Shaya Cohen -


Forbidden Relations

The Torah has a long and detailed list of forbidden relations – incest, homosexuality, and the like. Once upon a time, it was easy to explain these – after all, we have a strong sense of the taboo, of what “feels” appropriate.

But in recent years, of course, society has worked very hard to break down these barriers, these old-fashioned notions of limiting the love lives of consenting adults or even children. What used to be “icky” is now mainstream. Traditional mores are in full retreat.

And too soon, society will turn its attention to the rest of the relations that are forbidden in the Torah. “After all,” one might ask, “if there is no possibility of having children, then why cannot siblings or other close relations be ‘married’ to each other?”

There is no “logical” way to reject this argument, since, after all, if there are no genetic damages to a child, there is no victim if two people choose to be intimate with one another!

We must accept the logic, as much as it may curdle our stomachs: there is, indeed, no victim of childless love between close relatives or homosexuals.

Why, then, does the Torah forbid these relations for Jews? And even more than this: why does it put these laws right in the middle of the Torah, as a centerpiece of the entire Jewish legal code?

The word “Torah” as used in the text itself, means a “recipe.” The Torah is the roadmap, the recipe, for holiness, for a relationship between G-d and man.  

The problem with a relationship between G-d and man is that it is hard. It is difficult to be close to Hashem because we are so different than He is. Being married to G-d requires constant off-balance change, neverending nudges, encouragement and disappointment. 

And this explains the reason for the forbidden relations in the Torah. Those relationships are not inappropriate because of taboo. They are inappropriate because they are too easy. It is not properly challenging to be married to a woman who is closely related, or to a member of the same sex. Not enough divides people who come from the same household, or who, because of their physiology, see the world largely the same way.

Marriage is meant to be the model for a relationship with G-d. Marriage makes it possible for us to understand Hashem. If we can change ourselves enough to have a successful marriage with our spouse, then we have a chance to change ourselves enough to be married to G-d!

But if we marry someone who is too similar, with whom we have too much in common, then we are not challenged enough. We do not grow. And so it means that we never have the opportunity to reach higher, to grow to a full relationship with our creator.

Comments are welcome!

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