Intimacy is a powerful drive, second only to survival itself. Society uses it to sell movies, cigarettes and automobiles.
It is so powerful, it can make monkeys out of us. It can be dangerous to the point of wrecking families. That's why it's essential to be in control of it.
Way 17 is b'miut derech eretz, a Hebrew idiom meaning to control intimate activity. The wise person knows how to control his drives – while harnessing that power constructively.
There are three aspects of intimacy:
- Positive: It's important to have some. The human body produces chemical energy in moments of attraction.
- Negative: Too much will drain you. When our hormones are running the show, we're no longer free.
- Balance: Decide that your mind is going to dictate your actions. Control your urges. Use intimacy for the right reasons at the right time.
The illusion is that the more you satisfy an urge, the more you are satisfied. But in reality, the more you feed an urge, the more it wants.
Even in the context of marriage, excess makes the relationship base and self-centered. Balance is essential.
In the Context of Marriage
Before getting married, you should know what marriage is all about. Is it a contract between two parties? A long romance? A tax break? A housekeeper? Companionship? Be careful: How you define marriage will determine what kind of spouse you choose.
In the Torah, the expression used to describe intimacy is "yadah," which means "to know." ("And Adam knew his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and had a child." – Genesis 4:1) Yadah denotes that intimacy is not just a physical act, but is a full emotional union between two people.
Judaism defines marriage as "finding your other half." Through marriage, two people become bound together into a single entity, bringing completeness to each other. The longing for intimacy is really an expression of the longing to be joined together with our "other half." Through the relationship, we express this oneness.
We say that a man does not die except to his wife, and a woman does not die except to her husband. Others are pained by death, but a spouse's life is demolished. If they had a strong marriage, the surviving spouse will have to reconstruct their whole existence.
Intimacy is not an appetite like every other appetite. It is reserved for the purpose of making oneness. It has to be with love or it is nothing.
When a man and woman make a marital commitment, they form a deep spiritual bond. They give to each other, and are committed for a lifetime. Intimacy binds husband and wife together, because it teaches us to focus beyond ourselves.
Outside of marriage, intimacy is ultimately frustrating because oneness can never be fully achieved. That is why the Torah forbids intimacy not in the context of marriage.
This is obvious in regard to a short-term encounter. But even in a long-term setting: Without the commitment of marriage, you always keep open the option of leaving the relationship. As a result, the degree of connectedness reaches a barrier. Eventually, frustration sets in, and the relationship erodes at its foundation.
Picking the Right Partner
How should you choose a spouse? Are you going to choose the best-looking one? The one with the most vitality? The most money?
Choose for long wear. Evaluate someone who has potential, decency, strength. Look for someone with dignity and who is a good human being – giving, caring, modest.
You know how to break up a great romance? Get married! In two weeks they are grumping at each other! They were getting along famously but right after they are married, all of a sudden... "You didn't prepare supper... You didn't come home on time... What did you do with the money?" Boom!
The problem with "romance" is that you don't see the real qualities. If a fellow comes over to you and says, "I met this girl. She is perfect. She is gorgeous and intelligent and accomplished and smart and idealistic and sweet and..." You know what happened? He didn't fall in love, he fell into "infatuation."
This is not to take away the idea of romance. It's just that the Western world has the order reversed. First, look for the spiritual qualities. Then once you propose, you can fall head over heels and enjoy yourself. After all, you have the best spouse in the world!
The Kabbalah of Marriage
There is an even deeper level to marriage.
Judaism says that intimacy is one of the holiest acts we can perform. In fact, the Hebrew word for the marriage ceremony, "kiddushin," comes from the word "kadosh," holy.
Judaism says that the greatest physical pleasure is that which is done for a spiritual reason. That's why on Shabbat, the holiest day of the week, when you are able to get closest to attaining your longing, the Sages specifically enjoin couples to be together.
It is important to see how this longing for closeness is driving you. It is very deep. It will give your marriage meaning.
"Song of Songs," written by King Solomon, is a love song between a man and a woman. Yet the Talmud calls it the "Holy of Holies" – the most sacred biblical text. Why? Because intimacy is really an expression of our deep desire for the ultimate unity: to connect with God.
The verse, "I am to my beloved, and my beloved is to me" (Song of Songs 6:3), refers symbolically to the longing for oneness with God.
Bring spiritual awareness into your marriage. The secret to a really a powerful marriage is to walk with God in the middle. Being kind to your spouse is a way of being like God, who created us to give us pleasure. Tapping into this mindset will give your marriage more meaning and ultimately, more pleasure.
The Torah describes a marriage as basar echad – "they will be one flesh." A marriage is not a partnership, not a companionship. It is a oneness. A spiritual bond. The force has put you together. Deep in the instincts of a human being, there is a bond.
In the same way that your child is part of you, when you get married, he/she is part of you. That holy bond makes you part of each other for eternity. You are not alone anymore.
When you are intimate, you give away a piece of yourself forever. So make sure that the pieces you give away are to the person with whom you want to be eternally joined!
This applies in both a metaphysical and emotional sense. Do you remember the first boy/girl you were involved with? Can you recall the wonderful magic?!
Shouldn't that magic be reserved for your spouse? Imagine there was only one man/woman in the world. If you could marry the only man/woman in the world, do you understand how precious your relationship would be? That is the power we are talking about.
If you bond with others carelessly, it will be tougher and tougher to get married, and stay married. You are always going to compare your spouse: "She is lacking this. He is lacking that. She is lacking this. He is lacking that." You don't have the only man/woman in the world.
Make your moves very carefully. It will affect your relations for the whole future.
Avoid Harmful Temptations
Anything precious is worth concealing. So it's no coincidence that as society becomes more promiscuous and revealing, the quality of relationships and the specialness of marriage goes down.
Yet with the bombardment of the media, how do we avoid the trap of seeing intimacy as cheap, easy and degrading?
One of the best ways to avoid abuse is to create a protective fence. If you're on a diet to lose weight, you'll stay away from places that serve fattening food. So too, if you want to keep your eyes and mind where they belong, avoid going where you will encounter temptation.
Pull your eyes away. That is the discipline of being in control.
You can avoid temptation by keeping your mind occupied with things that interest you. When you're up to bat in the last inning of a baseball game, you don't notice anyone walking by. You have your eye on the ball. So too, keep your mind immersed in creative and intellectual pursuits.
Especially, don't daydream or fantasize about these matters. It's destructive and counterproductive. Wasting your brainpower on illusions is wasting your potential.
Daydreaming also creates "fictions" that you and your partner will never be able to live up to. You are always looking on the other side.
Why Is "Marriage" a Way to Wisdom?
- How you approach intimacy is a barometer for how much you are generally in control of your desires.
- Intimacy for its own sake is degrading.
- Marriage is a holy act of unification which helps lift us into a connection with God.
- Intimacy is an eternal bond. Choose your eternity carefully.
- When you choose to minimize, you are in control.