Peninei Halakha

04. The Corrective for the Sin

Various correctives have been proposed for the sin of wasting seed, but the first and primary corrective is, of course, the corrective of the covenant (tikkun ha-brit), meaning that a man connects with his wife in complete love. The Sages said that when someone has sinned with part of his body, he should use that body part to perform mitzvot (Vayikra Rabba 21:5). In this case, he should make great efforts to bring his wife pleasure during all the obligatory onot. When there is a conflict between what gives her pleasure and what gives him pleasure, he should set aside his desires and try to please his wife to the best of his ability.

Additionally, he should improve his fulfillment of the mitzva to procreate, having as many children as he and his wife have the strength for. This is on condition that he not quarrel with his wife over this, for we have already learned that the first corrective is for him to please his wife as best he can. However, if through the joy of ona he can enhance his fulfillment of the mitzva of procreation, he will have merited a powerful correction of his sin. Making up for destroying and killing life, he increases life. Making up for sinning selfishly, he devotes himself selflessly to raising his children and educating them to keep the Torah and mitzvot.[5]

Another great corrective for this sin is Torah study. By studying Torah, one connects to the Source of life, contributes new life to the world, and improves it. The Talmud tells us that God created the evil inclination, but created the Torah as its antidote (Kiddushin 30b). In other words, the Torah rectifies the wickedness of the evil inclination and transforms it to goodness. Furthermore, we learn that the fire of hell has no power over Torah scholars (Ḥagiga 27a) and that the Torah protects people and saves them (Sota 21a). Learning the Torah diligently and toiling over its words are a special corrective for this sin, for by obliterating his superficial desires through diligent Torah study, he restores his inner vitality to its rightful place (Berakhot 63b; Tamid 32a; Tzidkat Ha-tzadik §§97, 106, 123).

Teaching Torah and reaching out to bring one’s students closer to Torah can also correct this sin. After all, students are referred to as children. To counter his sin in destroying life-giving power, he infuses his students with life. Doing outreach especially rectifies this sin, for by bringing those who have lapsed back toward Torah and mitzvot, he restores his own lapsed life-giving power (Tzidkat Ha-tzadik §§116, 126).

Giving charity to the poor is another great corrective for this sin. After all, “Charity saves from death” (Mishlei 10:2). By giving charity, he contributes new life, thus replacing the life-giving power he destroyed. This assumes that he is giving charity to honest poor people, who are unable to support themselves and who will use the money well – not for drugs, alcohol, and the like. Giving charity to people who are not honestly poor would be sinning in a way that is similar to wasting his seed, since he would be wasting his money. If a person is not properly contrite for this sin, then when he wants to give charity to the poor, heaven may place an obstacle before him by sending him the undeserving poor (Tzidkat Ha-tzadik §125).[6]

[5]. According to R. Tzadok, “Everyone knows that the area in which he struggles the hardest against his evil inclination is the area in which he has the most potential to be clean and pure. Whatever he frequently sinned with has the most potential for…cleanliness and purity. This is why the Sages say (Vayikra Rabba 21:5) that the very same body part that he used for a sin, he should use for mitzvot” (Tzidkat Ha-tzadik §49). Specifically, “The prohibition of wasting seed is an outgrowth of the mitzva of procreation…. Therefore, by fulfilling the mitzva of procreation with the proper intention – for the sake of heaven – he can also correct transgressions in this area, and use the semen for sanctity…” (ibid. §124). Rav Kook writes, “Having achieved true and pure repentance, we must return to the world and to life. By doing so we restore sanctity to its rightful place, and crown the Divine Presence in the world” (Orot Ha-teshuva 14:30).

[6]. We mentioned that teaching students can be a corrective. Zohar identifies “those who have harmed the sacred covenant” as those who did not engage in the mitzva of procreation. It goes on to relate that R. Yoḥanan was upset. Since all his children had died, he had not fulfilled the mitzva of procreation. Later, he found solace in an old man’s assertion that when someone has the privilege of teaching Torah, he is truly building the world and keeping it going. Regarding such a person it says (Yeshayahu 56:5), “I will give them, in My house and within My walls, a monument and a name, better than sons or daughters. I will give them an everlasting name which shall not perish” (Zohar Ḥadash, Ruth, 108b).

Learning Torah and doing kindness can be correctives as well. If a person is tried by the heavenly court and the court adds an oath to the verdict, he cannot achieve forgiveness by bringing any offering. Nevertheless, if he immerses himself in intense Torah study, he can achieve forgiveness. Some say that one can also achieve it by performing many acts of kindness for others (Rosh Hashana 18a).

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Translated By:
Series Editor: Rabbi Elli Fischer

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Editor: Nechama Unterman