EmunaDating: Desire

By Shayna Hulkower

In our exploration of middot and how they impact dating, we would be remiss if we didn't touch upon desire. It makes the world go round. There is a story in the Gemara how the Jewish people couldn't deal with the drive to do idol worship, so they made a deal with G-d - He takes away the desire to serve idols and they would give up prophesy. It worked, the people were thrilled. They thought of what other pesky drives they had they could get rid of and came up with the desire for intimacy. No more concerns about adultery! But the next morning they saw the chickens stopped laying eggs. Without this desire, there would be no procreation and no life on Earth, so they asked for it back. We can see from this story that desire is good but potentially problematic. 

In modern Hebrew תַּאֲוָה is translated as desire, but it's a deep desire. It is often used to refer to something with lust, a craving or a deep longing. Simple desire, such as for more vacation or a cupcake would be the word ratzon. To get a better sense of the word, let us look to how it is used in the TaNaCh. The search won't take long, as it's already used in the beginning of the beginning in parashat Bereshit. The serpent has just come on stage and is tempting Eve with some forbidden fruit. It says, "She saw that the tree was good to eat from and that it is תַּאֲוָה to the eyes." (Bereshit 3:6), meaning appealing even though she was told to stay away from it.

The next time we find it is much later on in parshat Beha'aloscha, when out of nowhere, a group of Jews in the desert start complaining about the actual food from heaven, manna which could taste like anything you wanted, and instead they now wanted meat. Even more absurdly, they started idolizing the food they had in Egypt. Mind you, they were slaves and barely got enough to eat, so this revisionist history was upsetting to say the least. The language the Torah uses is התאוו תאוה - whenever a word is repeated like that it connotes a multiplied effect on whatever the word means - in this case that they had a deep craving for food. 

While the two instances above are food-related, the next one we find in a familiar passage - in the midst of the Ten Commandments. The phrase 'Don't covet your neighbor' actually uses the language לא תתאוה. Here it's used to describe a longing for something that isn't yours, which can also be related to the first use where it was found in conjunction with wanting something that was told to be off limits.

There are definite lessons we can take from these instances to help us date more successfully. First, forbidden fruit is appealing. It's basically a scientific fact - as soon as someone tells you you can't have something, it's highly natural to want it. This is incredibly problematic when it comes to dating. We all know someone who spends an inappropriate amount of time pining over someone after the relationship has ended, or fantasizing over someone who is busy in a relationship with someone else. Getting involved with someone when you know they are not for you is a common tactic used to subconsciously (or consciously) avoid getting into serious relationships, and thereby prevent them from being in a vulnerable position or getting hurt. It's very easy to spend your energy on someone you know is not appropriate for you, because this way the rejection isn't personal, it's situational and your ego remains intact. If you see someone exhibiting behaviors such as this, stay away.

The other way desire can destroy relationships or prevent us from entering into successful ones is jealousy. If we look around at our friends and neighbors and see what seems like an ideal situation, it's very easy to desire or covet what they have. However, it's easy to forget we are only getting one side of the story. On the surface it's easy for things to seem very pleasant and desirable, and by contrast make your own situation lacking. Often, if you dig a little deeper, those perfect situations are not so perfect at all. The carefree and fun couple actually fight all the time about the most mundane things. The fact is, you never really know what is going on behind closed doors, which is why the Torah warns you don't desire these things, you don't know what strings they actually come with.

While we could go on all day with all of the deeper messages in these three examples, we'll end with one more lesson: In every instance all of the people involved want something that is not very good for them. Whether it's the fresh fish that came with slavery in Egypt or fruit from a tree that G-d, who just created Adam and Eve like 20 minutes before, said to stay away from, there is a direct message: it's easy to talk yourself into something you know is bad for you. When we are desirous for something it doesn't take much contorting to rework the situation so that what was once off limits is now necessary to do. As the old adages goes, the easiest person to fool is yourself. The Torah is teaching us that while we of course are allowed to want things, when items or people become desirous it is probably because they are bad from us. It's not fun, but it's practical and will keep us from getting distracted on our way to the alter.

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