Posts Tagged ‘desire’

September 9, 2011

The Biblical Connection: Desire, Romance, and Attachment

The Biblical Connection:

 Desire, Romance, and Attachment

Psychologists discuss the underlying psychological and biological (“biobehavioral”) ways in which we form  intimate relationships. Once someone has found and spends time with the type of partner whom he or she prefers (correct temperament, mannerisms, background, etc.), that person is likely to develop fond feelings


 for the partner and find his- or herself with what is plainly labeled by psychologists as (intimate) drive or desire for the other person. This is often coupled with or followed by what is called romantic love. The former is more deeply rooted in biology, but is connected to actions and thoughts, while the latter is something that may occur in such unhealthy ways as a quickly created obsession or, hopefully, grow healthily and naturally over time, as the couple spends time together and relates.

What is missing from this list is a third, well-known and intriguing biobehavioral system called attachment. When a couple initially connects, they may feel passionate feelings or the desire to connect physically, and these feelings can be healthy, proper feelings and lead to a healthy relationships and marriage, but they still are missing the healthy, true bond of attachment that is present in real relationships. This attachment is essential, because after this bond is created, the tone of the romance and desire components of the relationship are dictated by the quality of the relational bond of the couple (!). (All who want to work on themselves and their marriages will have more romance and love- it’s not something you can buy or order up!)

In their comprehensive work on psychological aspects of the family life cycle, McGoldrick, Carter and Garcia-Preto, (2011) discuss this bond, and explain that it is usually created after a year or two of a couple living together, specifically when romantic love wanes to near non-existence. This observation by non-Jewish, clearly anti-(traditional) religious professors is, not coincidentally, the biobehavioral background for what Jews knew centuries ago: that “Shana Rishona” “The first year” that a couple spends together (based on Duet. 24:5) is crucial. Newlyweds spend down-to-earth quality time together during this year, with the husband not traveling or risking his life in war, so that the couple can form a healthy bond (after that, risk away!). This quality time has been demonstrated to be essential to healthy marriages by Dr. John Mordechai Gottman, who has penned his findings in practical advice and digestible content in The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work (Gottman & Silver, 1999).

It is up to the couple to spend quality time together and rid themselves of unhealthy attachments, in order to properly connect.

“Therefore, a man will forsake his father and his mother and attach to his wife, and they will become one flesh.”

(Gen. 2:24)

This sentence, which many of us have heard and read on numerous occasions, has much significance, when understood in the light of Jewish tradition and contemporary psychological theory. As highlighted by the bolded letters, the sentence does not read ‘a man will have left’ ‘ne’ezav’ in the passive, but ‘will forsake’. The sentence is saying it as an imperative for, not a description of, a man to forsake the unhealthy attachments from his youth, in order to actively form the bond with his wife. (More on this in Parashat Lech-Lecha, which will be based on a workshop that I give entitled “Leaving Charan”).

Anyone who is married can attest to the fact that these attachments are what couples deal with for some time, especially at the beginning of marriage (Why do you need your food so badly? Why do you speak with your mother so often, it hurts our relationship? We need the money, why can’t I take this new job and move away from your family? We need to be independent). Also, new attachments are what each spouse picks up on in their partner and naturally rejects (Honey, you just quit smoking but replaced it with drinking caffeine. Is everything ok, since we moved away from your sister, you call me very often, when I am at work?).

The Biblical Roots

There is a very interesting law that a Jewish soldier is allowed to take a women from a non-Jews enemy nation and perform a conversion process on her and marry her (Deut. 21:10-14). During her conversion process, he must have her look disheveled and mourn her former family. After a man marries such a woman, he may he may end up staying married to her, or if he finds himself

“…not desiring her, he can send her ‘self’ [lenafsha] away…”

Scripture heralds that [his] destiny is to hate her.

 (Deut. 21:24, with Rashi)

The Torah and Rashi are explaining that when a man is compelled to send away a woman such as this, that his attachment to her was solely to her appearance. Lenafsha is an extra word here; it means her ‘self’ in a very deep way. It is the same word as soul, and is used to describe life (as in the story of Creation). In conjunction, the Torah did not use a more common word for desire ratza ‘to want something’, but chafetz, which has the connotation more of desiring an object (which is why the noun c’hefetz’ means ‘object’). He is essentially sending away an object that he was attached to, not the woman that she truly is.(1)

This soldier doesn’t really like her inner self, her true essence as a person. This section of the Torah, as has been said, is attempting to drive this woman away from the man, because, for some reason that needs explanation, our sages say that soldiers cannot help but desire these types of women during battle, and the Torah, consequently, made a mechanism to attempt to remove her from his life (Rashi, Talmud Kiddushin). With our understanding of attachment, this mechanism works quite well. It will dissolve this man’s attachment to her, through making her do these mournful actions and removing romantic love and desire; the couple has no real attachment, and, if they do, they will stay married (King David has many such wives, so I cannot fully disparage the idea). The analogy to relationships in life’s everyday interactions is clear. As with Amnon and Tamar, looks alone are not what form a healthy connection; they create but a romantic obsession.

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May we all detach from unhealthy attachments and create healthy attachments with healthy people and constructive concepts.



(1)  Rashi sounds like he is saying that every person who does this will hate the woman. He may mean this quite literally: that anyone who actually succeeds in marrying her totally changed his attachment to the woman, but always ran the risk of hating or did hate her.


McGoldrick, M., Carter, B., and Garcia-Preto, N., (2011). The Family Life Cycle: Individual, Family, and Social Perspectives . Boston: Allyn and Bacon

Gottman, J., Silver, N. (1999). The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. New York: Crown Publishers.

August 1, 2011

Rabbi Danny’s three-part question

Rabbi Danny wrote a three-part question:

(1) Are bad character traits such as the classic anger, jealousy, the desire for physical pleasures, the desire for honor, etc. found more in specific personalities, or are they totally independent?

(2) How does one tell a chesed, aside from process of elimination?

(3) Seeing that approximately half the world are chesed personalities, it would seem to be extremely important to know specifically about the particulars of each secondary middah for cheseds. Which secondary middos make a “later chesed“?

Answer to Part II & III (see Part I below):

(2) The way to tell if someone is a chesed is by (A) checking his or her mannerisms and preferences, and (B), which relates to your third question, is to try and check out their secondary middah (quality).

Someone who has the attribute of chesed will naturally be more mild-mannered and less uptight when dealing with people in their environment, compared to other personalities. Cheseds are more willing to brush off the irritation of external stimuli than are gevurahs, by comparison.

For example, if there is a couple consisting of a chesed-type and gevurah-type that throws a party and the party becomes overly crowded and a somewhat unruly, a common gevurah susceptibility is to become perturbed at the developments, and to attempt to restore order to the event. The gevurah may be tempted to allow his- or herself to become uptight and he or she may end up ruining some of the fun atmosphere of the party.

A typical chesed response, in contrast, would be to be somewhat upset about the developments, but to not attempt to rectify the events fully. They tend to ‘let go’ and not get strongly involved.

Another way to tell if someone is a chesed is that cheseds shy away from accepting people’s big plans as reasonable decisions and feel uncomfortable when urged to buy into others’ elaborate dreams.

In addition, cheseds can be identified as people who feel that they are always searching for something to make themselves unique and special. Because chesed by nature is a middah that has no overbearing characteristics you will often find that the chesed’s secondary middah is his or her most prominent quality. This makes them a ‘later chesed’.

A “later chesed” is someone who has a personality combination that is later in the sequence of the seven chesed personalities. The seven chesed personalities are in a specific order, chesedchesed, chesed-gevurah, chesed-tiferet etc. all the way down to chesed-malchut. The later cheseds are later in this order.

As such, I refer to people who are chesed-chesed as earlier cheseds. I prefer to identify these groups as two distinct subsets of the chesed middah, due to the fact that they each exhibit somewhat different characteristics. (Click here to learn more about some of the differences).

You can ascertain if someone is a later chesed if they do not seem to have any overbearing characteristics in their temperament, but have some of another middah, i.e. a secondary middah, which shows up less than a primary middah. For example, if the person in question dabbles in some artistic area, but he or she does not have the personality of an artist, they may be a chesed-tiferet.

It does seem to be ‘process of elimination’, but when one puts together these basic characteristics, cheseds will be readily discovered.


Answer to Part I:

Dear Rabbi Danny,

Yes, those three ‘primary’ bad character traits do show up in certain personalities more than others.
I cannot answer you fully right now, as it would take multiple pages to bring the full explanation and proofs. However, I am in the process of writing an article/chapter “Chachma, Binah, Da’at: The Building Blocks” that goes through this topic in full detail.

The short if it, though, is mostly straight forward and quite intuitive:
Malchut and gevurah types are very stong-minded, and concerned with self-preservation, so they are quite susceptible to gaavah and ka’as, arrogance/self-righteousness and anger. Netzachs unexpectedly are susceptible to their own version of the same, as they are naturally intelligent, thinking-oriented people and often feel that they are much smarter than others. The self-righteousness and contempt soon follows.

Cheseds (especially chesed-cheseds ‘earlier cheseds’) and Hods are susceptible to tayva the desire for physical pleasure. Later cheseds (i.e. someone who is chesed-X where X is any middah (trait) except for chesed) can become quite cynical. I will explain why this relates to tayva in the aforementioned article.

People with the middot of tiferet and yesod have issues with kina, as kina does not simply mean jealousy, but the use of the faculty of the imagination (this is based on Rashi, Malbim, and Maimonides). In truth, tiferets can be very jealous, but the key trait here is that they are susceptible to focusing on contrived expectations and imagined future events, hoping for unrealistic dreams to come (I discuss this issue and how to deal with it extensively in The Seven Ways). Yesods are, by nature, not jealous whatsoever. However, they continually imagine ‘what could be’ and desire to change, improve, and reach the goals in their imagination.

We are all susceptible to these bad character traits, but certain people are susceptible to some more than others. May we all know our weaknesses in order to improve ourselves.

Take it easy,
Rabbi Bailey