Magazine article Tikkun

The Eros of the Holy

Magazine article Tikkun

The Eros of the Holy

Article excerpt

'The greater the spiritual stature of a person the greater their sexual passion."'

-Talmud: Tractate Sukkah

What does sexuality in its essential nature teach us about the nature of the holy? The implication of this question may strike some as odd because we too often forget that sexuality and holiness are of the same essential stuff. Modernity, despite its profound contribution to the evolution of the spirit, has done us a disservice in its demand that genital sexuality fulfill all of our deepest erotic needs.

Sexuality in fact is but one expression of our erotic drive. At its core, eros is the essential vitality of our being and is virtually synonymous with the sacred. It therefore follows that to place the burden of our erotic fulfillment exclusively on sexual eros fosters pathology and disease and can only result in the disenchantment of the universe. And yet our intuitive focus on the sexual as the seat of eros is not without basis. Indeed, sexuality is vitally important not only as a core expression of eros but as a fundamental model for the holy. Making this implied model conscious and intentional within our sexual lives is a key to becoming conscious of the holy; it is a primary expression of what the kabbalists call "redeeming the sparks."

In the kabbalist Isaac Luria's creation myth, vessels filled with God's primordial light shatter, leaving sparks of that light hidden in the vessels' shards. For Luria the process of raising those sparks is the point of existence. Perhaps the prime innovation of post-Lurianic Hasidic thinkers is to understand this process as an internal psychospiritual dynamic which plays itself out in human consciousness. That dynamic extends to the erotic: to uncover the holy that forms the inner core of sexual eros is to redeem the sparks. In this column, I'd like to introduce eight qualities of sexuality that express the eight demarcating characteristics of the holy.

The first quality that the sexual models for the holy is intensity and her twin sister depth. The opposite of the holy is not the profane but the superficial. As in the true sexual experience, there is no greater enemy of the intensity of holiness than the deadening ennui of routine. Although intensity and depth are not qualities which can be our constant companions, our peak experiences are always noteworthy for their presence. For that reason, one cannot enter the temple of cros at all times: "they shall not come at all times to the holy." Preparation is required. Intensity which lacks the vessels to hold it may be a shattering and damaging experience,

The second feature that sexuality models for the holy is its pleasurable nature. Authentic experiences of the holy yield great pleasure because, as biblical kabbalistic consciousness teaches us, God is our lover whose motivation for creation is to give pleasure. Within kabbalistic understanding, terror cannot be the basis for our relationship with the Divine. It is almost trite to point out that such an understanding is a far cry from the antipleasure motifs that flourish in other religious systems as well as within the Jewish tradition itself (see, for example, David Biale's Eros and the Jews).

The third quality of eros modeled by the sexual is for me best understood by a reading of an obscure passage from an equally obscure Hasidic work by Mordechai Lainer, the Rebbe of Ishpitz. R. Lainer explains the Talmud's assertion that Jacob never died by arguing that Jacob never experienced the horror of death. If death is defined by the pain of our sharp transition from a fleeting temporality to the infinity of eternity, Jacob never experienced death because he was able to taste eternity already in his old age. "Successful" old age, implies Lainer, is the time when we are able to experience the eternity that resides in a moment.

At this point in his interpretation, Lainer asks a seemingly unrelated question. Immediately following the passage on Jacob's death, the Talmud discusses Rahav, the famous harlot from the time of Joshua. …

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