Diluted Seed

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

It’s been a while since we visited some of the more erotic imagery of the Kabbalah — and even longer since we’ve talked about the male organ. But in the mystical side of this week’s double-ParshahMatot-Massei — the sexual functions of the male member features prominently.

At the end of their 40-year trek through the desert, the Jewish people are now on the verge of realizing their dream of entering into the Promised Land — a dream that has been repeatedly threatened over the past decades, and one which their fathers did not live to see. For G-d has been particularly sensitive to the Jewish people’s show of enthusiasm for the land that He has promised them, and the last time they were on the verge of entering the Land — and had in fact sent scouts to explore it — the negative attitude and the doubts that the Israelites had expressed about conquering the Land had led to G-d condemning them to wander the desert for 40 years.

So imagine their horror, when at the last minute, right on the cusp of the end to their wanderings, the tribes of Reuben and Gad approach Moses with the following petition: “This land, east of the Jordan river, outside of Israel, which G-d has delivered into the hands of the congregation of Israel is a grazing land, and your servants have much livestock. If it pleases you, let this land be given to your servants as their inheritance; and do not take us across the Jordan.” [1]

Given what is at stake, Moses’s response is understandably scathing. He accuses them of repeating the same evil as their fathers before them, of again undermining the morale of their brethren, and once again endangering the destiny of the Jewish nation. Thus, the tribes of Reuben and Gad take a solemn oath that their men will march side by side into Israel with the other tribes, and fight to secure the Promised Land for all of the Israelites, before returning to their families east of the Jordan. It is only then that Moses relents, and allows the tribes of Reuben and Gad to take as their inheritance the land conquered by the Israelites to the east of the Jordan. Moses also divided the tribe of Menasheh into two, and settled one-half east of the Jordan, ostensibly to ensure a constant sense of connectivity and family between the two communities. [2]

So let’s talk about Reuben.

Reuben, the eldest of Jacob’s sons, seems to have lived a life that could only be characterized as…disappointing.

Reuben was the firstborn — a status that was traditionally accompanied by the father’s highest regard and esteem, by a double-portion of any inheritance, and by supremacy over his brothers. Instead, however, Joseph was clearly Jacob’s favorite, followed by Benjamin. Judah was the son that Jacob routinely relied upon — both to ensure Benjamin’s safety during his first trip to Egypt, and then to establish dwelling for the family in the city of Goshen when Jacob descended to Egypt with the whole family.

Reuben? Reuben, of course was tainted by his affair with Jacob’s concubine, Bilhah. He was unsuccessful in rescuing Joseph from his brothers’ hatred and plotting. When Joseph, disguised as the Grand Viceroy of Egypt, demanded that the brothers bring Benjamin to Egypt, Reuben’s efforts to convince Jacob to entrust Benjamin to his care were rebuffed — only to have Jacob accept Judah’s offer to do the same thing.

Later, it was members of the tribe of Reuben who rallied to Korach in his ill-fated rebellion against Moses. The two quintessential Israelite nudniks — Dathan and Abiram — were both from the tribe of Reuben.

And now it is Reuben that wishes to remain on the east side of the Jordan river, apart from his brethren.

What is with Reuben?

As we have discussed previously, Kabbalah explains that the supernal Divine sefirot, or traits, manifest themselves in a human shape. Indeed, when it is said that man was created in G-d’s image, it is actually because man is modeled after the structure of these sefirot that he has the shape that he does. In this structure and shape, the ninth sefirah of yesod (lit. foundation) represents the male organ.

However, as the Zohar explains, the penis contains two orifices that open into the urethra: through one passes semen, and through the other, urine — the “water-orifice”.

When Jacob was conceiving Reuben on his wedding night, recall that he thought he was having sex with Rachel, and did not realize that his father-in-law, Laban, had substituted Leah for Rachel. In Jacob’s mind, therefore, the child that he was conceiving was intended to be the firstborn of his union with Rachel — Joseph.

Because it was not Rachel, however, Joseph’s spiritual consciousness did not manifest in Jacob’s first drop of semen. Instead, Reuben was conceived. But because the delivery system for Jacob’s semen was preoccupied with preparing for Joseph’s emergence, the drop of semen by which Reuben was conceived was issued from the water-orifice. There, its intensity became diluted by water-waste.

This is the mystical meaning of Jacob’s strange blessing to Reuben on his deathbed: “Unstable as water, you shall not excel” [3] — referring to Reuben’s dilution in the water-orifice. It is because of this dilution that, throughout Reuben’s life, he indeed did not excel, and did not gain the superiority of his birthright over his brothers. Not only was the strength of the semen diluted with water, however, the water itself was waste — the impurities that the body expels. In spiritual terms, this “waste” is the most external face of yesod, which provides a source for the impure forces. [4]

This is why Reuben felt uncomfortable entering the interior of the Holy Land, and preferred to remain on the periphery, on the east side of the Jordan, as Reuben’s spiritual character reflects a dilution of pure holiness, and an incorporation of the waste beyond its borders.

Fascinatingly, the Arizal writes that the same deception that produced Reuben, and compromised the integrity of his conception, was present during the conception of Gad.

If you examine the biblical text closely, you will find a key difference between the way Rachel presented her maidservant, Bilhah, to Jacob, and the way that Leah presented her maidservant, Zilpah, to Jacob. Rachel who found herself barren, asked Jacob, “”Here is my maidservant Bilhah; come to her, and she will bear children upon my knees, so that I, too, will be built up from her.” [5] She asked, and Jacob agreed. When Leah gave Zilpah to Jacob, however, she did so without his permission: “She took her maidservant Zilpah, and gave her to Jacob for a wife.” [6] That night, Jacob actually thought that he was having sex with Leah, when really it was Zilpah in his bed. The product of that union was Gad.

Thus, Gad’s conception, too, was compromised, and the tribe of Gad, too, found itself more comfortable on the outskirts of the Holy Land. [7]

Finally, the Arizal explains that half of Menasheh also suffered from the following spiritual deficiency: Menasheh and Ephraim’s parents were Joseph and Osnat, who was the daughter of Dinah, begot upon her by Shechem. Thus, Osnat had a mixed genetic heritage of holy (Dinah) and unholy (Shechem’s defilement). Menasheh was the child who inherited Osnat’s unholy side, whereas Ephraim inherited her holy side (which is why Jacob switched his hands and placed his right hand on Ephraim’s head when he blessed them)[8]. Thus, Menasheh, like his mother, was a mix of holy and unholy; and it was the unholy portion of Menasheh that settled outside of Israel on the east side of the Jordan.[9]

Obviously, the word “unholy” must be understood within the context of the enduring fact that Reuben, Gad, and Menasheh were — and remain — three of the twelve co-equal tribes of the Children of Israel, G-d’s chosen nation, with just as much stature and claim to holiness as their brethren. Moreover, there are undoubtedly many other strategic and spiritual reasons for the Israelites to maintain a presence and inhabit the cities that they conquered on the east side of the Jordan. This particular passage of Kabbalah happens to focus on the subtle distinctions in the spiritual origins of the tribes, which would account for why these particular ones were the tribes that remained outside the Holy Land. And they were in good company; don’t forget that Moses and Aaron, too, did not enter the Land. But there is still a lesson there.

Thus, in addition to the sexual anatomy of yesod, the choice of Reuben, Gad and half of Menasheh to settle on the east side of the Jordan emphasizes the importance of focused and consensual sex with one’s partner; as the two times that Jacob thought that he was having sex with someone else, and the one time that Dinah was forced to have sex against her will, resulted in a spiritual pollution of the offspring resulting from those unions.

Maimonides thus writes the following in his laws regarding marital intimacy:

Our Sages forbade a person from engaging in relations with his wife while his heart is focused on another woman. He should not engage in relations while intoxicated, nor while quarreling, nor out of hatred. He should not engage in relations with her against her will when she is afraid of him. Nor when one of them is placed under a ban of ostracism. He should not engage in relations with his wife after he made the decision to divorce her. If he does so, the children will not be of proper character. There will be those who are brazen and others who are rebellious and sinful. [10]

Sex should be about love, passion, and connection, and the thoughts that we introduce into our lovemaking have a profound impact on the outcome.

Works Cited

[1] Numbers, 32:4-5.

[2] Id., 32:20-33.

[3] Genesis, 49:4.

[4] Sitrei Torah, 1:155a.

[5] Genesis, 30:3.

[6] Genesis, 30:9.

[7] The Arizal goes on to explain that the flaw in Gad’s conception, too, was alluded to in Jacob’s last blessings. There, Jacob associates Gad with the “heel” (Genesis, 49:19). The heel is traditionally regarded as simultaneously the most insensitive part of the body, as well as the part of the body most vulnerable to attack. This, too, is reflective of the outskirts of the Land of Israel.

[8] Genesis, 48:17-19

[9] See Sha’ar HaPesukim and Likutei Torah, Parshat Matot.
[10] Mishnah Torah, Isurei Biah, 21:12.