גַם יִתְרוֹ הָיָה גֵּר, וְהַגֵּרִים בָּאִים מִקְּדֻשַּׁת הַזִּוּוּג שֶׁל הַצַּדִּיקִים, כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב (בראשית יב): וְאֶת הַנֶּפֶשׁ אֲשֶׁר עָשׂוּ בְחָרָן, וְאִיתָא (בזוהר שלח לך דף קסח): שֶׁאַבְרָהָם וְשָׂרָה בְּעֵת שֶׁהָיוּ עֲקָרִים הוֹלִידוּ מִזִּוּוּגָם נַפְשׁוֹת הַגֵּרִים . וְעַל־כֵּן יִתְרוֹ שֶׁהָיָה גֵּר, שֶׁהוּא בָּא מִקְּדֻשַּׁת הַזִּוּוּג שֶׁל צַדִּיקִים, עַל־כֵּן הוּא יוֹדֵעַ גֹּדֶל יְקָר קְדֻשַּׁת הַצַּדִּיקִים, שֶׁלְּגֹדֶל קְדֻשָּׁתָם נַעֲשֶׂה מִזִּוּוּגָם נַפְשׁוֹת הַגֵּרִים, מִכָּל־שֶׁכֵּן קְדֻשַּׁת פְּרִישׁוּתָם, וְעַל־כֵּן הוּא יוֹדֵעַ, שֶׁלְּגֹדֶל קְדֻשַּׁת וּפְרִישׁוּת מֹשֶׁה הוּא יָכוֹל לַחֲזוֹת בָּעָם, וְעַל־יְדֵי רְאִיָּתוֹ לְבַד יִתֵּן לָהֶם הַגְּדֻלָּה כַּנַּ"ל.
Moreover, Yitro was a convert. Converts come from the sanctified marital relations of the tzaddikim, as it is written (Genesis 12:5), “and the souls which they made in Charan.” And it is brought (Zohar III, 168a) : During the time that Avraham and Sarah were barren, their marital relations bore the souls of converts. Therefore, Yitro, who was a convert and so came from the sanctity of the marital relations of tzaddikim, knew the great value of their holiness—that by virtue of their great holiness their marital relations produce the souls of converts, [and] all the more so the holiness of their abstinence. He therefore knew that by virtue of Moshe’s great holiness and abstinence he was able to gaze at the people and, through his gazing alone, give them the greatness, as mentioned above.
What does Rebbe Nachman believe about the intrinsic power of sex, as in the example of Avraham and Sarah who were barren despite their relations. What does he believe about abstinence (or in our case, the time during niddah)?
How should one conduct themselves during sex?
Iggeret Hakodesh (13th c.) (Ramban)
When you and your wife are engaged in sexual union do not behave lightheartedly and regard this act as vain, idle, improper. Therefore, first introduce her into the mood with gentle words that excite her emotion, appease her mind and delight her with joy. Thus you unite your mind and intention with hers. Say to her words which in part arouse in her passion, closeness, love, will, and erotic desire, and in part evoke in her reverence for God, piety and modesty...Never impose yourself upon her nor force her.
For any sexual union without an abundance of passion, love and will, is without the Divine Presence. Do not quarrel with her nor act violently whenever coitus is involved. The Talmud says, "A lion ravishes and then eats and has no shame. So acts the brute: He hits and then cohabits and has no shame." Rather, court and attract her to you first with gracious and seductive, as well as refined and gentle words, so that both your intentions be for the sake of God...Do not hurry in arousing passion. Prolong till she is ready and in a passionate mood. Approach her lovingly and passionately, so that she reaches her orgasm first.
רב כהנא על גנא תותיה פורייה דרב שמעיה דשח ושחק ועשה צרכיו אמר ליה דמי פומיה דאבא כדלא שריף תבשילא אמר לו כהנא הכא את פוק דלאו ארח ארעא אמר לו תורה היא וללמוד אני צריך
“When in the course of cohabitation [the husbands] will hold your pearl in one and the kiln in one hand. You, however, should offer them the pearl, but the kiln you should not offer them until they are tormented, and only then should you offer it to them." - Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 140b
Here is how Rashi explains it. “When your husband caresses you to arouse your desire for intercourse and holds the breasts with one hand and “that place” with the other give the breasts [at first] to increase his passion and do not give him the place of intercourse too soon until his passion increases and he is in pain with desire.” [Rashi to Shabbat 140b].
These sources seems to encourage foreplay and the prolonging of intimacy beyond the purpose of procreation. Why do you think the Iggeret Hakodesh and sources of the Talmud take this position?
How does the Torah approach nudity during sex?
"Neither sexual organs nor sexual intercourse are obscene, for how could God create something that contains an obscenity? God created man and woman, and all their organs and functions, with nothing obscene in them. We believe that God created nothing containing either ugliness or obscenity (Iggeret Hakodesh).
תני רב יוסף שארה זו קרוב בשר שלא ינהג בה מנהג פרסיים שמשמשין מטותיהן בלבושיהן מסייע ליה לרב הונא דאמר רב הונא האומר אי אפשי אלא אני בבגדי והיא בבגדה יוציא ונותן כתובה:
Rav Yosef taught the following baraita: “She’era,” this is referring to closeness of flesh during intercourse, which teaches that he should not treat her in the manner of Persians, who have conjugal relations in their clothes. The Gemara comments: This baraita supports the opinion of Rav Huna, as Rav Huna said: With regard to one who says: I do not want to have intercourse with my wife unless I am in my clothes and she is in her clothes, he must divorce his wife and give her the payment for her marriage contract. This is in keeping with the opinion of the tanna of the baraita that the Torah mandates the intimacy of flesh during sexual relations.
How do we understand the drive for sex in the context of our spiritual avodah?
"Sexual intercourse is an action that is important, good and valuable to the soul also, and there is no act of flesh and blood that compares with it – if it is done with pure intention and a pure, clean mind, then it is called holy" (Sefer Mor v’Ketziyah).
"Instead of presenting the sexual system as horizontal in character, he [Ramban] presents it as vertical, with the Shekhinah and the higher worlds connected to reality through the union of husband and wife. Thus not only is the Shekhinah a partner in the union, but the goal of the sexual act itself becomes to draw spiritual abundance and blessing down from the higher world" (Roi).
רַבִּי נַחְמָן בַּר שְׁמוּאֵל בַּר נַחְמָן בְּשֵׁם רַב שְׁמוּאֵל בַּר נַחְמָן אָמַר, הִנֵּה טוֹב מְאֹד, זֶה יֵצֶר טוֹב. וְהִנֵּה טוֹב מְאֹד, זֶה יֵצֶר רָע. וְכִי יֵצֶר הָרָע טוֹב מְאֹד, אֶתְמְהָא. אֶלָּא שֶׁאִלּוּלֵי יֵצֶר הָרָע לֹא בָּנָה אָדָם בַּיִת, וְלֹא נָשָׂא אִשָּׁה, וְלֹא הוֹלִיד, וְלֹא נָשָׂא וְנָתַן. וְכֵן שְׁלֹמֹה אוֹמֵר (קהלת ד, ד): כִּי הִיא קִנְאַת אִישׁ מֵרֵעֵהוּ.
"Yet the Kabbalah [Judaic mystical teaching] does address a transcendent potential in sexual union not unlike that described in Eastern tantric traditions. Not only should God be present in lovemaking, but sexual union itself is seen as a vehicle for transcendence, where the union of husband and wife symbolizes the kabbalistic goal of yichud—cosmic merging. I was intrigued to find that a body of law so precise in its code of ethical conduct also contains a teaching on the dissolution of separate existence and the realization of absolute unity" (Edelstein).
Sex as spiritual practice may be a Jewish concept less known to many yet revolutionary in its approach to the schism between the physical and spiritual worlds. It is a high level that may take years of communication, intimacy, and experimentation to master yet it seems to be attainable.
Not only that, but if we refer back to the first source of Rebbe Nachman commenting on the souls created by Avraham and Sarah - we understand that sex is not only a purely spiritual practice but rather a deeply physical experience that allows us to elevate and create (spiritually) whether the act produces a child or not.