Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Letter To The Lady Who Desires To Be Touched

Dear Nice Jewish Girl,

I read your initial blogpost and I wanted to write to you. You see, you wrote the following:
    The Orthodox Jewish world does not encourage frank expression of sexual desire, except in marriage, and I am healthily skeptical that those conversations occur in very many marriages. The Orthodox Jewish world further portrays to (single) women the notion that (single) men are fairly filled with lust, and it is the responsibility of a woman to restrain not merely her own desires, but those of men as well.

    There is no place for a non-anonymous confession: to openly admit that I long to lie in a man's arms at night, to desire and be desired, to stamp my name on such yearning, has no place in the public Orthodox sphere. Passion is the prize of marriage, nothing less.

    Still, I believe that these things I want are the necessarily secret hope of many observant women, and I would like to believe that this blog will not merely be my voice, but the voice of those many women who long, as I do, to be valued through touch.
This is what I wanted to tell you. I believe there is a great difference between what people will verbalize in public and in private. In part, this has to do with the confines of the community in which we live. But in another way, this has to do with the great sanctity of the topic being addressed. Because it is something so special, it shall only be discussed in private. The question arises as to whether there is a point in time where we should trade in that sacred privacy in order to help others. You argue that we have reached that time. I am more hopeful - I believe that the people who need to speak or to be heard know that there are listeners out there and they find us when they need us.

Regarding your point: Is there anyone human who doesn't long to be touched and loved? The two are synonymous. Touch is an expression of love. To touch another person is to convey how you feel about them. How sensitive and exquisite are the padded tips of our fingers! Soft and delicate and incredibly crafted through the kindness and precision of a wonderful God. Within these hands, so much exists. The artisan, the craftsman, the labourer and the worker- all of them are men and women of their hands. These hands can create worlds or destroy them. And yes, through touch, these hands that all of us share in common can awaken people to everything pure within themselves. Of course, it is the body as a whole that desires to be loved and touched, not merely our hands. But I choose to discuss hands specifically because of how much we accomplish with them.

To me your point is obvious. Who could live without passion? Everyone wants to desire and be desired, loved and appreciated. We long, as human beings, to give to others. We overflow with this desire. Judaism is a religion of self-restraint and thus it is very difficult. Sometimes it is impossible. So what I wanted to tell you is quite simple. Of course you are not alone! It should not even be a question. Everybody, man or woman, wants to be valued through touch and wants to be loved. So, my darling, the question is not what we want- but how we get there. What do we do with this passion? How do we channel it? Sanctify and uplift it? Your premise is absolutely right- there is no question that it is right! But what do we do with all that courses through us- who do we become- who are we as people? I believe that our mission in this world is to throw off light, to glitter so brilliantly that our souls shine through. Thus, passion is a tool in creating that person. The question is what you will do with all the longing, yearning, passion and desire that courses through you. They are powerful tools. I hope you are loved, entirely so! I would simply reframe your words. Rather than passion being the prize of marriage, I would say that the fulfillment of passion is the prize of marriage. But what do you do in the interim?

Ah, my friend- that is what we each get to figure out for ourselves! Tis our unique combination of talents, qualities and longing combined that makes us incredible. And one more point- it is not just the craving to be loved and touched that is important. It is the desire to give back- to love another. It is not enough to desire only on behalf of oneself. Yes, human beings are passionate and giving and divine. But all that longing builds up to enable you to do something aside from longing. You must create something or else you will go mad. So what is it that you shall do with these strong, strong feelings within yourself? I do not know. That's your magic to employ. But you shall do something- you must!


Shadesof said...

"So what is it that you shall do with these strong, strong feelings within yourself? I do not know. That's your magic to employ. But you shall do something- you must!"

I agree. That's every person's own individual task to do, and not surrender.

That's why I also agreed with the article in the recent Kol Hamveasar which argued against, theoretically, finding a loophole against negiah which stated,

"Is this the new ideal we want to teach the children of the Modern Orthodox community
– that it is perfectly alright to submit to the yetser ha-ra when it becomes strong and widespread enough in its influence"

Shadesof said...

"In part, this has to do with the confines of the community in which we live. But in another way, this has to do with the great sanctity of the topic being addressed. Because it is something so special, it shall only be discussed in private."

There are two issues:

A) What a proper forum for discussion of such issues is. Tzelem(YU Center for the Future) has created pilot classroom lessons on the topic. If, on the other hand, one says that only private discussion is appropriate, then the question is how to create such situations and encourage people to do it.

B) There is the issue of "lishmah", separating one's personal feelings from an elevated concept.

If you only deal with the elevated concept, it won't be able to be integrated in a person. As an example of this and refining one's intentions, you can have a pathological fear of ayin hara or "al tiftach peh", or you can do it "lishmah" in a healthy, spiritual manner.

I link below an excerpt from an article I liked, which brings a oft-mentioned comparison:

"The things that are most precious, most expensive or most rare, are things that are kept hidden, often under glass or lock and key. In the Mikdash, the holiest spot was the one that was most hidden--the Kodesh HaKodashim"


Now this is a beautiful metaphor(applicable to men in some ways as well)but the question is what if one doesn't feel like the Mikdash? There are two possible answers, which are not mutually-exclusive, and in fact, I think, interdependent:

1) Work on feeling like a "Mikdash"

2) Since a person is also a person and not only a "Mikdash", find a way to deal with one's thougts and feelings. I'm not just talking about actual passion, but about how one thinks about one's self as a person, of not confusing silence and euphemisms used in public about a topic with inappropriate shame. That is the issue of "lishmah", above, refining one's intentions in relating to a Torah concept.

הצעיר שלמה בן רפאל לבית שריקי ס"ט said...

“Is there anyone human who doesn't long to be touched and loved?”- I don’t know, I’ve seen a lot of really cold girls and ladies in “black hat” society. Maybe they just replace their need for power and prestige with their need for some sort of intimacy. ..that’s what it seems like to me anyway..

guest post ;) said...

wow! on topic!

at times i feel like the "Lady"

at others I try to imagine the embrace that I so long for
and think: "What is he thinking?" and realize that it is meaningless intimacy that I crave!

In other words, why do I long to be touched by nobody/anybody/ a nameless male figure?

It must be all about giving -- and sometimes that helps me.

A recent thought: Always think about the future... the generations and that kinda wards some of this off

I think exposure to images of intimacy (movies etc) are exacerbating this problem

and of course I may be too harsh ... this is in truth a basic human drive, needed for a healthy marriage.

But like you said each is to use his/her magic to channel the passion, so forgive me for sharing some thoughts...

Passion, channeling passion...

You mean the passion I use to think up programs for disseminating Yiddishkeit?

Well, this passion (for touch) has always disturbed me as too mortal.

Yet sometimes overpowering.

One can always say-- "Judaism is about struggle" But when my Yetzer Hara is saying "enough! Why suffer so?" This post-- that tells me I'm not the only one-- is helpful.

Shades of Grey said...

Very beautifully written, I agree with everything you've said.