From Yosef to Rabbi Nachman

Now let's talk about the change of attitude toward Tikkun ha-Berit at different times.

For a start, it's impossible not to remember our forefathers Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. They, Rambam writes, were always in a state of Dvekut with the Creator, and this state, as we have already seen when analyzing the tale of Rabbi Nachman's “The Lost Princess,” cannot be achieved without the purity and harmony of all aspects of personality. The purity of the forefathers in the sphere of intimacy was absolute, their Dvekut with their wives was complete (“Shalem” — “perfect”), because, according to Kabbalah, by the Dvekut with his wife a man deserves the Dvekut with Shekhinah (“Igrot Ramchal”). We can judge the Dvekute of Avram and Sarai (before they became Avraham and Sarah) by the story of their forced descent to Egypt (Genesis 12:10–20). “And it came to pass, when he was come near to enter into Egypt, that he said unto Sarai his wife, Behold now, I know that thou art a fair woman to look upon.” What does it mean, that, after dozens of years of living together, Avram only now has found out that his wife is beautiful? The answer is simple. For all those years they were in a state of Dvekut, and in a state of absolute unity there is usually no rating from the side. Now, in the face of danger, Avram is trying to look at his wife “objectively,” by “man's eyes,” and here he is detecting that his beloved Sarai is also beautiful as a woman! But an even deeper meaning is laid in this passage. The forefather Avraham knew that Dvekut between husband and wife attracts Shekhinah, which causes people's sympathy toward each of the spouses. And the Scriptures points this out, “And it came to pass, that, when Abram was come into Egypt, the Egyptians beheld the woman that she was very fair.” (Genesis 12:14). It is written, “he” (“הוא”), and it is read “she” (“היא”), that is the spiritual beauty of Avram attracted the Egyptians to Sarai, who was in Dvekut with him.

The perfection of the forefathers in the sphere of intimacy is also expressed in the control of their seed. How do we know this? The language of the Torah is brief and laconic, and only in the dying blessing of the forefather Yaakov this subject is brought up. “Reuben, thou art my firstborn, my might, and the beginning of my strength...” (i.e. the virile strength). The Oral Torah tells us that “the beginning of my strength” is the first drop, because Yaakov never saw ejaculation before (Yevamos 76a, Rashi on Genesis 49:3). To better understand the meaning of these words, it is enough to compare Yaakov with his twin brother Esau, who took his first two wives by the time he was 40 (Genesis 26:34) and took another wife by the time Yaakov left his father's house (Genesis 28:9). But after this Yaakov spent some time on the road and worked for Laban for his first wife for another 7 years. And he did not have even one involuntary ejaculation throughout that time!

It is important to emphasize that the purity of our forefathers in this area was a part of the overall perfection of their personalities and did not require any specific efforts. But the case of sons of Yaakov was somewhat different. We do not know by what Yehuda was guided when going to the woman beside the road, but only that the merits of the fathers have led to the royal line of the House of David being descended from this relation, whereas Yehuda himself has received no reward for his actions in This World. Another case is his brother Yosef, who had to mobilize all his moral strength to resist the temptation of Potiphar's wife. Yosef was called Righteous just for this act, performed at the age of 17. According to the Midrash, the royal honours that he will be awarded later, will become the reward for the same thing. We can conclude from the history of Yosef that the efforts to maintain purity in the sphere of intimacy (Shmirat ha-Berit) allows a person to receive a reward already in This World.

What causes Yosef to resist the temptation? Only the power of thought. The only thing that connected Yosef with the house of his father at that period of life was the thoughts-memories and his father's upbringing. The upbringing is a system of principles, what is allowed and what is not allowed. Thoughts-memories are images of the past. Yosef resisted by the power of thought. At the beginning he forbade himself to approach another man's wife by his mind, and when the force of attraction started to prevail, he activated his Imagination and saw an image of his father and then ran away. Midrash draws for us an important detail. “The seed was oozed from under his nails.” You should understand that Yosef craved Potiphar's wife with all of his body, but the morality won in him. The victory of the morality over sexual attraction had become like “Yosef's method” and marked the first epoch of Tikkun ha-Berit.

Yosef's method was the only way for 2500 years. But there was one problem, very few people were able to refrain from sexual crimes solely by the force of morality. The Talmud (Avodah Zarah) tells about an attempt of the sages to solve the problem on a global level, turning to God in prayer for the withdrawal of Yetser ha-Min (sexual desire) from the world. As a result of that story, only the attraction to close relatives has weakened in the world, but all other sexual attractions prohibited by the Torah remained at the same level. The Talmud gives several stories about the sages, who fled from the temptation following the example of Yosef, but Talmud does not suggest other methods. The same can be said about the Book of Zohar, speaking of the great harm to a man that is caused by emission of seed in vain.

The second epoch in continuation on the subject of Tikkun ha-Berit is associated with the name of Rambam. Rambam initially views a person as a whole. Here is what he writes. “Know that the soul (nefesh) of a person is a single entity and it has many means of expressions [because they are general in scope] are referred to by certain individuals as ‘souls’. Thus, some individuals think that there many souls (nefashot)” (“8 Chapters of the Rambam,” Ch. 1). Rambam uses the word “nefesh” (“soul”) as a synonym of the word “person,” because he attributes to the soul the ability to think logically on the one hand and the function of the organism on the other hand. Thus, Rambam considers the lower expression of the soul to be responsible for the delivery of food to all parts of the body, for digestion, for development of the organism, for procreation, etc. The ability to think, Rambam believes, is the higher aspect of the soul. Further (“8 Chapters,” Ch. 5) Rambam describes the dynamic unity of all aspects, saying that the emotional, sensual and intellectual life of the man derives strength from the animal forces of the organism. Here are his words. “A person's intent when he eats, drinks, sleeps, engages in sexual relations, wakes, performs activity and relaxes should be for the sake of his physical health. And the intent of the pursuit of health should be this his soul will have healthy and whole vessels to use for study and for acquiring the intellectual and ethical virtues, so he will reach the above goal.” Rambam condemns people who monitor their health, but at the same time do not use available forces for developing higher aspects in themselves. “This is also not a sign of personal development... None of these represents a true goal for our conduct. Instead, it is proper that a person directs all his activities, his physical health, and the maintenance of his existence so that the limbs [of his body] serve as perfect media for his soul. The his soul will be able to exercise the ethical and intellectual virtues without any impediment.” (ibid.)

In terms of Tikkun ha-Berit, two strategically important discoveries belong to Rambam.

1. Surplus of physical forces, which gushes out in a form of unbridled sexual desire, should be used as building material for the soul and intellect. (Even in the Talmud there is, for example, a mention of the fact that men, immersed in studies, are recommended to reduce the frequency of intimacy with their wives to one time per week, but Rambam brings theoretical basis under all such statements.)

2. Heavy physical activity is an original kind of “ambulance” during strong sexual arousal. (Rambam directly discusses this in another place. An idea of the relationship between physical activity and frequency of sexual relations was expressed by the Jewish sages before Rambam, but in somewhat another context (see Rashi's commentary on Genesis 32:14)).

The above finds support in the story of slavery in Egypt. Thus, the Oral Torah tells that the Jewish men had no strength for their wives after a day of arduous toil, and then the Jewish wives started visiting their husbands during the lunch break, and so became pregnant. This indicates a relationship between physical and sexual energy in the organism. We can draw a conclusion about dependence of elevated human needs upon physical energy from the story of the first arrival of Moshe to the Pharaoh. He responds to a request to release the Jews for three days to make sacrifices to God, by worsening their working conditions. He explains his decision by saying, “...for they be idle; therefore they cry, saying, Let us go and sacrifice to our God. Let here more work be laid upon the men, that they may labour therein; and let them not regard vain words.” (Exodus 5:8–9). And it yielded results. “Wherefore say unto the children of Israel, I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will rid you out of their bondage, and I will redeem you... And Moses spake so unto the children of Israel: but they hearkened not unto Moses for anguish of spirit, and for cruel bondage” (i.e. for hard work) (Exodus 6:6–9). You can understand the faintheartedness (“anguish of spirit”) of the Jews at that time. They were afraid of physical violence. But how can hard work in slavery deprive people of the dream of freedom?! It sounds very illogical on the surface. Thanks to the Rambam, we can understand that the logic of the Pharaoh was as follows. “If the Jews have thoughts of God (i.e. over-animal needs), so they little tire at work. If the work will take away all the physical forces, thoughts about God and freedom will simply disappear.” History shows that “the Pharaoh's method” was later used repeatedly. Prisoners of Stalin's and Hitler's concentration camps say the same thing, that hard physical work and malnutrition over a short time brought the people, that were highly cultured and highly intellectual in former times, almost to the animal state. God grant that this knowledge will never be used against the human!

But back to Tikkun ha-Berit. The next epoch is associated with the name of Rabbi Nachman of Braslav and his conception of happiness. Rabbi Nachman considered the state of sadness and depression as the main internal enemy of a man. Man's control over his imagination is weakened in this state. The uncontrolled fancies, combined with a feeling of suppression by external conditions, give rise to an acute sense of the lack of positive emotions, which can get out in a form of pollution at the physical level or even drive a man to sexual crimes. Happiness, even if artificially induced, can withstand the depression, and thus to keep away sexual problems. Here are the words of Rabbi Nachman. “However, a man must strengthen himself in joy at all times, and not let anything depress him, no matter what happens. If he is strong in his resolve, he will not be afraid at all, and will not dwell upon such (sexual) thoughts. He will travel in his simple way with joy, and he will overcome everything in peace.” (“Rabbi Nachman's Stories. Two Palaces”). “His main teaching was that a person not be afraid or terrified by this (pollution). One should not think about it at all. One should be like a mighty warrior, standing up against one's desires, utterly fearless, and not thinking of them at all.” (ibid.). “[Rabbi Nachman] laughed at Chasidim and God-fearing men who were terrified whenever they had an untoward thought, lest they experience a nocturnal pollution. However, the fear itself can often bring that which they they wished to avoid” (ibid.).

“[Rabbi Nachman] told his followers that whenever they experienced a nocturnal emission, they should immediately immerse in a mikvah. As a result of this nocturnal pollution, whatever [damage] was done, was done. However, before a permanent impression is made, one should immerse and purify oneself. [Rabbi Nachman] warned that one should not be frightened by this at all. Fear, worry, and depression are very harmful as far as this is concerned. This is especially true now that he has revealed the Ten Psalms that have the specific power to rectify this sin. [The Ten Psalms] are Psalms 16, 32, 41, 42, 59, 77, 90, 105, 137, and 150” (ibid.). Rabbi Nachman investigated the Ten Psalms just for remedy of the above problem. “But even in this case (when the pollution occurred), saying the Ten Psalms will do much to remedy the spiritual damage. Many great Tzadikim sought this remedy and worked hard to find it. Some never had any idea at all of the true remedy. Others began to perceive it, only to be taken from the world before they could grasp it completely. This is entirely new and is a wonderful and awesome remedy.” (“Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom,” 141). Then, Rabbi Nachman discovered the universal significance of this list of Psalms. “The Ten Psalms should be recited in the order that they appear in the Bible. The Rebbe also said, ‘This is the Tikkun HaKelali — the general remedy. There is a specific remedy for each sin, but this is the general remedy” (ibid.). In the same conversation Rabbi Nahman talks about these Ten Psalms. “Ten Psalms correspond to the ten types of song.” Here he hints at the ending of the fairy tale “The Seven Beggars,” where it is figuratively told about the healing of Shekhinah with ten melodies, and a personage of the tale symbolizing the Mashiach says, “I could then heal her through the ten types of melody. I thus heal her.” Rabbi Kaplan comments, “The ten types of songs are included into the Song on the Red Sea, which, according to the Talmud (Sanhedrin 91,b), Moshe will sing in the Messianic age. Therefore, the song literally begins, ‘Then Moshe will sing’ (Exodus 15:1). The Mashiach (Messiah) is an aspect of Moshe, and when he comes, he will sing this song which includes all ten songs, and the Shekhinah will be healed.” Confirming the words of Rabbi Kaplan, we can give the Midrash, which Maharal from Prague gives, “will sing” (in Hebrew: “yashir”) can be read as “yud” (numeric value: “10”) and “shir“ (“songs”). This means that the Song on the Sea includes all kinds of pleasures existing in the world.

Thus, the method of Rabbi Nachman of Braslav is simple. You need to excite the sense of joy (with the help of Tikkun HaKelali or any other means), and “with joy you can become another person” (“Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom,” 43), and that “other person” will be much more pure both in soul and in body.

We have considered three methods of Tikkun ha-Berit developed by the great men of past times. Each method works. Their efficiency is confirmed by hundreds of years and thousands of people. Regretfully we must acknowledge that there are people, who sincerely tried to work on themselves by the methods described above, but this had not led them to the eventual correction of sexual problems in them. They lacked something. What is it? We'll discuss this in the next chapter.