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No man may approach his close relative to reveal her (erva) nakedness… (18:8)
With these words, the Parasha opens with a list of forbidden sexual relationships.
The Torah describes all these relationships as erva - literally translated as 'nakedness'. And transgressions in this area come under the heading of gilui arayot - 'revealing the nakedness'.
Elsewhere, the word erva is used in different contexts:
When Jacob's sons appeared before the Viceroy of Egypt, he accused them of being spies, and that they had 'come to see the erva of the land' (Gen. 42:9). Onkelos renders that word to mean 'the weakness' of the land - by which means it may be penetrated.
And in the very different setting of divorce:
'When a man has taken a wife, and married her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes, because he has found something erva in her; then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house.' (Deut. 24:1)
The meaning of the word erva is understood by the School of Hillel to mean something lacking, something that had not been obvious at the time of marriage.
Thus the word erva may be translated as 'weakness'. And gilui arayot could be translated as 'revealing a person's weakness' or even 'taking advantage of a person's weakness. That includes a man coming to sleep with woman through his taking advantage of his capacity to obtain her consent through momentary weakness of desire - something she will deeply regret the next morning. As the following tradition about Bruriah, the wife of R. Meir illustrates:
Bruriah was very involved in the Halachic discussions of her time, and even challenges her father on a matter of ritual purity (Tosefta Keilim Bava Kamma 4:9). In another instance, Rabbi Joshua praises her intervention in a debate between R. Tarfon and the sages, saying "Bruriah has spoken correctly" (Tosefta Keilim Bava Metzia 1:3).
She was also renowned for her sharp wit and often caustic comments. The Talmud (Eruvin 53b) relates that she once chastised Rabbi Jose, when he asked her 'Which way to Lod?' claiming that he could have said the same thing in two words, 'Where's Lod?' instead of four, and thereby keep to the Talmudic injunction not to speak to women unnecessarily.
However Rashi (to Avodah Zarah, 18b) brings the tradition on how she died. She challenged a Talmudic assertion that 'women are lightheaded' (Kiddushin 80b). In order to make his point, Rabbi Meir sent one of his students to seduce her. Despite her initial resistance, he persisted and eventually got where he planned to get to, and afterwards Bruriah took her life (by strangling, according to Rashi) out of shame. And Rabbi Meir, who never expected things to spiral out of control in this way, imposed exile on himself and left Palestine for Babylonia.
This, then is the meaning of gilui arayot. It is human nature to feel the overwhelming desire of passion. But the Torah forbids a person to take advantage of the temporary weakness of another…
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: email@example.com for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
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Also by Jacob Solomon:
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