Naked Before God

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Written by Elijah Smith. Elijah is a first-time Jewrotica writer, and a religious Jew with a penchant for the erotic. He believes there is much to say and explore about eroticism and spirituality in Jewish practice. The following is an attempt at expressing in writing how the two are related in a tangible and practical way.

Rated PG

I’m a spiritual seeker. I’m also a thrill seeker. Testing limits, pushing myself and finding innovative ways of connecting to my spirituality drives me. Having married the woman of my dreams at an early age, I was on a pretty steady path of discovery and renewal when I suddenly hit a brick wall. I had just returned with my family from attending my brother’s wedding abroad. The wedding was fraught with interfamilial tension: my brother had married someone not Jewish. The personal aftermath, however, was even more difficult as my wife had an excruciatingly difficult time with my family. She almost walked off the plane on the way to the wedding, and things had only gotten worse when we returned. There was a lot of screaming and yelling, door slamming, the ‘D’ word got thrown around plenty, and by the end of the summer we were living in separate parts of the house, acting as neighbors more than a married couple.

At the time, even though our exchanges in the house were kept to only the absolutely essential and necessary for running a household, every now and then enough of the antagonism between us would dissipate to allow for some real deep and meaningful conversation. The Jewish High Holydays were around the corner, and with them came the usual thoughts about renewal, New Year’s resolutions and of course, what’s on the menu for Rosh Hashana.

Out of the blue one day, with Rosh Hashana fast approaching, she told me about a fascinating article in the newspaper someone had written about the process of teshuvah. Even though the idea sounded obvious, sometimes it’s all about the packaging. The writer was trying to make the point that teshuvah was literally about throwing off whatever baggage you’ve carried around with you the past year and not being afraid of jettisoning it from the train. Just cast off the old so you can start fresh. Better than that, God is willing to accept this if you can actually pull it off sincerely. The idea got me worried; was this her way of saying this was the end of our relationship? I pushed those thoughts aside and tried to see if I could find a way to renew my spirituality as a religious Jew based on the thoughts she initially presented from the article – even though my marriage was on the rocks.

A few days later I was thinking about my friend Dave, a burly guy who must have been a bushman in a former life. Like me, Dave is a spiritual seeker and had partially nourished his religious quest by extended periods spent in the woods. In his mid-20s, he had spent considerable time in outdoor education working with troubled teens. Dave and I had had many conversations about his experiences in the woods. He had told me about the basic therapeutic premises of these programs, such as stripping kids from their surroundings and placing them in an unfamiliar environment where they need to adapt in order to cope and survive. This could include finding food, creating shelter and working as a team to overcome challenges. This partly shocks their system but supposedly then allows them to rebuild their personalities and attitudes towards the world from scratch. If successful, then the end result would be that they better understand how to cope with themselves and society, and how to appreciate those around them.

In thinking about the newspaper article, this sounded similar to the process of teshuvah. Of the various challenges these kids are put through, one of them includes stripping them buck-naked (including no shoes) and letting them fend for themselves in the woods without clothes for 24 hours. It sounds harsh, especially when you consider the dominant Western culture these teens are taken from, which doesn’t exactly encourage nudism as a way of life. According to Dave however, removing your clothes in nature for an extended period of time causes you to face yourself in a very tangible way, as there is literally nothing hiding you from yourself. Having done this exercise a few times, Dave had attested to the expansive feelings and openness that came with dealing with your surroundings, and the elements, when there is nothing to cover your nakedness.

In the difficulty of my life at the time, not having been sexually active for a few months and looking for a sign of hope, the idea popped in my head that somehow Dave’s experience with being nude in the woods and the newspaper article my spouse had read were connected. Would removing my clothes and standing naked outside somehow let me look at myself differently and find a way to get renewed strength and meaning in my life? I thought long and hard about it and resolved that on Yom Kippur I would shed everything, including my clothes, and stand naked in front of God. Barring the technical issues of what my neighbors (or my wife and kids for that matter) would say if they saw me, I kept telling myself, “What do I have to hide?” Granted, doubt entered my mind a few times leading up to the day: “Elijah, honestly, is this appropriate normal behavior for a fully grown religious man to be doing on the holiest day of the year?” I was desperate for new avenues in trying to make sense of my life situation and convinced myself that this was worth a try.

The day came. I spent the evening of Yom Kippur in shul with some of my older kids while my wife stayed home with the little ones. By around 9:30 p.m. we were home and the kids were in bed. My wife had already gone to her part of the house and I knew I wouldn’t be seeing her until morning. I sat in my kitchen watching the hands of the analog clock tick by, contemplating my life and repeatedly questioning myself, “Elijah, are you really going to get naked in your backyard and talk to God?” I read a book to pass the time. After much waiting and anticipation, it was close to 1 a.m. I tiptoed downstairs to check on the kids. They were asleep. The room my wife was in was silent. She was asleep.

I went outside and walked to my backyard. Looking left and right at my neighbors’ houses, with the lights off, hearing nothing but the sound of the wind, I figured the neighbors were asleep as well. I studied my backyard. It had a couple of fully grown trees on either side, with the branches and leaves forming a kind of partially-covered canopy over the center of the yard. A few fully grown trees lined the edges of my neighbors’ yards, which added more covering. I scanned the area again. It was about 1:15 a.m. now. I thought to myself, “Everyone’s asleep.” I found a spot in the yard that didn’t seem visible to either neighbor. The place felt concealed enough for my bodily exposure without risk of someone calling the cops.

I slowly stripped my clothes off, like I was getting ready for bed, or maybe like a divine striptease. Off came my suit pants and jacket. Off came my tie, shirt and tzitzit. Off came my socks and shoes. Off came my kippa. And finally, off came my underwear. I stretched and took a deep breath as I felt the cool night wind swirl around my body. The heightened sensation of air blowing around your genitals can awaken desire and I slowly felt an erection coming on. A part of me then just wanted to masturbate. But I focused myself and said that I was here to try and remove any psychological barriers, like I removed the physical ones via undressing, to see deeper into myself. So there I was on Yom Kippur, standing naked in my backyard, looking up at the sky, trying to visualize God so I could have a discussion with Him. I kept feeling a tingling sensation around my penis but subdued the distraction.

I closed my eyes telling myself, “Elijah, don’t think about being naked and having an erection; stop focusing on your penis.” I took a few more deep breaths and tried to let my mind wander. I then spoke a few words under my breath, as if having a conversation with myself and the Divine. “Here I am, God, naked in front of you, with nothing to cover me. Guide me, show my some direction in my life as I have nothing to hide.” I yawned. It was about 1:20 a.m. and I was quite tired. “Try again,” I told myself, “you haven’t waited all this time just to mutter a single sentence!” So I tried focusing my mind again, thinking of something insightful to say to God. Nothing came. I couldn’t stop worrying about something surprising me and biting me in the penis, like a snake or scorpion. I opened my eyes. “Alright,” I told myself, “this hasn’t been as inspiring as I would have liked”, but I had to be honest with myself: I was simply exhausted. After my short prayer, I put my clothes back on, went inside the house to bed.

The rest of Yom Kippur passed as it has in previous years. Soon enough, the fast was over and it was time to start the preparations for Sukkot. I kept my little midnight experience in the nude to myself, telling no one, including my wife. As the days went on and I kept the secret inside, a growing urge to share the experience with someone kept beckoning me. In reflecting on the experience, it was freeing to a certain degree although not as revelatory as I expected. I do enjoy being naked and the thought of removing layers to properly see oneself and be honest with oneself made sense logically. However, something seemed lacking. I told myself I would try the experience next year and that I should discuss it with a close friend.

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