Bruce Lokeinsky
Keri HaRishon, p.2
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Confused, I stood up and walked out of bed, forgetting to wash neggel vasser. To me, the dream was a deafening explosion -- did anyone in the room know what had happened? If they were lying awake, could they have heard? What do I do now? It was about 3am, and I decided to go down to the mikva to toivel. Quietly, so as not to wake any of the others, I walked across the room, opened my closet, put on my robe, and took out a clean pair of briefs and a towel. I stuck the briefs inside my robe. My head was still pounding. What happens if some one sees me going down to the mikva? Sometimes bochurim did all sorts of weird things at late hours.

As it turned out, no one was around. I walked downstairs, across the gym floor to the mikva door. Locked. Now I really felt bad. I had to stay this way until morning. Exhausted, I went back to my room and collapsed in my bed.

* * *

I woke up very late, well past the time for going to morning Chassidus shiur. I had changed my briefs before going back to bed, and my pajama pants had dried up with a clear stain around the crotch. I put on my robe on and went down to the mikva. I carefully undressed facing a corner of the dressing area and folded my pajamas so no one could see the stain. I showered, and with great relief, immersed myself in the hot clean water of the mikva. I davened that morning, crying inside with the feeling of a lost child, not with the returning home in thanksgiving sobs of joy that I had affected before, but with a shell­shocked emptiness of emotion.

After davening, I told Rabbi Wilner that I needed to speak to him privately. He told me to come to his office during lunch. Hours later, I made a timid and respectful entry. Rabbi Wilner was smoking a pipe, and not wearing his hat, which made him look a bit like a Borough Park grocer. I was surprised to see him smoking a pipe -- Wasn't a Jew supposed to guard his health? He laid his pipe down, and with wet tobacco spittle spraying off his lips said in that warm, encouraging voice of his, "Boruch, my dear Boruch, how can I help you?" Crying, I told him what had happened -- but I didn't tell him about the dream, about the Rebbe. Right away he asked me if I had gone to the mikva. I said of course, and cried in shame, as if all that I had done in the past month was in vain. He said not to worry about it. Don't think about it. If you think about it, it makes it worse.

I left slightly consoled but still wondering, how could I not think about something like that, a grave sin, and all wrapped up in that dream? On the way back to the beis medrash, I remembered that the Baal Shem Tov smoked a pipe, and it became a custom for some Chassidim to do so as well.

Before coming to Yeshiva, I had only gotten nocturnal emissions a couple of times in my life. Once you start masturbating regularly, which I did with the Swedish erotica discovered in my father's dresser drawer, wet dreams just don't occur. But when I had them as a kid, a virgin, thirteen or fourteen years old, the main feeling I remember accompanying them was neither shame nor horror, but disappointment: I thought in the dream that I was finally going to feel what intercourse was like but I always woke up just in time to remember that what had seemed to be a vagina was actually smooth, unbroken skin, upon which I ejaculated in a frustratingly mild orgasm.

In Chapter 7 of the Tanya, we learned that the difference between a keri and incest, was that with incest you couldn't raise the life­force of the seed from the kelipot even with a proper tshuvah, because in the case of incest the vitality has been absorbed by the yesod d'nukvah, the aspect of the feminine which has the power to create. Not so with wasteful emission of semen, where there is obviously no female element of kelipah, and only the masculine powers. So maybe that's why Rabbi Wilner said not to worry about this sin; I could do tshuvah for it, make it somehow alright. Still, though, there had to be some reason why I was responsible for it -- otherwise how could it have been a sin in the first place? Surely you couldn't be held responsible for something over which you had no control. So what had I done?

I remembered reading in the Kitzur Shulchan Oruch, before I came up to the Yeshiva, the chapter entitled "The Crime of Causing the Effusion of Semen in Vain; and Remedies for Those Who were caught in this Trap." I didn't pay much attention to it then, but now I looked at it again. First the chapter discussed the gravity of the sin, especially when it is done intentionally, with the biblical reference to Er and Onan, and claimed it to be a graver sin than any explicitly said in the Torah: "the sin of wasteful emission of semen is not mentioned in the Torah among the list of forbidden coitions, although it is even more heinous than they." Why is it worse? Because, the Kitzur said, of the great impurity associated with it. Next, the book discussed the prohibition on willingly bringing oneself to an erection, warning that a man shouldn't sleep on his back with his face upward, or sleep with his face downward, but should sleep either on the left or the right side, in order not to come to an erection. Maybe that was what I had done wrong: I was lying on my back when this happened.

Or maybe it was what I'd eaten. The Kitzur discussed what a person should eat at supper -­ not to eat or drink excessively (hadn't been doing that), and not to eat anything which 'warms up the body,' such as fat meats, fatty food, cheese, eggs and garlic. Another connection: the yeshiva served salami sandwiches that night for dinner. I remembered enjoying the salami with a good Jewish appetite. So I'll have to avoid that at dinner. But wait a minute, I thought, what was the yeshiva doing serving this to bochurim? Surely they knew that this sort of dinner might cause such a problem, after all, I had made the connection pretty quickly. So why, with years of experience would they serve such food for supper? I was puzzled.

The Kitzur continued with one what should to do to avoid this sin; that one "should guard his mouth against obscene talk, lies, gossip, slander, scoffing and should likewise guard his ear against hearing such things." Which of these might I have been doing? All of them in some way or another, some more than others. I didn't curse much, at least not in Yeshiva, and had nothing to lie about -- I just didn't tell people specifics about my past. Gossip and slander I didn't have much do with, except for listening. Coming into an new environment, you try to catch up and get socialized with the more experience baal­tshuvahs. Naturally this involved talking with them, and none of them being perfect, of course I picked up some gossip and slander. How could you not? I couldn't just crawl into a hole and live by myself. I may have been guilty of scoffing, or at least judgment: as with Rabbi Wilner's pipe, I would often judge transgressions, real or imagined, harshly, with thoughts like "How could he?" or "What a hypocrite" or "These guys don't know anything about being spiritual." So maybe I was guilty after all. But, like Rabbi Wilner, the Kitzur also said "not to worry too much." But how could you not worry about a sin more heinous than any other in the Torah?

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Top image: Sheryl Light & Thomas Slattery, Eight
Lower image: Sheryl Light & Thomas Slattery, Flame

October 2005

Keri HaRishon
Bruce Lokeinsky

Happy Jew Year
Haya Pomrenze

Ochila La'Eil
Hayes Biggs

The Wooden Synagogues of Lithuania
Joyce Ellen Weinstein

Fetishizing the Trigger
Jay Michaelson

The Goats of War
Jennifer Blowdryer

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From previous issues:

Strasbourg Cathedral
Michael Shurkin

Patrolling the Boundaries of Truth
Joel Stanley

Am I Religious?
Jay Michaelson