At the end of the last essay, I discussed—and attempted to describe—what I believe to be a Divine encounter, an encounter I see as an absolute reality. I commented that prayer possesses a similarity with marital intercourse. I would like to elaborate on this point.
Lately, I “experience” God more and more when I pray on my own. This is because, when we are alone, we can “dwell on a single word,” concentrate on only one line in the prayer book and “meditate.”
This type of prayer opens a new world where one is taken out of the present and encounters another realm.
It is most revealing that in Chassidic writings the experience of prayer is compared to the sexual act—a moment of ecstasy that cannot be described. This act is an encounter with God emanating from the meeting of two people, each representing God to the other. This act is a moment when one surpasses the limitations of the body by means of the body. It is a holy encounter with the Other, i.e. with God and also with one’s marital partner.
In two most remarkable—and for some people, perhaps shocking—statements, we find:
This is from the Baal Shem Tov, may his memory be for a blessing: “From my own flesh, I behold God” (Iyov 19:26). Just as no child can be born as a result of physical copulation, unless this is performed with a vitalized organ and with joy and desire, so is it with spiritual copulation, that is the study of the Torah and prayer. When it is performed with a (spiritual) vitalized organ and with joy and delight then does it give birth (Keter Shem tov, reprinted in Jerusalem, 1968).
Prayer is copulation with the Shechina (God’s indwelling). Just as there is swaying when copulation begins, so too, a man must sway at first [“shockling” in Yiddish], and then he can remain immobile and attached to the Shechina with great attachment (in prayer). As a result of his swaying man is able to attain a powerful stage of (spiritual) arousal. For he will ask himself: “Why do I sway my body? Presumably it is because the Shechina stands over against me.” And as a result he will attain a level of great enthusiasm. (Tzava’at Ha-Ribash, Jerusalem, p.7b; Likutei Yekarim, Lemberg, 1865, p. 1b; Sefer Baal Shem Tov, Satmar, 1943, vol. 1, p. 145, note 65).(1)
At first glance, these observations seem to be obscene. However, they are great examples of how Judaism raises a physical act to the heights of a religious experience, and consequently to the world of genuine prayer. The latter should be as intensive as the marital act, which clearly is to take place under the conditions that Judaism demands from husband and wife, thereby turning the act into a prayer attained with one’s body. Thus, as reported in the name of the Baal Shem Tov, both experiences can and must be done with joy.
This should not surprise us. Even the austere philosopher and halachic authority Maimonides uses erotic imagery to interpret Shir HaShirim, the Song of Songs, as a dialogue between God and the human soul. (See Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Teshuva, 10:3.) See also Rabbi Akiva’s famous teaching that Shir HaShirim should be deemed “Holy of Holies” (Yadayim 3:5, Eduyot 5:3).
This is the reason why it is preferable for the sexual act between the male and female to take place in absolute holiness. Just like the religious experience of prayer must take place between man and God in absolute holiness. In absolute joy!
This has become an immense problem for “modern man.” When seed is “wasted” outside the framework of the bond between husband and wife, Judaism sees it as a false religious experience, for it lacks the Other.
To the extent we adopt “secularity” as the framework in which we live, feel and think, so our religious experience loses authenticity. It also becomes egocentric. It is false, and yet the experience as such still belongs to the world of the sacred; however, it has been violated.
In modern times, “religion” has failed to rouse man to remain authentic and to maintain a strong inner life. Instead, religion has become overly dedicated to the external, physical life of man, and therefore cannot maintain its sanctity in all spheres of human life. Religion confined God to synagogues and other houses of worship where liturgy and symbols became the dominating factors, and consequently, God was exiled.
There is nearly no way back; “wasting seed” is almost without remedy. To prevent the wasting of seed requires a kind of discipline that can only be achieved when one lives in a world where God, “Das ding an sich” (“the thing-in-itself”) stands at the center of one’s life.
The failure of religion to live up to this challenge has brought halachic authorities to confront a reality where they have to deal with something that has escaped the world of religion. It cannot be contained by religion or Jewish law, and so, religious authorities wriggle to find a solution, not realizing that their efforts are almost always in vain. All their well-intended efforts to try to get young people to restrain themselves from wasting seed are probably doomed to fail. Organizing massive summits to encourage youths not to visit certain websites will not work and may even be counter-productive.
After all, the naked human body is a reflection of God’s “splendor” and therefore we are drawn to it. Nobody is able to explain this “beauty.” For what is objectively beautiful about a female or male body? We are clearly conditioned with these feelings from the moment we are born. No doubt an extraterrestrial being would not see anything beautiful in the human body, it may indeed appear to them as unattractive and even ugly.
The fact that for a human being the human body is so attractive and striking is ineffable. Its beauty is beyond comprehension just as God’s “splendor” is. However, when the beauty of the body is used for the wrong reasons it becomes vulgar, and the inner Divine beauty is exposed and violated.
 See also Hassidic Prayer, Louis Jacobs, The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, Schocken Books, NY, 1973, Chapter 9.
 The root of this prohibition is altogether mysterious. It is derived from the event of Onan who spilled his seed by way of “coitus interruptus” so as to prevent offspring. Consequently, God punished him and he died (See Bereshit 38). In other words, it was not the spilling of seed itself which led to his death, rather it was the deliberate intention to prevent the conception of human life. How this has led to a general prohibition, far beyond the act of Onan, is a matter with which many commentators struggle. It is in kabbalistic sources that this prohibition took on a life of its own and became a major transgression; not all halachic authorities consent. Some believe it is only a rabbinical prohibition expressing an intuitive feeling that it is the wasting of something that could create human life and now does not bring about an encounter with the Other, as explained above, that is the problem.