A Return to Naughtiness

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

Well, the High Holidays are over, and we’re already at Parshat Noah again. I was visiting the blog of fellow Jewrotica contributor Shosha Pearl, and one of her recent posts caught my eye:


That drew an immediate chuckle – because it’s true, isn’t it? Throughout the High Holidays, we are on our best behavior. And, no matter how beautiful, wonderful and holy sex is, sometimes it’s simply not holy enough to make the cut. So we take a temporary hiatus from our favorite topic, and pretend that we are not waiting eagerly for the Days of Awe and Intensity to pass, and the opportunity to return to sex.


Oh, it could be a number of reasons. It could be a latent, indelible scar that society has placed upon our psyche that there is something inherent dirty or naughty about sex – a trait that is simply incompatible with the pristine Days of Awe. It could be that, holy as it is, sex tends to involve a great deal of self-gratification, which can be distracting during a period in which we are trying to reach beyond ourselves. And then of course, many of us may have sexual appetites that are perhaps not as holy as others, leaving us feeling well-and-chastened. Regardless, it is not uncommon to have diminished sexual activity during the High Holidays, leaving one feeling pure and cleansed.

But then, days later, it all comes rushing back. Some might find this disheartening, or experience a sense of futility. I was so ‘good,’ I thought I really might have changed my character, mastered my impulses…but here I am, right back on the sexual hamster’s wheel…

Perhaps, though, our sexual vacation is not intended to change our character. Perhaps there is another benefit to our temporary time-out; one that tends to go unnoticed.

You see, we live in constant danger of the proverbial “slippery slope” – the danger of something being taken too far. Every good thing stops being good when taken in excess. Eggs are good for you; but too many eggs will increase your cholesterol to unsafe levels. A glass of red wine is good for you; but too much makes you a lush. So how do we keep ourselves in check? By what mechanism do we say, “until here, but no further”?

Imagine a traveler embarking on a journey. Conceivably, a person could pack up for a trip, take 180 days, and travel anywhere in and all around the world. A far journey indeed. But imagine if that person was required to return home each night. Suddenly the distance that the traveler could journey would be very limited indeed; it would be determined by how far he could get in a day and still get back to start the next day’s journey afresh.

Think of Shabbat. Shabbat is a day on which we are forced to set aside our weekday activities and busyness, and to return to ourselves, to our inner spirit. After the 26 hours of Shabbat, we are then able to return to our week, fresh and rejuvenated. Without Shabbat, however, it would be way too easy to become utterly lost in our professional weekday lives. We would travel further and further away from our inner peace, until it would eventually disappear on the horizon behind us. Instead of Sunday being day one of the week, it would simply be day 7,308 (assuming you are 20 and were born on a Sunday). By restarting each week, we are kept fresh, focused, grounded, and from straying too far from who we are.

Last year, the Double Mitzvah column for Parshat Noah was titled “A Sexual Reboot”. It discussed the rampant sexual immorality described by the Torah that led to G-d bringing a flood to “reboot” the world’s sexuality; and why Noah and and his wife, and their sons and their wives, were prohibited from engaging in any sexual activity on board the ark. It discussed G-d’s desire to bring about a sexual reboot; sort of like the High Holidays, on which even good and holy sex takes a back seat. However, the column ended with the following question: Did it work? Are our sexual struggles and standards today any better, any more refined, than they were before the Flood?

The truth is, the answer to that question must be a resounding “no.” Not only do we appear to have sexual appetites every bit as voracious as our pre-Flood ancestors, but it was clear in the very days following the Flood that sexual excess had not been weeded out of the new strain of humanity.

The Torah teaches that immediately after exiting the ark, “Noah began to be a master of the soil, and he planted a vineyard. And he drank of the wine and became drunk, and he uncovered himself within his tent.” Genesis, 9:20-21. So there’s Noah, drunk and naked in his tent, when “Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father’s nakedness.” Id. 9:22. Later, “Noah awoke from his wine, and he knew what his small son had done to him” (Id. 9:24), and he curses Ham’s descendants with an eternal curse. Both the context and the weighty consequences led at least one opinion in the Talmud to conclude that “seeing his father’s nakedness” was actually a euphemism for sodomy; that Ham, seeing his father’s drunk and naked body, days after the world was destroyed for sexual immorality, could not resist the urge to sodomize his father. Homosexual incestuous rape. Ham managed to pack a lot of sexual taboo into a single act.

So sexual immorality was alive and well, and clearly survived the Flood.

And can we fail to mention that, according to many traditions, Na’amah, the succubus and seductress discussed in last week’s Double Mitzvah column, was also Noah’s wife?

Clearly, then, eliminating sexual deviance altogether was not the goal. And indeed, we find that G-d, after the Flood, did not appear to harbor any illusions about the ability of humans to control their impulses. Instead, he simply acknowledged that “the inclination of man’s heart is evil from his youth,” and promised that “I will no longer smite all living things as I have done.” Genesis, 8:21.

What, then, was the purpose of the Flood, if everything returned to the way it was?

Perhaps the answer is because even though our character may not fundamentally change, it is still important for us to have a baseline, an “impulse anchor” as it were, around which we may orient ourselves and measure the level of our sexual indulgence. Having the Flood in our collective psyche reminds us not to stray too far from our tether. It reminds us that we are expected to responsibly exercise our sexual judgment. Oh, we have full knowledge that that judgment will sometimes be poor. But by rebooting the sexual universe, perhaps it was G-d’s intention to implant a fail-safe so that our judgment won’t be exercised too poorly. To inject a powerful dose of conscience into our sexual excess, ingress and egress.

Days after they are over, the High Holidays become a memory. But they are a memory. In the back of our consciousness, we are aware of them; and we know they’re coming again next year. So even as we breathe a sigh of relief that they are over and enthusiastically resume our sexual frolicking, a gentle tug in the back of our mind reminds us not to go wandering too far, and to stay within sight of home.