So the title comes from one of my favourite Louis Armstrong songs: a provocative tango. How appropriate. I can just picture a smokey dim lit room with women and men dancing intimately together in their enticing clothes, trumpet sounds and deep vocals vibrating through them. Been there, done that. One benefit of being baalei teshuva is that we’ve experienced the other side. We know what we walked away from. It’s not a mystery. But this in itself can be the weakness, for memory is a powerful thing.
The greatest challenge therefore becomes not just walking away and changing our actions, but also changing, or re-channeling, our desires. The sensual and intimate experiences we once had should not just be stopped, but must also be revalued. This is a huge challenge, especially when it comes down to our base instincts. If we don’t do this, the desire can very easily drag us back to the physical, whether we now wear a black hat or not.
Don’t get me wrong, Judaism is pro intimacy, but it’s always with the caveat of being channeled in the right way. In marriage we enduldge in the holy togetherness that intimacy can be. The physical becomes an expression of holiness when its intrinsically part of a committed relationship where the emotional and intellectual facets also intertwine in it.
And so, the dating game begins. It’s been both shocking and surprising what really happens in the religious world. Whether you’re charedi, modern orthodox or anything else, baalei teshuva are finding themselves not keeping shomer nagia, to every extent. Yes, it’s hard. The experiences you know you can have or have had in the past make the decisions in the present that much harder. Once you’ve had some sugar you just crave more. On top of this is our arrogance: we’ve learnt gemora for a few years now, we know halacha, we know the technicalities. People think “If we bend the rules well enough we can do all this within the letter of the law and still be ok”. So I ask you this: “since when is Judaism about the letter of the law? Since when do we compromise our spiritual or character growth for physical stimulation?” Judaism is all about facing our challenges head on, with open minds and hearts, and winning. Yes we may fall sometimes, but we do not excuse the falls as being ok. We use them to grow our character and ultimately overcome our challenges.
And now I want to give you the guilt trip: What about your wife/husband? Yes, you may have not met them yet, but they are there, somewhere. Possibly also looking for you. Don’t be naive: you’re decisions now do affect your relationships later. I would argue that in choosing short term gratification you are distancing the purity and holiness of your future, and only real relationship. Put yourself in the moment of meeting your other half. Everyone else will become suddenly so irrelevant and yet you’ll be carrying it all with you, unwillingly comparing, reducing the specialness of the only real connection between husband and wife. Maybe next time, think about how your true basheret would feel about your current decision.
One of the best reasons I heard at Neve Yerushalayim (my seminary) for being shomer nagia was not halachic. The slogan was: “Maximum clarity. Minimum heartache.” Losing perspective and getting hurt in the process was something everyone in the room could relate to. The biggest problem with touch is its engulfing nature. It overtakes our minds faster than we notice. It obscures the blatantly obvious incompatibilities so seamlessly. To not touch is to allow yourself (and the other person) to see the relationship for what it truly is. Even when you’re engaged already and seem to have found the right one, serious doubts can be masked by touch, and in some cases lead to marrying for divorce.
So how do we combat this specific challenge? The same as we always do. We go back to the Source, and to Torah. Hashem gave us all the answers and all the strength within Judaism, we just need to want to access it. Our souls are intertwined with our matriarchs and patriarchs who had no lesser challenges than we do today. Sara was twice taken from Avraham (by Pharaoh and Abimelech). Twice Hashem rescued her from the predicament of being intimate with them. Then we have Joseph, who resisted Potiphar’s wife’s insistent advances on him. But Sara and Joseph aren’t just two characters in a fairy tale. They are our ancestors and connected souls. Just as Jews go to pray by the graves of holy people to tap into their aura, we can call upon the strength of Sara and Joseph to make our decisions in these matters as firm, constant and absolute. More than anything, we must ask Hashem for His truth, His guidance, and His blessing to find our true basheret now, without challenge.