By Ben Yissachar Dov
A few months ago in 5TJT (“Rabbi Moshe Weinberger’s Answer To Today’s Essential Challenge?”, December 28, 2018), I described Rabbi Weinberger’s weekly, groundbreaking Chaburas Yosef HaTzadik — a program to radically confront the challenge of shemiras habris, properly channeling/controlling male sexuality, facing all Torah observant males, irrespective of age, locale, or tribe. Behind this program is an understanding of how basic this issue is to one’s ability to feel comfortable and joyful with his Yiddishkeit, as well as his spouse, friends, and family, and how not facing the problem frankly only compounds it into a spiritual vicious cycle.
As mentioned in that article, Rabbi Weinberger has been addressing this question with searing honesty over the past three years (search Chaburas Yosef Hatzadik, under the rav’s name, on YUTorah.com), at Aish Kodesh’s beis midrash, in front of a highly diverse chevrah. Aside from providing a broad, powerful perspective on the subject’s underlying importance and depth, he has also presented listeners with practical steps to implementing shemiras habris, especially given our continual exposure and access to stimuli which make “staying with the program” appear almost impossible and unrealistic.
More specifically, one of the main challenges of shemiras habris for many fathers is how to discuss the issue frankly and constructively with our children. Not only are many parents at a loss, for reasons good and bad, as to when, how, and what to tell their children, they are painfully aware of how they too are struggling, and sometimes fail, at this challenge. If we ourselves have difficulty with sexual self-control, how can we urge our children to act differently, especially as we participate in a society that makes it clear that self-control is a dangerous vice?
First, Rabbi Weinberger tells us what not to do:
Do not discuss the question reactively subsequent to discovering that one’s child has failed, in some manner, at this challenge. No matter how eloquently, lovingly, or well-practiced one speaks, ultimately the child understands that he has fallen short at something important, especially compounded by our chachmei hamesorah’s misunderstood statements on this subject. Moreover, his awareness of your awareness, and ensuing shame, might create an unbridgeable gulf between yourselves regarding this very subject.
In addition, even when talking to one’s children pre-emptively, shemiras habris cannot be presented as a series of dos and don’ts, outcomes to avoid. Otherwise, both parent and child will be at a loss, inevitably facing a difficult dilemma, about how to deal with failure. Now that he (or you) have failed at this “code of behavior,” he/you must either 1) fear the consequences of being “cut off,” as supposedly dictated throughout Torah Sheba’al Peh or 2) by cognitive dissonance, decide that it can’t possibly matter, after all? Either of these conclusions forces one into a difficult, spiritually untenable position. Or, G-d forbid, parent or child may take the Eisav approach, throwing in the proverbial spiritual towel, rejecting all spiritual imperatives and restraints.
Instead, we must find a time and place to convey to our children two points. First, that shemiras habris fundamentally affects our relationship with G-d, in a manner deeper than other areas of halachah and that alone makes it worth fixing. Secondly, it’s a lifelong process of embracing our built-in trait, deriving solely from our bris milah (and the spiritual DNA therein, as given to us by Avraham Avinu). So rather than a behavior code, it’s a state of being, of constant becoming, and is essential to our being an “insider” with G-d, being continually connected through his Torah and mitzvos. And like any positive personality trait that one inherits from his parents, one can either affirm, nurture, and refine it, letting it be manifest in all his behavior, or, one can ignore it, to his ultimate internal discomfort and self-conflict.
We must be able to tell our children that since shemiras habris is a spiritual flow, it almost necessarily consists of advances, and G-d forbid, steps backwards. But our imperative, as honest Jews, is always to identify with that bris. Implications range from candidly understanding, in advance, which conversations, websites, and literature interfere with the covenant; an occasional, existential silent scream of “Ani Yosef!” when threats become too close for comfort; but most importantly, a constant joy from living a Jewish life, unblocked and unimpeded by the guilt and sadness that naturally accompany a double life.
Embracing shemiras habris is similar to acknowledging a close family relationship. One’s DNA closeness to family exists irrespective of one’s actions — best to enjoy that closeness, while never allowing any ruptures to be more than temporary. Being part of a healthy family requires always finding a way to get along. Similarly, even if one temporarily fails at shemiras habris, the commitment must remain: one takes responsibility for his actions, committing (and davening) to overcome the nisayon next time, no matter how many times, because that state of being must never be lost.
Thus, when the child asks, “Tatti/Daddy/Abba/Pops, what about you? Are you a shomer habris?,” we can reply, fully conscious of our own failures, “Yes, son, I, too have to try every day. And for me, too, it’s not easy.” Addressing the question this way, we can hold our head high and keep a straight face.
Suddenly, rather than a giant spiritual elephant in the room, a source of suspicion and something to tiptoe around, shemiras habris becomes a joint undertaking. The context for intense shame is somehow transformed into a shared spiritual space.
“But Tatti/Daddy/Abba/Pops, what about the Gemara in Nidda, the Zohar, the Rambam, the Shulchan Aruch? Aren’t they really scary?” B’ezrat Hashem, that will be the subject of our next installment on Rabbi Weinberger’s wonderful, no-holds-barred, and empowering chabura.