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Jewish Views On Sex: A Sacred Journey from Cosmos to Eros

Jewish Views On Sex: A Sacred Journey from Cosmos to Eros

Can one find the divine within sex? Yes, according to Jewish tradition. Relational intimacy reflects the Shekinah.  
My relationship with God has evolved through 3 levels: Mind, Guts, and Heart. I was never taught, nor have I ever believed, that God was an old man with a beard who sits up in heaven and watches out for you. In my teens I thought of God as the creator of the universe. This reflected my interest in astrophysics and particle physics. My feelings about God were admiration from a distance of the vast cosmos; like seeing the sparkling diamond-like stars on an ink black night. My admiration was expressed in the words of Psalm 19, “the heavens declare the glory of God, the sky proclaims God’s handiwork” but there were no personal feelings yet.

The Divine in the History of the World

What I did feel strongly was my attachment to the Jewish people who had survived the Holocaust and to the struggle of the State of Israel to continue that survival. My feelings were pride and vicarious achievement—like watching an underdog come from behind to win in the final moments or seeing someone who persists against great odds finally overcome them.

It was this feeling of loyalty to the Jewish people that led me, while I was studying in my junior year at the Hebrew University, to decide to become a rabbi. I switched my major from physics to world history and began to look for God in the history of all humans in general, and the Jewish people in particular.

What I learned from years of studying the evolution of Homo sapiens and the history of the Jewish people was that amidst the chaos of change and chance there were transition points that revealed a direction toward increasing wisdom, social solidarity, and personal moral responsibility. My gut-level awe of the Jewish will to survive developed into an awe of the Divine presence that I began to feel was now and then making itself present in human history. I felt excited the way I feel when I get a new insight into a difficult verse in the Torah as a result of a class discussion.
Really high-level human creativity like Einstein, Shakespeare, Muhammad, or Moses was clearly not simply the result of a good mind and lots of hard work.  I felt the way I do when watching acrobats doing incredible things that I could not even imagine anyone doing. The feelings were still from a distance but the distance was not so vast as in the case of universal creation. But I was now ready to see the sparks of the Divine amidst the clutter of normal individual people and life.

Finding the Divine through Marriage

The Divine entered my personal life when I married my wife. At first I thought it was just love. I always liked girls but I had never loved one before Judy. But as the years passed I realized that Judy was God’s gift to me. I felt blessed by this gift like someone who gets an unexpected bonus. I had not earned it because I never realized before we were married how wonderful a wife she would be. Judy was a perfect a match, like getting some unexpected thing a day before you find out that this is exactly what you really need. Like buying insurance the week before the earthquake hits.

My relationship with my wife became the personal experience of my growing personal relationship with God. The Boray/Creator of the Universe God, who had become the Magan/Protector of the Jewish people God, now became the Shekinah/Feminine God of Allen Maller, the adoring husband of Judy Coopersmith. Through my wife God entered my personal life.

When Jewish mystics assert that the Shekinah rests on a husband when he makes love to his wife on Shabbat, I know this is true because I experience it, and not only on Shabbat. My love for my wife gives me insight into the mystery of the distant Creator of the universe God, who is also so close as to be inside my own heart. It is like being in a dark room filled with dark shapes when suddenly the light is turned on and you see that they are all friends and family.

Experiencing Shekinah In Relational Intimacy

From my personal experience I learned that all couples who make love with an awareness that the Shekeenah is present through the wife’s love and the husbands reverence can repair fractured hopes and intentions in those around them, thus helping to elevate broken spirits both near and far. This is called a Tikun-a spiritual repair. This Tikun also enhances the spiritual bonds of their own marriage. Each Tikun helps repair or elevate another relationship that is a participating part of the couple’s, especially the wife’s, relationship.

When I make love with my wife, I always do so with the awareness of the Jewish mystical teaching about the Shekinah— the feminine presence of God resting upon a man who makes love to his wife on Shabbat. Actually the Shekinah can rest on a man whenever he makes love to his wife with a sense of reverence, tenderness, adoration, and love. Shabbat adds holiness and chosenness to their feelings. The key attitude is the sense that my spouse is God’s gift, the source of  my most important blessings, and the most wonderful manifestation of God’s presence.

If, in addition to this attitude, a husband also makes love to his wife with the intention of unifying the heavenly realm as he unifies the earthly one, he and his wife enact a great Tikun— a spiritual mending or uplifting. This Tikun is woven together with similar Tikunim from other married couples into a crown for the Divine One. Just as the prayers proclaimed in each Synagogue are woven into a crown for the Holy One of Israel, so too are the holy unifications (Tikunim) of each married couple  woven into a crown.

The active intention of the husband is required to start the Tikun process, although it is the Shekinah wife who provides the transforming energy. As the Zohar says, “Like a male desiring to cling to a female emits a seed of anointing from the top of the brain into the phallus, it pours into the female who thus conceives. Thus, every smooth member of his body joins the female, and the female embraces all.” (Zohar 2:86a)

In the past, the esoteric details of how to elevate their lovemaking into a Tikun were transmitted verbally, and very discretely, from mother to daughter. We are the first generation to live in a world that is being transformed by gender equality. The 2,500 year-old prophecy of Jeremiah is being fulfilled before our eyes. “God will create a new thing on the earth—females will surround males.” (Jeremiah 31:22)

Now that female Rabbis are all around us, these details, based on the seventh chapter of the Song of Songs, a Biblical book that Rabbi Akiba proclaimed the holiest song in the entire Scriptures, can be revealed and understood. A wife who desires to enable her husband to fulfill the Mitsvah of Tikun coupling should direct him to begin by kissing and creaming her feet. (Song of Songs 7:2)

Then she should direct him to slowly and reverently work his way up to her crowning flowing hair that entangles a King-husband, (7:6) thus allowing him to climb the palm tree (7:9) and perform the unification below which is woven into the unification above. Over the years the spiritual uplift of this Tikun becomes greater and greater.

The fourth of the seven wedding blessings (the central one) uses the verb for making a Tikun to proclaim that God has made mankind in the Divine image, which enables us through coupling together to build families and crowns that become everlasting structures for all future generations. The following three blessings proclaim that this coupling also will make for better families, and help bring closer the joy and happiness of the Messianic Age.

Thus Judaism sees marriage not simply as a personal expression of love, but as a way in which our love as a couple will help to make the world a little better place for future generations. Also, couple love is a spiritual enhancement of the Divine presence. A way to feel the presence of the Divine in your personal life and to radiate it to those around you. This experience has guided my spiritual journey and I share it with others, hoping it might also help guide them.

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Allen S. Maller
Allen S. Maller

Rabbi Allen S. Maller was the rabbi at Temple Akiba in Culver City, CA for 39 years before retiring in 2006. He is a graduate of UCLA and the Hebrew Union College. He has taught at Gratz College in Philadelphia, the Hebrew Union College and the University of Judaism in Los Angeles, and at the UCLA Extension. He has published over 100 articles on Jewish values in popular magazines; Jewish, Muslim and Christian. He has also published original research in scholarly journals (Jewish Social Studies, Journal of Dharmah and Journal of Ecumenical Studies). He is the author of "Tikunay Nefashot," a spiritually meaningful High Holy Day Machzor, two books of children's short stories, and a popular account of Jewish Mysticism entitled, "God, Sex and Kabbalah."