The Washington Post dubbed it "the temptation of Tim Tebow." A certain website that I do not care to name or even to describe what kind of reprehensible service they provide has made news by pulling a clever PR stunt. It all started at a press conference three years ago when Tebow who is now 24 showed that he was secure enough in his beliefs to unflinchingly answer "yes" to a reporter's rather inappropriate question as to whether he was a virgin. Now, the aforementioned website is calling what they think was Tebow's bluff by offering a bounty of $1 million to anyone who can offer proof of having had intimate relations with the football player.
Much of the public reaction to this farce has been sane while some of it has broken along predictable lines of extremism. One the one hand, we have the "eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die" camp who are actually outraged that Tebow isn't using his fame and youth to sow his wild oats, while on the other hand we have certain religious segments who are extolling Tebow's chastity as if it were the end all and be all of religious devotion.
It won't shock anyone that I, as a rabbi, am appalled by the first reaction. But perhaps it will be surprising to some that I am put off by the second reaction too.
As one who obviously endorses refraining from pre-marital relations, I agree that Tebow's openness about his values is a breath of fresh air. But from the reactions of some people, you'd think that being celibate is some lifelong ideal, something holier and better than that "necessary evil" called sexuality.
And this is what bothers me. Since when is abstinence a virtue in and of itself? Why does celibacy have to be the opposite of debauchery when the sanctification of sexuality through marriage is the true and far superior alternative to both? Society acts as if there are two choices, either be a Don Juan or be a monk. But there is nothing inherently meritorious about refraining from physical intimacy. What is good and holy and healthy is for a person to be a sexual being but to do so within the context of marriage.
In other words, if Tebow chooses to wait, that's obviously better than choosing not to wait. But what's far better than both of those choices is marriage. In other words, the waiting itself is not what it's all about. It's what happens after the waiting. I give Tebow the benefit of the doubt that he just hasn't found the right woman to share his life with yet. But until he does, it should be clear to religious folks that his current status is not somehow "holier" than marriage. To the contrary, the holiest thing he -- or any of us can do -- is to be married. Like I mentioned, some people see human sexuality as a necessary evil -- that the ideal is to be removed from such things only that most people are unable to live up to such a standard. The truth, however, is that if there is any "necessary evil" it's the chastity of a young, marriageable adult.
There are traditions where renouncing the pleasures of this world is lauded as a spiritual accomplishment. That's why we find clergymen and clergywomen in certain religions who take vows of celibacy and poverty. It's all part of a worldview that sees separating yourself from the world as inherently holy, as if to say, the life of this world is incompatible with spirituality.
Then there is the exact mirror opposite of asceticism. I am not talking about mindless party animals and vapid frat boys. I am talking about the calculated hedonists and epicureans who have a whole philosophy behind their indulgence. They say that this world is all that there is and ought to be enjoyed as fully as possible without any other considerations.
But both of these worldviews are flawed. The former says that this world is contrary to the purpose of life while the latter says that this world is the purpose of life.
Of course, there is a third option that rises above both. This third option says that the ascetics are not holy for fleeing from physical experiences and the hedonists are not living life fully just because they chase after physical experiences. What this third option says is both holiness and the way to fully live life is to use the things of this world as a bridge between sacred and mundane.
For instance, let's look at money. Having money isn't an obstacle to virtue. It's no mitzvah to give away all of your possessions and become a beggar. On the other hand, having all the money in the word won't give your life purpose either. What then is the proper attitude? It's to say, "If God gives me wealth, then He must trust me to use it for things that make this world a better place."
If you believe you have a soul and that your soul came from some lofty place, then ask yourself why this spiritual entity that is your soul had to leave its spiritual home and be plunged into a physical body in a physical world? The answer that the teachers of Chasidism give is that this descent is for the sake of a greater ascent. The soul in heaven can only have a theoretical relationship with God. It has no practical way of expressing its love or awe of its Maker. The soul in the body, however, can do what the pre-embodied soul can never do. It can take things that can be used for gratification of self and turn them into things that gratify the will of God. The sages say (Pirkei Avot), "Everything that God created in His world, He did not create but for His glory." That means that everything in this world has the potential to be used in a way that gives glory to its Maker. The flip side of that same coin is that everything can also be misappropriated for selfish uses. The purpose of life in this world is to take those things that would otherwise be used selfishly and use them for God. So, to return to our example with money. Money can be used to indulge your ego or as a way to spread goodness in this world. And that is something that the soul in heaven could never do.
And you know something else that the soul in heaven can't do? It may sound like a no-brainer but I'll say it anyway. Souls in heaven cannot experience physical intimacy. One of the reasons that the soul came down to this world is just to have this experience and to sanctify it. And you know what sometimes happens when souls come down to earth into bodies and experience physical intimacy? It causes more souls to get brought down into this world. (I'm assuming we all know how babies are made.) Indeed, the greatest testimony that any person can give to the fact that this world has value is to become a parent and to draw more souls to this world.
Furthermore, human sexuality is not just about reproduction. It's about bonding with your spouse. Indeed, even when no children result from a marriage, that marriage is still a holy union. It's an expression of learning how to live with another person and to become loving and tolerant.
So, abstinence is not really holy. Abstinence is waiting to do what's truly holy. And that is to be a sexual being within the context of a committed marriage.
May God bless you, Tim, and send you your soulmate in the right time.
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