Opinion

Love is in the air. That’s the problem.

A couple holding hands. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

(RNS) — We love to love love.

Love surrounds us and captivates us and lures us with its ample charms, but the key to sustaining a great relationship is learning the art of intimacy. True intimacy is physical, emotional and soulful, and it must be cultivated and practiced if it is to thrive.

But this Valentine’s Day, let’s think for a moment on what we mean when we speak of intimacy.

Intimacy implies a soulful connection with another person, an exclusively private and deep relationship.

Yes, love is in the air but what human beings ultimately need is closeness. Even more than that, we crave oneness. So here is a counterintuitive concept for this season of love: Intimacy is the truest treasure in any relationship.

Yet the message has been drummed into us that if we can just find someone to fall in love with, we will enter into a paradise of togetherness and harmony. That is highly misleading, for it posits that love is the essential element needed for true intimacy to blossom and that intimacy is an organic and logical next step.

The problem is that when intimacy doesn’t materialize, the legitimacy of love is called into question, often to tragic outcome. But intimacy, as I stated earlier, must be cultivated. It is a practice. It is an art. It demands devotion and mindfulness in order to flourish.

Mystical tradition has a take on the story of Adam and Eve that teaches us something essential about our own pursuit of intimacy. The Book of Genesis says this about the creation of the first human: “And God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” According to Jewish tradition, what this means is that God created the first human as an androgynous being, both male and female.

In other words, originally male and female were one being. In Hebrew, the language in which the story of Genesis was written, the word for a human being is adam — an adam being a whole human being, male and female combined. God then put this whole human being to sleep and separated, physically and spiritually, the male and female parts from each other. Thus they became two halves of one being … whose deepest quest is to be reunited in this earthly realm.

Locks adorn a sculpture of two hearts. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

This is the true meaning of soul mate: our other, primal, organic half. Not just the person who shares our taste in music, movies or coffee but the person we cleave to in ultimate closeness.

What the Jewish teachings say is that the unique attraction between soul mates originates from a desire to be whole again, to reunite two parts of one adam. It is unnatural to be alone, for God originally created the two as one. Their separation is an unnatural imposition, and thus they are told to seek one another and overcome this imperfect state.

But why does God separate us and then ask us to seek oneness again? Perhaps because the search for oneness with another soul is the essential experience of being human. Indeed, that’s what makes us human. The other creations, all of the beasts of the woods and fields, do not have this task. They were created spiritually finished, good to go, and ready for their jobs in the world.

Not so the human being, the adam. The human experience is a quest to unite two halves of one whole.

While the unity at the core of intimacy is the main focus of that experience, the separation that precedes it is also crucial. The separation creates the need and the yearning for unity.

Kabbalah, the mystical tradition of Judaism, teaches that this dance is replicated on the cosmic level. God created the world and then “stepped back” from it, separating Himself on some level so that we, His creations, will seek through free choice to do good deeds that will unify us with him again.

Becoming one seems almost impossible to pull off but, in fact, a married couple can become one because they were once one. The Talmud tells us: “Forty days before the formation of an embryo, a heavenly voice proclaims: ‘The daughter of this one is destined to marry that one.’” It then goes on to explain the ramifications of this concept. The souls of a husband and wife are created together and are destined for one another. Therefore, when they marry it is possible to bring them back together. It would be impossible to bind together two souls that were never connected.

What’s important here is that our coming together is not just a simple attraction between two people; it’s much greater. It’s a spiritual connection, an affair of the soul. When a man and a woman encounter one another and know that each is part of a whole, that is the beginning of intimacy.

Marriage is about creating a life that embraces and nurtures that intimacy. Intimacy is a state of grace that arrives and then hides. So even if we have achieved intimacy, we must continue to maintain it. We must constantly seek it out, cultivate it, protect it and nurture it.

Intimacy, therefore, is the key to a great lifelong relationship.

(Rabbi Manis Friedman, author of “The Joy of Intimacy: A Soulful Guide to Love, Sexuality and Marriage,” is a well-known author, biblical scholar, relationship counselor, lecturer and philosopher. The views expressed in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)

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Manis Friedman

19 Comments

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  • Rabbi Friedman, I owe you an apology….
    (Don’t these authors know how to read?

    Genesis 1:27 So God created man in his own image,
    in the image of God he created him;
    male and female he created them.” So the first assertion about being ‘androgynous’ is incorrect.
    What liberals wont lie about to sell an article! Why read the rest of the lies after that?)
    I still stand by that but you have also shown something else that is important. That only a man and a woman can be one and that is a huge component of intimacy. You showed that very, very well, and my apologies for my first anger with you.
    God bless you! (edited)

  • As per National Geographic’s Genographic project:
    https://www3.nationalgeographic.com/genographic/

    “Adam” is the common male ancestor of every living man. He lived in Africa some 60,000 years ago, which means that all humans lived in Africa at least at that time.

    Unlike his Biblical namesake, this Adam was not the only man alive in his era. Rather, he is unique because his descendents are the only ones to survive.

    It is important to note that Adam does not literally represent the first human. He is the coalescence point of all the genetic diversity.”

    o More details from National Geographic’s Genographic project: https://genographic.nationalgeographic.com/

    “Our species is an African one: Africa is where we first evolved, and where we have spent the majority of our time on Earth. The earliest fossils of recognizably modern Homo sapiens appear in the fossil record at Omo Kibish in Ethiopia, around 200,000 years ago. Although earlier fossils may be found over the coming years, this is our best understanding of when and approximately where we originated.
    According to the genetic and paleontological record, we only started to leave Africa between 60,000 and 70,000 years ago. What set this in motion is uncertain, but we think it has something to do with major climatic shifts that were happening around that time—a sudden cooling in the Earth’s climate driven by the onset of one of the worst parts of the last Ice Age. This cold snap would have made life difficult for our African ancestors, and the genetic evidence points to a sharp reduction in population size around this time. In fact, the human population likely dropped to fewer than 10,000. We were holding on by a thread.

    Once the climate started to improve, after 70,000 years ago, we came back from this near-extinction event. The population expanded, and some intrepid explorers ventured beyond Africa. The earliest people to colonize the Eurasian landma-ss likely did so across the Bab-al-Mandab Strait separating present-day Yemen from Djibouti. These early beachcombers expanded rapidly along the coast to India, and reached Southeast Asia and Australia by 50,000 years ago. The first great foray of our species beyond Africa had led us all the way across the globe.”

  • An insightful, learned and gloriously structured essay.

    Nonsense of course – but what magnificent nonsense!

  • No Sandi – the rabbi has “shown” nothing – merely constructed a fantasy that you can use to, in your own mind, validate your bigotry.

  • The Book of Genesis says this about the creation of the first human
    First human? Don’t think so. Where did Cain get his wife? Rhetorical.

  • Reality: male couples and female couples also experience the intimacy of one-ness. Intimacy isn’t just about anatomy.

  • It’s obvious you don’t know any long-term gay couples; your purpose is to lie in service to your bigotry.

  • God never intended His children to become intimate with evil in order to communicate the gospel to those in it’s grasp. Robert Mounce

  • You have no “good news” in your repertoire of fundamentalist, self-serving and sanctimonious BS.

  • Rabbi Friedman is a Hasidic rabbi of the Chabad Lubavitch sect. He is hardly liberal. In fact, what you correctly saw as a heteronormative viewpoint is consistent with Chabad. You’d probably appreciate his book about secular sexual values adversely affecting children. I don’t necessarily know he’d agree that only a man and a woman can be one. Nevertheless, the midrashim about the adam of Gen. 1:27 being originally being with male and female sides, only later to be divided in Gen. 2, with the man to “cleave” back to his wife and (again) become one flesh, are highly heteronormative because that’s what the rabbis knew to talk about.

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