Latest update: June 18th, 2012
Over the past few weeks we have been focusing on how necessary it is, especially today, that parents take an active role in teaching their children the Torah’s view on sexuality and modesty and how important it is that first images to fill a child’s mind in regards to these concepts be appropriate ones.
We have discussed how pervasive the secular culture is, how much it has affected our children and how we can no longer afford to be naive about the existence of sexual predators in our midst. We reminded you that if children do not possess clear knowledge and an age-appropriate understanding of the parts of their body and how they can be used or misused, they would not be able to protect themselves from those who seek to abuse them.
There is a school of thought that exposing children and adolescents to sexual ideas will arouse in them a yetzer hara. We referenced a halachic ruling from the Ezer Mekodesh (Shulchan Aruch, E.H. 23:3) that makes it clear it is permitted for even a young man to study the sections of the Torah that relate to sexuality.
An additional point to consider is that in order for us to be effective parents, we must adapt with the times. As certain social and psychological norms have changed over the years, our response to them must change as well. Keep in mind; halacha has recognized that over centuries, even biological realities and makeup of humans are subject to variations and change. (See for example, Magen Avraham, O.H., 179:8.) Certainly then, it is a reasonable conjecture that our cultural, social, and emotional realities, are also subject to variation from generation to generation.
What holds some people back from providing children with this basic and essential part of Torah knowledge? It appears that it is shame. Now, shame is both a positive and negative character attribute. Indeed, the Gemara states: “It is evident that regarding he who does not have shame, his forefathers were not at Mount Sinai. [In other words, he is not part of the Jewish covenant.]” (Nedarim 20a.) The Gemara also states that the Jewish people have the following three character attributes: “Mercy, shame and kindness.” (Yevamos 79a.) On the other hand, common sense tells us that shame can be harmful if it prevents a person from social functioning, for example being too shy or timid. So, we can see that not all types of shame are constructive.
A Jewish Philosophical Perspective on Shame:
In Beraishis (2:25) Adam and Chava before they sinned and ate from the Tree of Knowledge are described as follows:
“And they both were naked, the man and his wife, and they were not ashamed.”
Seforno teaches: “[They were not ashamed] because all their actions and all their organs were only to fulfill the will of their Creator. These organs were not for the purpose of obtaining fleeting sensual gratification. Sexual activity for them was no different than one who eats or drinks simply for the purpose of sustaining nourishment. Therefore, the sexual organs for them felt no different than the mouth, face or hands feel for us.” (Ramban ibid 2:9 concurs with this view.)
What the Torah and commentaries seems to be telling us is that Adam and Chava felt no shame at their nakedness because they felt no arousal when they saw each other. Thus, according to this view, shame comes from being aroused and feeling sinful, lustful urges that are not quite under the person’s control. Presumably, one who discusses sexual matters or issues with pure intent has no reason to feel shame.
(To be continued)Rabbi Simcha Feuerman
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