What lies behind the attraction between the genders? Is the mystique and the romance, the music and the moonlight, just nature's way of hoodwinking men and women to reproduce? Where does our sexuality come from?
In this article, I would like to look at two approaches to that question. One is the prevalent, contemporary, scientific approach. And then we'll contrast it with the Torah approach - specifically, the Kabbalistic-Chassidic perspective on Torah.
There are, of course, numerous secular-scientific theories of sexuality. Let us examine what is probably the most dominant one: the biological or evolutionary theory, which is based on the idea that "the survival of the fittest" is the primary force in nature. From this perspective, our attraction derives from the fact that the perpetuation of the species is achieved through a physical relationship between a male and a female. The male will therefore search for the female who is most fertile and will bear the healthiest offspring; the female will search for a male who provides the healthiest seed, is the most virile, and will protect the young.
This theory explains why men and women seek out and mate with each other. It also explains that certain features are extremely enticing to the opposite gender because they indicate signs of fertility or health that are important for the perpetuation of the species.
What this theory essentially says is that behind the beauty and the sensuality of love, there is a primal force: the need to exist and to perpetuate that existence. Since the human being is an animal with a certain degree of sophistication, human sexuality has evolved to address that sophistication. People are not prepared to think of themselves merely as production machines to bear children, so evolution and biology have conspired to imbue the physical union not only with pleasure, but also with a mystique that compels them along the romantic journey.
Gazing into a loved one's eyes across a candlelit table-for-two, one may think that he or she has risen above a survival-of-the-fittest mode of existence, but, in truth, this "rising higher" is just nature's way of packaging that drive. Two human beings courting each other are essentially the same as two bees courting each other. One bee will buzz a certain way or give off a certain scent, but what it comes down to is that these are tactics to attract a mate and bear offspring. By the same token, the accouterments of human courtship—the romance, the flowers, the music, the moonlight—are really just nature's way of getting two people together.
Nature is ruthless. Nature must prevail. So nature finds the means to get a male and a female to mate. This, basically, is the scientific approach to physical attraction. Let us now contrast this with the Torah's approach.
The Torah's conception of human sexuality is completely different: We are driven to search for our divine image, for our quintessential self.
In the opening chapters of Genesis, the Torah describes man as originally having been created as a "two-sided" being: "Male and female He created them, and He called their name ‘man.’" G‑d then split this two-sided creature into two, and ever since, the divided halves of the divine image seek and yearn for each other.
They're not half individuals; man is a full-fledged personality and woman is a full-fledged personality. But there are elements in their transcendental persona that remain incomplete if they don't find each other. There's something missing in each of them; they were once part of a greater whole.
To put it in more mystical terms, they're really searching to become one with G‑d.
The human race is, in essence, one entity, a male-female singularity. When man and woman come together and unite in a marital union, they recreate the divine image in which they were both formed as one.
The teachings of Kabbalah take this a step further, seeing the male-female dynamic not just as two genders within a species, but rather two forms of energy: an internal energy and a projective energy. Feminine energy and masculine energy coexist in every person and in every part of nature.
Even G‑dliness is sometimes described in the feminine and sometimes in the masculine. Contrary to the common perception of the "patriarchal" G‑d of the Bible, many of the divine attributes are feminine, such as the Shechinah.
So what we have here is a split of two energies and a yearning to become one whole. This attraction, which manifests itself in many physical sensations, is essentially the desire to become a complete, divine whole, connecting to our source in G‑d. Not that we've ever been completely disconnected, but consciously or unconsciously, we can go off on our own individual, narcissistic, even selfish, path. And here, there's a voice inside us saying, I yearn for something greater. When a man is attracted to a woman, or a woman to a man, it may seem to be a very biological urge, but from a Jewish, Torah perspective, it's just a physical manifestation of a very deep, spiritual attraction.
This is not to say that the Torah's concept of sexuality is not intrinsically tied in to the objective of creating new life. It certainly is. But perpetuation of the species is not the sole end of our attraction. Rather, it's the other way around: The divine nature of our sexuality - the fact that the union of male and female completes the divine image in which they were created - is what gives us the power to bring life into the world.
So there is something divine about the union itself. Halacha (Torah law) sanctifies marriage even without the possibility of offspring, such as in the case of a couple who are beyond childbearing age, or who are physically unable to bear children. If the physical union was simply the mechanism for childbearing, one might argue, "Hey, no perpetuation of the species, what's the point of marriage and intimacy? Just a selfish pleasure? Where's the holiness?"
The answer: In and of itself, the unity of male and female is a divine act, a divine experience.
By Simon Jacobson © The Meaningful Life Center. Rabbi Simon Jacobson is the author of the best-selling Toward a Meaningful Life: The Wisdom of the Rebbe (William Morrow, 1995), and the founder and director of the Meaningful Life Center. More from Simon Jacobson