our nature; not only to regain clarity of conscience, but even to rid ourselves of the temptation with which we were born – the one that came in the box – and to restore the simplicity of G-d’s formula for life, earning eternal blessing for ourselves and our loved ones.