Peninei Halakha

02. Free Will

Since desire and lust can bring a person so low, some gentile philosophers and theologians maintain that the way to reach spiritual heights is to stay as far as possible from lust and desire. Some rejected marriage entirely, and other support marriage solely for the purpose of procreation while admonishing men and women alike to stay as far as they can from carnal lust, as it is shameful for people to so degrade themselves.

The Torah, however, teaches that there is nothing shameful about sexual relations between husband and wife, for this is how God created people, and something that is so basic to the very existence of the world, that brings new life into the world, cannot possibly be shameful. On the contrary, it contains an element of sanctity (Maharal, Be’er Ha-gola 5:4).

God created us with a good impulse and an evil impulse, commanding us to choose the good: “I call heaven and earth today to witness against you this day: I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse; choose life – so that you and your offspring will live” (Devarim 30:19).

The root of both impulses is one, and God gave us free will to direct our impulse toward good or toward evil. Consider our craving for food: it can be channeled toward gluttony, which destroy health and causes people to forget Godly ideals, or it can be directed toward refined consumption that gives a person the opportunity to thank God and increases joy and health. The stronger and more important an impulse, the greater its power, for good or evil. There is nothing stronger than the human sex drive, through which new life is born and divine unity is revealed in the world. Therefore, when this desire is directed toward evil, toward promiscuity and adultery, there is nothing worse. But when it is directed toward good, increasing love and unity between spouses, there is nothing nobler or holier.

This is the meaning of the statement, “If husband and wife are worthy, the Shekhina is with them; if they are not, fire consumes them” (Sota 17a; see 1:1 above). When a couple expresses their natural drives within the sacred framework of marriage, the Shekhina dwells with them. However, if they direct their sexual drive toward promiscuity and adultery, God’s presence disappears. They are left only with the fire of their lust, which will never be satisfied. It will consume them in this world and the next.

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Translated By:
Series Editor: Rabbi Elli Fischer

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Editor: Nechama Unterman