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What is So Bad About Masturbating? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Nahar Shalom Yeshiva   
Thursday, 21 June 2012
Several articles and Questions and Answers on this site address the problem of spilling semen in vain from various points of view.

Here, we will try to present a general overview, gathered in large part from the book, “Taharah, in Halachah and Agadah,” compiled by the famed “Nahar Shalom Yeshiva for Kabbalists” in Jerusalem. At the outset, it is important to know that while the transgression is very severe, G-d is ever willing to accept all those who return to Him in heartfelt penitence, as set forth in other articles on this site.

TREASURE CHEST OF SOULS
One of the commandments that is performed with the greatest joy by the Jewish People is the brit milah, the circumcision of a child on the eighth day after his birth. In doing so, the father enters his son into the brit, or holy covenant, between G-d and the Jewish People. This covenant, first commanded to our forefather, Avraham, distinguishes the Nation of Israel as G-d’s special treasure (segulah) amongst the nations of the world. In stamping the seal of the covenant on the sexual organ, G-d is telling us that we are to safeguard the holiness of our sexual lives and rule over the powerful lusts which accompany it. This holiness, precisely on the organ of the body that is responsible for the continuation of Jewish life to future generations, is the foundation of our holy nation and our connection to G-d.

This continuation is insured by the holy life-force contained in a man’s semen, which is often referred to as seed or “zera” in Hebrew, because of its potential to generate new life just like with the seed of a fruit. The “zera” contains not only the physical and genetic life-force of new birth, but also the holy soul that is brought into the world when a child is born. Each Jew contains a treasure chest of these holy souls, which originate in the bank of souls in Heaven. The Kaballah teaches that this treasure chest of souls is housed in the brain. Sexual arousal causes souls to leave the brain and travel along the eighteen vertebrae of the spine (paralleling the eighteen blessings in the Amidah prayer) down to the sexual organ where they join with DNA empowered seminal fluid before being ejaculated from the body. Scientists report that anywhere from one-hundred million to three-hundred million sperm leave the body with each ejaculation. Image When this occurs in the holy context of the marital act between husband and wife at permitted times when the wife is not in Niddah (her menstrual period including the extra days when intercourse is forbidden) the ejected souls which don’t bring about fertilization are spiritually recycled to the “soul bank” in Heaven, and nothing is considered wasted. This is also the case if the wife is already pregnant, or cannot conceive because of some other reason, and when the marital union doesn’t bring about a pregnancy, so long the marital union is conducted at permitted times.

However, if a man engages in forbidden sexual relations, or has relations with his wife during her Niddah days, or if he masturbates for his own personal pleasure, or has an ejaculation of semen due to erotic thoughts or premature ejaculation, the semen is considered wasted and the souls are lost to the forces of impurity and evil in the world that feed off the life-giving power of the souls which they capture. In this case, rather than safeguarding the treasure chest of souls which the King has granted him, and which he made a sacred covenant to keep when he entered into the covenant of the Brit Milah, the man wastes myriads of precious holy souls – miniature building blocks of life.

Someone who acts in this fashion is like a person who was given a valuable treasure by G-d and then wastes it on empty self-gratification and personal pleasures, thus strengthening the forces of evil in the world instead of the good. Regarding this person, the Book of Proverbs says: “As a madman who shoots fire-rockets and arrows and death, and says ‘I was only playing’” (Mishle, 26:19).

In contrast, a person who rules over his passions, and the powers entrusted to him, is like a prince of the King who rules over the kingdom entrusted to him. Instead of being ruled over by his evil inclinations, he raises himself to being the pinnacle being of Creation, directed the life-giving forces of creation in their proper holy path. In doing so, he brings health and wellbeing to his life, his body, his family, his surroundings, and the Jewish People as a whole.

THE SEVERITY OF SPILLING SEMEN IN VAIN
We learn from the Torah regarding the deaths of Yehuda’s sons, Er and Onan, for spilling their semen in vain, that their actions were “evil in the eyes of the L-rd” (Bereshit, 38:6-10).

In several places, the Zohar emphasizes the gravity of this transgression. Our Sages have said: Those who spill seed in vain are under the penalty of death and are subjugated to banishment, They are called evil, wrongdoers, and betrayers of the faith. They are like those who spill blood, and like those who worship idols. And it is as if they bring a flood upon the world. They are not allowed into the private chambers of the Blessed One Holy Be He, and violate the prohibition against adultery. They are compared to beasts that have no portion in the world to come. They cause the prolonging of the exile, delay the coming of Mashiach, bring suffering to world, and cause the gentiles to have dominion over Israel. They will not merit to see the face of the Shekinah, the coming of Mashiach, or the revival of the dead…. (Niddah 13A; Kallah, 1:19; Kallah Rabbati, 2:4; Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer, 23:1-3.)

How are we to understand that spilling semen in vain is like the spilling of blood – a refined way of saying murder? It is because of the life potential in the “zera” which goes wasted. Spilling seed in vain, whether through masturbation or other sexual transgression, destroys the living essence and complete genetic potential in the sperm cells that are wasted – something which can readily seen under high-powered microscopes. For inside the ejaculated seminal fluid are worlds upon worlds of life.

In the same light we can understand how the Sages can compare the spilling of semen in vain to bringing a flood upon the world. In the eyes of the Creator, the murder of a single human life is a horrible thing – how much more so the destruction of multitudes, like the Flood did in the days of Noach and during the Tzunami in our time! ImageWhen we realize that a millimeter of seminal fluid contains over a one-hundred million living sperms, and the myriads of souls that are joined to them, each one capable of becoming a newborn child, we can understand the truth and wisdom of our Sages in describing the loss of life in terms of the horrendous devastation of a flood.

The spilling of semen in vain brings about depression, confusion in the mind, weakness of faith, physical illness, problems with livelihood, problems with children, and marital conflict. The prayers of people who abuse the Covenant of the Brit go unanswered. They find Torah study listless, feel alienated from holy matters, and are given to unseemly traits such as anger and pride (Taharat HaKodesh, 116).

According to the Kabbalah, someone who spills his seed in vain destroys his “mazal,” the Divine good fortune destined for him. This is because in wasting the life force granted to him, he discards the Divine blessing accompanying it. This is hinted at by the first Hebrew letters of spilling seed in vain, “Motzee Zera L’batillah,” (מזל) “mazal.”

So devastating are the consequences of spilling semen in vain that  the definitive compilation of Jewish Law, the “Shulchan Aruch,” states that it is forbidden for a person to willingly cause himself an erection outside of the marital union, or to bring himself to have sexual fantasies. For this reason, a man should sleep on his side so as not to cause an erection (loc. Cited; also Oruch Chaim, 63:1).

BIRTH CONTROL
Married couples should not use birth control methods without proper rabbinic supervision because the commandment to be fruitful and multiply should not be neglected or postponed on one’s own decision, and because there are methods of birth control which are considered spilling semen in vain (“Igeret Moshe,” Aven HaEzer, Vol 4, 74).

TSHUVA
The warnings of the Sages regarding spilling of semen in vain are directed at those people who continue in their transgression and don’t repent. However, people who turn back to G-d in sincere and constant repentance, with a commitment to stop their wrongdoing and begin a higher level of Divine worship, G-d accepts them with mercy and love (Zohar, Shemot 214). And if a person helps others to give up this wrongdoing by explaining its harmful consequences, this is considered an exalted form of atonement.

 VIRTUES OF GUARDING THE BRIT
Safeguarding the brit of sexual holiness is compared to keeping all of the Torah. He merits to cleave to Hashem. The Shechinah accompanies him and doesn’t abandon him ever. He is granted Divine protection and healing.  He draws down Heavenly blessing on himself and his family. He is praised in the Heavenly Court. He merits to have righteous children.  He is honored by G-d and granted dominion over earthly matters. He status is like that of the High Priest. The fountains of esoteric knowledge are opened for him, and he comes to possess admirable traits. He finds joy in Divine service and is exalted over his enemies. He brings the Redemption closer and forwards the rebuilding of the Temple. He is spared from the sufferings that precede the Mashiach, from painful deaths and the agonies of the grave. He will merit to see the Holy One Blessed Be He in the future world – the greatest bliss that there is. He is called holy, perfect, tzaddik, and valiant. And through his merit in guarding the brit, Israel enemies are turned away (Taharat HaKodesh 59).

FINAL BLESSING
The compilers of the book, “Taharah in Halachah and Agudah” have a concluding blessing to the chapter on Shmirat HaBrit which we have summarized in this article:

“Fortunate is the man who guards over himself and exerts himself in guarding the brit in the proper manner. It is necessary to note that due to the modesty surrounding these matters, many rabbis don’t not speak openly about this subject, which is so important to the public, and due to our many sins, a great many people don’t realize that they are committing grave transgressions which have wide and far-reaching consequences. Therefore, fortunate is the man who makes these matters known in a widespread fashion. The merit of  helping others come closer to Hashem will be a shield to them, and they will be  blessed with righteous, holy children. May Hashem fill the wishes of their hearts and bestow goodness and blessing and joy, granted them long, healthy and happy lives, ample livelihood and and every good, Amen."

Last Updated ( Thursday, 21 June 2012 )
 
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