God's Favorite Sin

It's not what you lust for, it's who you want it from

This article first appeared on Beliefnet in 2002.

One of the most remarkable stories about lust comes from the Talmud, the ancient collection of Jewish commentaries and wisdom:

Rav Kahana lay under the bed of Rav, his illustrious teacher, who was carousing and speaking frivolously with his wife of sexual matters; afterward, the teacher had intercourse with her. Kahana made his presence known and said to his teacher: "You appear to me to be like a hungry man who has never had sex before, for you act with great fervor in your lust."

The teacher said to Kahana: "Are you here? Get out! It is improper for you to lie under my bed!"

Kahana said to him: "This is a matter of Torah and I must study."

Whoa! What a tale! Rav Kahana, a great sage, lies under the marital bed of his master, Rav, in order to learn the holy art of lovemaking. Why? Because he is a pious man who wishes to serve God with all his faculties. And what does he learn? How to love his wife-and not just love her sweetly but passionately, indeed, lustfully.

Lust, per se, is not a sin. What is sinful is focusing our lust on strangers, instead of those to whom we are married. Lust for someone who is not your spouse is a sin, because it degrades your husband or wife. This lust is, indeed, the kind the ancients worried about--lust that demeans and debases, the kind that 32 percent of those responding to the Beliefnet poll say they are guilty of.

But there is no reason people should feel guilty if they focus their lust in the right direction. By restoring lust to the marriage bed, we can avoid adultery and broken marriages.

The idea that lust can and should be indulged, even in the proper context, may sound contradictory. Religious people in particular have been conditioned to believe that in order for sex to be sanctified, it must take place only with the intention of procreation--otherwise, the logic goes, engaging in sex is sinful. That view, unfortunately, snuffs the passion not only for casual sex, but for married sex as well.


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