Shabbat Parashat Va'eira| 5766
From the works of Hagaon Harav Shaul Yisraeli zt”l - The Three Pillars of Judaism - Part II - From Perakim B’Machshevet Yisrael, pp. 351-355
[We saw last time that there are three pillars of Judaism, which are connected to forms of sanctity and are mirrored by the three cardinal sins: idol worship; adultery and incest; and murder. Last time we focused on idol worship, which, besides the classical, hedonistic form, has subtler modern forms that are as morally dangerous. We continue with the sin of giluy arayot (adultery, incest, and other sexual sins).]
No less a danger than idol worship is the evil inclination of giluy arayot. According to Chazal, sexual desires were even the root cause of much of Bnei Yisrael’s idol worship. The earthly side of man (as this is his origin- Bereishit 2:7) which causes him, at his moral low, to be no more than an animal, lies in ambush from within him. This inclination can overtake even the most talented among men with the greatest potential for spiritual development and entice him to see the fulfillment of his desires, primarily his sexual and physical ones, as the essence of life. Desire blurs his vision, so that he is unable to see the ultimate consequences of his fleeting pleasures. This is one of the most destructive factors in the history of mankind on earth.
This inclination has become more dangerous in our era. Major developments in science and technology have made it much easier for a person to fulfill his basic needs. The time that has been freed and the broadened means at one’s disposal to fulfill the desires of his heart and that which he sees join together to encourage all sorts of negative behavior. This includes decadence, drug addiction, the destruction of family life, and sexual irresponsibility, with a slogan of looking for immediate, physical pleasure and abrogating normal values of modesty and civility.
In this area as well, we must demonstrate the difference between the Jewish people and the rest of the world’s nations. On one hand, Bnei Yisrael are holy people (Chulin 7b) with an internal, natural revulsion to sinking to the point of soiling the soul with beastly behavior. However, even in this regard, the battle is difficult, and one can get caught in the inclination’s net. For a man in Bnei Yisrael also has his foundation in the earth, which pulls him downward and entices him to cling to the ways of nations who “prefer sexual freedom.”
It is for good reason that the Torah makes a life of purity and modesty a basic condition of Judaism. The Torah continuously warns not to stray “after your eyes- these are sexual thoughts,” which is no less of a danger than “after your hearts- this is apostasy” (Berachot 12b). Indeed the evil inclination functions on various planes within man. Additionally, Chazal tell us that whoever is greater than his friend has a stronger evil inclination than his friend. This teaches us that brilliant talents and scientific attainment are insufficient to control the evil inclination. To the contrary, the talents can be put to use to help attain the animalistic pleasures.
For this reason the Torah set fences and fences around fences to enable one to be careful not to sin in matters of giluy arayot or related infractions. Chazal tell us that a man who is lovesick should rather die than speak to the object of his forbidden lust from behind a partition (Sanhedrin 75a). Toward this goal there are a variety of laws of purity and modesty in “private matters” and strict laws about required, modest dress for women, but also for men (see Yevamot 63b). The requirements of modest dress, which are stricter for women, are not a sign of denigrating them, Heaven forbid, as some want to claim out of ignorance or wickedness. Rather, it is just a means of caution to lessen the danger that a man and woman will come to soil their souls together. Indeed, the soul that has not been affected by impurity accepts lovingly and willingly the limitations that halacha sets on these matters.
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