Printed from kabbalaonline.org
The laws of marital relations create a context for spiritual development

Redeemable Pleasures

Redeemable Pleasures

 Email
Redeemable Pleasures
The laws of marital relations create a context for spiritual development

"And G‑d spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the children of Israel, saying "If a woman conceives and gives birth to a son, she shall be impure for seven days; she shall be impure as she is in the days of her menstrual period. And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised."" (Lev. 12:1-3)

It is recommended that the Arizal's teachings regarding impurity and defilement should be reviewed here.

Know that this [i.e. a woman's defilement for seven days after giving birth to a son] was caused by the injection of the [snake's] poison into Eve.

Although the text of the Bible only says that the snake spoke to Eve, it is explained in the oral tradition that the snake actually had intercourse with her (Rashi, Shabbat 146a).The snake personified "evil", i.e. selfishness and self-centered ego, the antithesis of G‑d-consciousness.

Of course, every individual has a unique divine soul, which is meant to express itself as his/her distinctive "divine personality" with its own unique contribution to the world's understanding of G‑d's presence in the world. This may express itself in many ways, from innovative understandings of the Torah, to artistic creativity, to acts of kindness, to inspiring others to lead holy lives, and so on. This is the person's unique, divine "ego". Thus, ego per se is not necessarily a bad thing. This divine ego is too often hidden by the alter-ego of the animal soul…

The problem is that this divine ego is too often hidden by the alter-ego of the animal soul. This alter ego begins as the consciousness-of-self that a person must have in order to ensure that he will look out for his own physical needs, but quickly assumes complete control of the person's thoughts, making him selfish and self-oriented. In other words, if a child is not given proper spiritual education (a.k.a. Torah), which trains him to give precedence to his divine soul, his animal soul will take over by default. This is so because the animal ego is given initial control of the mind - for an infant first needs to learn how to take care of itself.

This inflated consciousness of self (i.e., inflated beyond the basic consciousness-of-self required for us to function physically) is defined as "evil", inasmuch as it usurps the role intended for the divine soul. Inflated consciousness of self…seeks to divert the individual's attention from divine matters…

It seeks to divert the individual's attention from divine matters - sometimes with material indulgence, sometimes with substitute forms of spirituality - in order to aggrandize his concern with and focus on himself. This subterfuge can express itself in very refined ways also, such as abstract intellectual or artistic pursuits. In most people, their conscious mind is a blend of mostly animal ego and some deep desires of the divine soul seeking to surface. The more one spiritualizes his life and - through learning Torah and doing mitzvot - gives his divine self means for expression, the more his creativity will express true divinity and be able to identify and focus on the divine element in other people's creative output.

The animal/subjective/selfish perspective on life was introduced to humanity by the snake, its primordial personification. By sexually injecting its psychological poison into Eve, the snake robbed Adam and Eve of their ability to selflessly see reality.

This is why Eve menstruated at that moment, giving birth to Cain, who shed blood, and Abel, whose blood was shed. This is the origin of woman's menstrual blood, as it is written, "When a woman gives seed and gives birth to a boy, she shall be impure seven days [as in the days of her menstrual period shall she be impure]" (Lev. 12:2.)

The fact that the Torah compares impurity contracted by birth with impurity contracted by menstruation indicates that the two are thematically connected.

Menstruation causes the woman to focus on herself physically and emotionally. (This is why marital relations are forbidden during menstruation; the woman is too focused on herself to focus on her husband and/or their common soul.) Menstruation is spiritually the result of the introduction of self-awareness into humanity…

The fact that this is so indicates that menstruation is spiritually the result of the introduction of self-awareness into humanity, which we have seen originated in the snake's injection of his physical/metaphysical "seed" into Eve. The laws of family purity are the divinely directed way the menstrual experience can be transformed into what is meant to be: an educative process out of self-orientation.

Bleeding at birth also began with the primordial sin; had Adam and Eve not sinned, childbirth would occur without bleeding (and this will be the case in the future).

[This is also] the reason she becomes impure for seven days when she gives birth to a boy, for when she contributes her redness first, the offspring is male.

We are taught that "when the wife gives her seed first, she will give birth to a male; when the husband gives his seed first, she will give birth to a female." (Berachot 60a) The fact that the woman gave birth to a boy means that when the child was conceived her femininity took the leading role; her desire to express divinity in the world produced a male, since males are obligated to fulfill more active mitzvot than are women.

With this we will also understand why, of the four "foreskins" of man, only that of his procreative organ is circumcised. The reason is because [these four "foreskins"] allude to the four [years that] a tree's fruit is considered "foreskin." The foreskin of the procreative organ is where Adam sinned, so it recalls the injection of the [snake's] poison and sexual sin [keri], known as "evil"; [this organ is thus] compounded of good and evil.

The Torah uses the expression "uncircumcised" of four human organs: the male procreative organ, the ears, the heart, and the mouth. (See Bereishit Rabba 46:5.) These organs are referred to as "uncircumcised" or as possessing a "foreskin" when the individual does not use them to be sensitive to others or to G‑d.

When a tree is planted, we are forbidden to eat the fruit it produces during its first three years. This prohibition is called orla, which is the word for "foreskin." Rashi explains that this is so because we are to treat the fruit as if it were blocked off from us by some type of foreskin.

The fruit the tree produces during the fourth year is to be taken to Jerusalem and eaten that year within the precincts of the holy city (Lev. 19:23-24.) The tree's fruit during its first three years belongs to the three realms of absolute evil…

In Kabbala, it is explained that the tree's fruit during its first three years belongs to the three realms of absolute evil ("shells", kelipot) that cannot be elevated by human consumption; this is why eating it is prohibited. The fruit of the fourth year comes from the realm of the "translucent shell" (kelipat noga), which is the realm of reality that includes all things that are neither intrinsically good nor intrinsically evil but rather assume the status of good or evil depending on how they are used. Whatever comes from this realm is neither forbidden by the Torah (for then it would be "evil") nor expressly legislated (for then it would be a mitzva), but simply permitted. This realm includes, for example, all kosher food and activities permitted by the Torah but not specifically required to be done. If we eat this food or do these acts for holy purposes, their status rises into the realm of holiness; if we eat it or do them for selfish or unholy purposes, their status descends into the realm of evil. The tree's fourth-year fruit is not prohibited from consumption but must be eaten in the holy city; it must be elevated to holiness. It therefore expresses the moral dynamic of the fourth "shell."

The heart, ears, and mouth, must be guarded scrupulously from any contact with evil; any "foreskin" on these organs - experience of insensitivity, selfhood and unrectified ego - is bad and must be rejected. With the sexual organ, however, the picture is not so black and white. A certain amount of self-awareness and self-orientation is necessary if marital relations are to occur. True, we are bidden to sanctify our sexuality as much as we can, but - in contrast to the other three organs - the sanctification process consists not of eliminating the animal awareness but refining it such that it serves as a window to our divine soul. This is the paradox of marital relations: each partner is to focus on giving pleasure to the other, but in order for each partner to do this successfully, the other partner must oblige by experiencing his/her own pleasure. Thus, each partner experiences his/her own pleasure as a way of helping the other partner fulfill her/his objective of pleasing. Moreover, the greater my pleasure, the greater is my partner's success, and the greater his/her pleasure in having pleased me. It is thus ironically crucial to the selflessness of the act that each partner experience the greatest pleasure possible, although absolute not for the sake of experiencing their own pleasure. Actively, I pursue my partner's pleasure; passively, I "pursue" my own. Marital relations are thus simultaneously consummately selfless and consummately self-fulfilling.

Obviously, sliding from experiencing pleasure for the partner into experiencing pleasure for oneself can happen very easily. Therefore, since some degree of self-awareness must remain in marital relations, the danger of falling into evil here is much greater. Sexuality, in this context, is thus the fourth "shell" that can go either way. Since its potential for evil is so much greater than that of the other three organs, only it requires actual physical circumcision. With the others, spiritual "circumcision," i.e., proper attitudes engendered by holy training, suffice.

Regarding the congealing of semen when it is mixed with the choice parts of the blood of the woman's redness and the leftovers of this process which become the embryo's nourishment, all this is alluded to in the verse: "Behold, I was formed in transgression, and my mother conceived me in sin" (Psalms 51:7.) "Transgression" refers to the whiteness from the father, and "sin" refers to the redness of the mother. Similarly, the verse "Have You not poured me out like milk, and congealed me like cheese?" (Job 10:10) refers to the same.

"My mother conceived me in sin" does not mean that marital relations are sinful (G‑d forbid), but simply that a certain element of self-awareness is necessary for them to be carried out as G‑d desires, as mentioned above.


Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Sefer HaLikutim, parashat Tazria; subsequently published in "Apples From the Orchard." available at Kabbala Online Shop]

Reprinted with permission from Chabad of California. Copyright 2004 by Chabad of California, Inc. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this work or portions thereof, in any form, without permission, in writing, from Chabad of California, Inc.

Moshe Yaakov Wisnefsky is a scholar, writer, editor and anthologist, living in Jerusalem. He has recently produced two monumental works: "Apples from the Orchard: Arizal on the Weekly Torah" and a Chumash translation with commentary based on the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe (Kehot).
Rabbi Yitzchak Luria […Ashkenazi ben Shlomo] (5294-5332 = 1534-1572 c.e.); Yahrtzeit (anniversary of death): 5th of Av. Buried in the Old Cemetery of Tzfat. Commonly known as the Ari, an acronym standing for Eloki Rabbi Yitzchak, the G-dly Rabbi Isaac. No other master or sage ever had this extra letter Aleph, standing for Eloki [G-dly], prefaced to his name. This was a sign of what his contemporaries thought of him. Later generations, fearful that this appellation might be misunderstood, said that this Aleph stood for Ashkenazi, indicating that his family had originated in Germany, as indeed it had. But the original meaning is the correct one, and to this day among Kabbalists, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria is only referred to as Rabbenu HaAri, HaAri HaKadosh [the holy Ari] or Arizal [the Ari of blessed memory].
 Email
Join the Discussion
Sort By:
1 Comment
1000 characters remaining
Yehudis R Yerushalayim, Eretz Yisrael via kabbalaonline.org December 2, 2015

looking for clarification on one point Thank you for this inspirational article which contains so much more than it seems at first reading.
I wonder if you could clarify for me what is meant by this passage:
"The fact that the woman gave birth to a boy means that when the child was conceived her femininity took the leading role; her desire to express divinity in the world produced a male..."
Does this mean that the woman had more pure intentions than the man at the time of conception OR that because she was expressing her femininity (how?) OR that her desire to express divinity is the kovei'a (regardless of the desire of the man) OR what? Reply

The larger, bold text is the direct translation of the classic text source.

The smaller, plain text is the explanation of the translator/editor.
Text with broken underline will provide a popup explanation when rolled over with a mouse.