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I get why murder and idol worship are things you have to give your life up for. But why is giluy arayos - sexual sin so fundamental as to require a person to give up one's life? I'm looking for a taamei hamitzvot perspective, not just the formal derivation of the law.

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Devarim 22 : 26 –  Double AA Dec 26 '12 at 17:22
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Are you asking for the technical source or a taamei hamitzvot perspective? –  Double AA Dec 26 '12 at 17:23
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@DoubleAA i realize we can't ever fully understand God's intent, but to the extent that we can make it more understandable i'd like some explanation. –  user2110 Dec 26 '12 at 19:57
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An answer of my own (posted as a comment since I don't have sources for it): When mankind was created it was as a dual person, male and female in one body. God then split them into two. One of the goals of creation is to return mankind to that state, which happens when a husband and wife marry. Giluy arayos perverts that, and essentially perverts the whole purpose of creation. –  Ariel Dec 27 '12 at 1:31
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So, you may ask why is it the man? Kabalistically, and physically, the male is the giver, and the female the receiver. Someone can give to multiple people (like Hashem does all the time), but the receiver can only have one primary source. This is the kabalistic reason why the male can have multiple wives. The practical/physical reason is that with multiple husbands it's impossible to know who the father of the children is. –  Ariel Dec 27 '12 at 3:50
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up vote 4 down vote accepted

R' Hirsch notes that the Big Three are echoed in the laws for the Altar that God gives as an "epilogue" to the Assembly at Sinai in Genesis 20:19-23:

  • Whatever v. 20 comes to prohibit, (according to the Midrash cited by Rashi, various misuses of angelic icons are included) it clearly echoes idol worship.

  • Not making the Altar of cut stones (v. 22) "lest you wield your sword upon it and desecrate it" echoes murder.

  • Not ascending steps to the Altar (v. 23) "so that your nakedness shall not be exposed upon it" echoes immorality (and even uses a form of the term "gilui 'arayot").

He says that the point of these laws is to tell us that the central symbol of our service of God, the Altar, has to represent the fundamentals of our actual service - our adherence to the three fundamental laws. We therefore have to, through the laws given here, "expel the very last trace" of the fundamental sins from the Altar, just as we do so from our actual lives.

He formulates the Big Three as "the culmination of sin against God, of sin against one's fellow man, and of sin against oneself."

So, how does sexual immorality constitute "the culmination of sin against oneself"?

I think R' Hirsch touches on this in many places, but I found it set out pretty clearly in his commentary to Leviticus 18:6, at the beginning of a list of couplings particularly prohibited to Jews:

Immediately when God led the first woman to the first man for their union to be a matter for the exercise of their own moral free will, in contrast to the blind physical urge of animal life, and He erected the pillars of the whole development of the human race, ... in His first proclamation for moral human marriage: - "'על כן יעזב וגו" [that a man must leave his family to marry - IM], ... He indicated that it was not within the narrow circle of blood relationship that the human male is to seek his mate if the morally high purpose of human marriage is to be reached. This is His למינו-Law ["according to its species" i.e. natural law with respect to propagation of species - IM] for the human race, which in the sphere of plant and animal sexes is carried out immutably by the almighty power of His Word at their creation, but which His one creature with moral free will, His Adam, His Man, is to accept from His Mouth to carry it out with his moral free will.

(my bracketed comments where indicated)

To our purpose, I think what he's saying is that sexual morality is the paradigm of human adherence to God's Law through choice. A person who violates this Law turns his back on his mission as a human being, just as an apple tree that somehow decided to produce grapes instead would be turning its back on its mission as an apple tree.

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I am certain that I have not done the task of answering this question based on comments by R' Hirsch justice. I welcome suggestions of alternative/additional of his comments to cite, suggestions of better-expressed interpretations, and edits. –  Isaac Moses Dec 27 '12 at 7:20
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After a careful reading of the Talmudic explanation for this law (in Bavli Sanhedrin 74), it is clear that the "giluy arayos" that is included in the "big 3" is, specifically, rape. This is the context in Devarim 22:26, which says that rape is as bad as murder. When a man rapes a girl, he actually murders her, therefore it is a mitzva to save the girl by killing the raper.

Therefore, if someone tells you "either rape that girl, or I kill you", then it is just like saying "either kill that girl, or I kill you" - in both cases you should be killed and not rape/kill.

(I am aware that in the Yerushalmi the explanation is different... this is a topic for another discussion).

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Interesting, but that's not the Halachah. –  Seth J Oct 23 '13 at 13:31
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