By Ben Yissachar Dov
For most Torah-observant men, irrespective of age or background, the question of how to deal with one’s sexuality and channel it appropriately is beyond uncomfortable. And for good reason: The strength of the temptation, both from internal and external sources, along with today’s technology, allows everyone infinite, and anonymous, access and possibilities to hurt oneself. The ensuing harm (to oneself, one’s friends, one’s spouse and children) leads to crushing feelings of guilt and shame, even (or especially) if one’s mistakes are never exposed.
Given how the issue is rarely dealt with head-on by our leadership, and how statements on the subject by chachmei ha’mesorah are therefore misunderstood, many people’s intuitive sense of fear and shame leads them to a Gordian knot of leading outwardly exemplary Torah-observant lives, but inwardly feeling completely cut off from G-d, and therefore from Torah and mitzvos and their closest family and friends.
Worse than this, when Torah-observant leadership attempts to address this issue, it deals with symptoms and Band-Aids — exhortations to stay away from technology; attempts to distract us from temptation via superficial spirituality; or, in some circles, extreme warnings about eternal punishment, based on ignorant understandings of Chazal — rather than root causes. Assertions to “learn more Torah” may work for those able to deeply connect with their learning; for most of us, not on that level of learning, it might even make the problem worse.
As a result, the problem persists. The elephant in the room gets bigger and bigger, the solutions proven more and more ineffectual. People increasingly can’t meet their own spiritual eyes, or that of their family and friends. Worse, how can we possibly educate our children to behave and think appropriately when, as adults, we’ve never confronted the matter with full honesty?
Happily, for the last three years, Rabbi Moshe Weinberger from Aish Kodesh, in his weekly Chaburas Yosef HaTzadik, has been providing a way out for those willing to confront the question frontally. His message is radical: appropriately channeling one’s sexuality (i.e. “shemiras ha’bris,” or “kedushah”) is a matter of joy and enrichment, not a debilitating lifestyle of dos and don’ts. His approach, which he spares no effort to document throughout Chazal and sifrei ha’chassidus, is based on these fundamental premises (among others):
- One can never be cut off from G-d, no matter what he may have done to earn that fate; accordingly, all statements by Chazal about Kareis have to be understood in that context.
- One cannot experience simchas ha’chaim, whether in the spiritual and physical spheres, without joyful shemiras ha’bris, on all levels of consciousness.
- Shemiras ha’bris, being a covenant with our Creator to use one’s tools of Creativity according to his will, is also a covenant with one’s spouse and children. That’s why it’s intrinsic to relating honestly to G-d and to one’s friends and family. And that alone makes it a worthwhile struggle.
- Having been introduced to us by Yosef HaTzadik, it drastically improves one’s ability to wholly give over, and receive from, other people.
- On a more macro level, our ultimate redemption from galus depends on our specific generation’s ability to embrace kedushah and live accordingly.
These are incredibly liberating and empowering ideas. But Rabbi Weinberger makes it clear that effectively giving them over to our children, requires us, first, to accept on ourselves the challenge of shemiras ha’bris. Equally important, that communication can only happen when we force our eyes and ears to comprehend our children as they truly are, with all their potential and struggles, rather than as in our naïve fantasies. And we must clearly express to them that no matter our age, we are all facing the same difficult battle.
Aside from hearing Rabbi Weinberger’s gut-wrenching, candid, and humorous description of our internal reality, participating in the chaburah live is itself a bracing experience. Having been present at many of them, I can attest that all ages attend: from teenagers to newly-married men to those well past middle-age. Moreover, all tribes are present: from chassidim driving in from Williamsburg and Boro Park, in full garb, to clean-shaven Five-Towners “dressed” in full Sunday regalia. What brings us together is an understanding that it’s worthwhile to face such a difficult challenge if it allows us to be fully honest with G-d, ourselves, our family, and our friends. The simcha of being part of such a gathering and hearing such a message is indescribable.
Rabbi Weinberger has related how complete strangers, throughout his travels, have told him how much they have benefited from this chaburah, to the extent that chaburahs dedicated to the subject of kedushah are being formed worldwide. Thankfully, all of us can catch up to the movement by listening to his shiurim thus far, fully available on YUTorah.org.