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Principle of the Soul: #12 - The Deeper Meaning of Physical Intimacy

May 8, 2009 | by Rabbi Chaim Levine

It has the potential for intense holiness and intense corruption, depending who's at the helm -- your soul or your ego.

Did the title catch your attention?


There is something about this topic that sets off firecrackers in people's minds. Ad agencies use sex almost ubiquitously to prey on your pocketbooks -- they tie it together with selling minivans, french fries, mail delivery services, and computers.

What's underneath all this hype is the reality that physical intimacy carries tremendous potential for holiness. One of the greatest sources for holiness can be found during moments of physical intimacy between husband and wife.

Judaism teaches that the intensity of the physical drive is like an arrow pointing to the spiritual.

Judaism teaches that the intensity of the physical drive for intimacy is like an arrow pointing to the spiritual. If the physical side is so intense, on the soul level the potential must be even more so. Likewise, if we destroy the inherent soul experience of intimacy, what is left is something driven purely by the ego. With the possibility of such intense holiness available, nowhere else do we find something containing such potential for corruption and depravity. (Yes, I know it's a bit theatrical, but it's also true.)


Intimacy can spiritually bond two souls on the deepest level. It has the ability to deepen the inherent union of husband and wife, building their relationship in a way that otherwise would be impossible to achieve. It also has the potential for the couple to do something that only God can do: create!

The Talmud explains that there are three partners involved in the creation of a child: man, woman, and God himself. All are instrumental to this creative process.

The secret to unlocking this potential is in the intention that the couple brings to intimacy.

The secret to unlocking this potential is in the intention that the couple brings to intimacy. Their desire must be pure. To transform it into an expression of the soul, they must be other-focused, with the total concentration on connecting to their spouse, making it an experience of pure giving.

Therefore, the Jewish approach to intimacy is that it is a gift and blessing, yes, but is also something more. It is a Divine obligation, a commandment. A must do. It is a responsibility to give to your spouse through intimacy, with the emphasis on getting out of yourself and on giving, to ensure that your spouse will find the experience satisfying.

Physical intimacy rooted in love deepens the couple's relationship, creating a level of closeness that can only be described as complete connection. The bonding between husband and wife is what's key, not just the physical gratification. To ensure this focus, it is against Jewish law for a couple to be intimate if they are caught up in their egos –- angry, frustrated, with their minds elsewhere. Intimacy then moves way beyond satisfying physical urges, it becomes an experience of the body and the soul.

If a couple approaches the blessing of intimacy in this way, their relationship will continue to grow. But if sex becomes just another experience of the ego, it will ultimately lead to a relationship's destruction.

The momentary experience of pleasure will be followed by subtle pangs of emptiness. Replacing the possibility of such spiritual connection with an experience of selfishness produces a sense of shame. Intimacy then becomes cold and degrading, leading the couple farther apart, not closer together.


Remember that in the story of the Garden of Eden, at first Adam and Eve were naked and completely comfortable. It wasn't because they didn't know about physical intimacy -- it was the opposite. However, at that point intimacy was for them an experience of pure giving. After they ate from the fruit, they suddenly realized they were naked, and in their shame, they covered themselves.

What happened?

The Nefesh HaChaim explains that before they ate from the fruit, the ego was not yet a part of their personality. With the eating of the fruit came the ego. For the first time Adam and Eve looked at each other and thought only what they could take from each other. That's when they felt shame.

If a couple's intimacy is dominated by selfishness, the ego is overtaking their relationship.

If a couple's intimacy is dominated by selfishness -- i.e. it is something used only fulfill their own physical urges -- the ego is overtaking their relationship. Over time intimacy itself will become less and less pleasurable until it dies out all together.

It's no accident that intimacy of this sort becomes less and less fulfilling. Humanity has been wired up this way. You could replace all the sex therapists and books with the following principle: If you focus on giving, on bringing fulfillment to your spouse, you and your spouse will be fulfilled. If you focus only on your own fulfillment, you will spend a lot of time reading books and seeing therapists about the subject.

Make sure intimacy is an expression of giving and connection, and watch your marriage grow.



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