How to View Women
In response to the article called "Sister-In-Laws", a member sent in the following:
Thank you for a wonderful publication that is a lifeline for so many. I wanted to comment on the issue of how best to deal with an attractive sister-in-law, and in particular to the P.S. at the end of the reply. The writer points out two true facts; that the sister-in-law only looks put together in front of him, and that she will probably become overweight and unattractive in a number of years. Although I think that both of these things are true, I feel that the slant of those comments are not in line with Torah values, and foster an unhealthy mindset towards women in general. Allow me to explain.
Women are beautiful, and are one of the many gifts that Hashem gave to mankind in this world. A close friend of mine told me that there is a gemara that recounts that Raban Gamliel accidentaly bumped into a woman, and he exclaimed "How wonderous are your creations Hashem!". Chazal is replete with examples of how we are supposed to use the world and everything in it to serve Hashem. The Mesillas Yesharim in the first perek says, and I paraphrase here," anyone can see that the world is intended for mankinds' use." He explains that when a person uses the world "only as an aid to serve Hashem, "He is uplifted, and the world is uplifted with him". Women are part of this equation, a part of this beautiful world that we are intended to use as a means to serve Hashem. According to Rabbi Eliezer, a Nazir is called a chotei (sinner) because the world was created for mankind to enjoy, not to abstain from, except in a situation where the Torah commands us to abstain.
If someone finds himself desiring his sister-in-laws beauty, he should thank Hashem that he is a healthy male and do everything in his power to be misgaber. This can hopefully be accomplished without focusing on the fact that her hair is messy, her breath smelly, and that in the future she will become overweight and unnattractive.
To conclude, I feel that the issue can be approached in a much healthier way. She is beautiful. Accept that it is healthy and normal for you to desire her, and be kind to yourself in this difficult struggle. If you lose a battle and look at her in the wrong way, win the war, and realize that this is once again normal. There is no need to rewrite the script and make a beautiful woman ugly. She is part of Hashems' plan, and is placed here as an opportunity for us to draw closer to Him. Discard the guilt, embrace yourself, and keep on trying.
Yaakov from GYE Responds:
Your argument is beautifully written and very convincing! But I believe that an important distinction needs to be made. Chazal indeed say the things that you quoted. And they also say one should be mechabed his wife more than his own body. Yet, there's another important chazal (Shabbos 152a): "A woman is a barrel of excrement and her "mouth" is full of blood and yet all run after her". Isn't that degrading to women? Should we be encouraged to look at them like that, chas veshalom?
I believe the answer is very simple. When it comes to praising Hashem for the beauty in his world, for having made our existence pleasant by making food tasty and making us attracted to women so we populate the Earth, and when it comes to treating women--and especially our wives--like human beings and being kind to them, then we should apply all the chazals you quoted and indeed honor her "more than your own body". However, when it comes to the Yetzer Hara attacking our minds with inappropriate lusting, we are encouraged by chazal to imagine them as barrels full of excrement and blood! We can--and should--picture them in our minds as getting old, overweight, worn, bad breath, etc. We should even picture them in our minds as rotting corpses if necessary! (See Rabbi Shafier's video called "Using Powerful Techniques").
We must use the very power of "dimyon" that the Yetzer Hara uses to make us "imagine" we could have them, to "imagine" them in the worst ways possible.
This is a delicate balance, and one that people easily confuse. You will find some "ultra-frum" people who look away from women and treat them like dirt because they are trying to be big tzadikim. This is a perversion of what Hashem wants. Yet, when it comes to our own tricky Yetzer Hara who makes us think of our sister-in-laws or other married women - even in middle of davening on Yom Kippur (!) then yes, we need to imagine her skin being ripped off of her body and think about what she really looks like just one inch below her skin -- anything! -- to banish the evil thoughts.