This week’s portion presents an interesting combination of themes: the service in the Temple on the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur, and the laws of sexual immorality. The simple lesson here is that the foundation of being a holy person is the control of one’s desires. Unlike some other religions, Judaism is not afraid of “desires.” They are not evil. They are a healthy part of human life and the sexual drive in particular is actually a prerequisite for human existence.
But if a person does not consciously control his desires, they will run away with him. And as pleasurable and as meaningful an experience as the sexual act can be, sexual immorality can be sick, destructive and take over a person’s life.
The same is true of all desires. Control your eating and you will be healthy, strong and slim. Let your desires loose and they will make you overweight, undermine your health and self-esteem, and maybe even kill you. Sleep a necessary amount and you will feel strong and energized. Allow your desire for sleep to take control and you will waste massive amounts of time and be lethargic even when you are awake. Allow limited but meaningful expression of your desire for money and it will drive your success. Let it rule the roost and it will make you uncaring, selfish and compromise all of your values.
Desires need controlling – only eat certain foods, says the Torah. Leave some food over on your plate as a discipline, say the Sages. Don’t have sex outside of a relationship of full commitment and even then, only have sex at certain times of the month. Get to bed early and get up early. Learn to be satisfied with a simple existence so that money is put into perspective.
Torah is full of laws that are designed, at least in part, to set boundaries for our desires. The purpose of it all? The person who directs his desires can lift into holiness. The person who does not, will ultimately be led to a life of immorality.
The choice presented in this Torah portion is stark: the inherent self-control and holiness of Yom Kippur, or the immorality of the illicit sexual relationships. There is no in-between. At any moment, you are either moving toward one … or toward the other.