The human sex drive is a powerful thing; it can be extraordinarily positive, and it can drag people down to the depths of depravity. It can lead a person to pursue another person’s spouse, to engage in forbidden sexual relations, to destroy families, and ruin lives in this world as well as the next. A person in the thrall of this powerful urge can lose all discretion and act irrationally. As the Sages commented about sin in general and this sin in particular: “A person does not commit a sin unless a spirit of foolishness enters him” (Sota 3a).
Thus, we find people who really want to do the right thing, who marry with every intention of being faithful to their spouse, yet who give space to the evil inclination, which becomes more and more powerful. Eventually, they reach the point where they are prepared to break their wedding vows, betray their spouse, make their children miserable, throw away their money, and destroy their social standing.
The wise author of Mishlei warns of this numerous times: “It will save you from the other woman, from the foreign woman whose talk is smooth…. Her house sinks down to death, and her course leads to the shades. All who go to her cannot return and find again the paths of life” (2:16-19). He further adjures: “My son, listen to my wisdom; incline your ear to my insight…for the lips of another woman drip honey; her mouth is smoother than oil; but in the end she is as bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps take hold of She’ol…. Let your fountain be blessed; find joy in the wife of your youth. She is a loving doe, a graceful mountain goat. Let her breasts satisfy you at all times; be infatuated with love of her always. Why be infatuated, my son, with another woman? Why clasp the bosom of a foreign woman?” (5:1-20). And finally: “It will keep you from an evil woman, from the smooth tongue of a forbidden woman. Do not lust for her beauty or let her captivate you with her eyes. The last loaf of bread will go for a harlot; a married woman will snare a person of honor” (6:24-26).
The Sages said, “Satan, the evil inclination, and the Angel of Death are all one” (Bava Batra 16a). Zohar elaborates on this with vivid imagery and allegory on the methods of the evil inclination: The feminine aspect of the Angel of Death descends to the world and takes the form of a beautiful woman who lures men to sin by dressing like a prostitute. Her red hair is neatly styled. Her face is pale with a touch of ruddiness. Six precious Egyptian jewels dangle from her ears, and an assortment of expensive pendants hang from her neck. Her voice is coy and pretty. She speaks seductively, with words smooth as silk, yet sharp as a knife. Her luscious lips are rose red and sweeter than anything in the world. She is dressed in scarlet adorned with 39 jewels. It is a fool who follows her, drinks wine from her cup, and commits adultery with her. His heart is captivated by her. When she sees that he has deviated from the straight and narrow to follow her, what does she do? She leaves him asleep on her bed, removes all her clothes and jewelry, and ascends to heaven in order to inform that he has sinned through adultery. When he is condemned (by the heavenly court) to a terrible fate, she is given permission to kill him, and she descends again to this world. The fool awakens and wants to continue frolicking with her, but suddenly he sees her without her clothing and adornments, a fire blazing around her. Terror grips him. Then he realizes that she is covered with menacing eyes, holding a sharp sword, and oozing venom. She kills him and hurls him into hell (paraphrased from Zohar I 148a, Vayetze, Ḥelek Sitrei Torah).