Mishlei: Fantasy & Desire
“To deliver you from the strange woman, even from the alien woman that makes smooth her words; That forsakes the lord of her youth, and forgets the covenant of her God. For her house sinks down unto death, and her paths onto the shades; None that go to her return,
neither do they attain the paths of life; That you may walk in the way of good men, and keep the paths of the righteous. For the upright shall dwell in the land, and the whole-hearted shall remain in it. But the wicked shall be cut off from the land, and the faithless shall be plucked up out of it.” (Proverbs 2:15-22)
The Vilna Gaon explains that at this point of Solomon’s Course of Wisdom the student will have the clarity to discern between his fantasies and desires, especially those that make his acquired wisdom vulnerable to the Evil Inclination.
(He also explains that the Evil Inclination has both a male and female aspect; anger being the male aspect, and desire to acquire and receive as the female aspect. This is why the verse speaks of the “strange” and “alien” woman.)
The Gra defines “desire” as something which will provide immediate physical pleasure. “Fantasy,” is to covet something which gives no physical pleasure. When a person is controlled by his desires he is focused on immediate pleasure, which will also influence his wisdom and study: His learning will only affect him on the surface, but he will not be able to internalize his wisdom. He will only enjoy the immediate pleasure of his learning, and will be unable to allow his wisdom to transform him or elevate his soul.
The “alien woman” is absolutely forbidden. His desire is purely physical, and is permanently and absolutely removed from true wisdom. The “strange woman” is a woman who at one time was permitted, she is Jewish, and may be permitted again at one point if she is divorced or widowed. A relationship with her is not absolutely forbidden because she was once permitted, before she was married. The “strange woman” represents forbidden desires that have some reality, that are not purely physical. These are desires for more, for things that do not provide immediate pleasure: In the negative form, desires for more honor, wealth, clothes etc. This person has a sense of “more,” ill-defined, a drive without direction. It has a positive form in the desire for more, to expand and grow, however, the danger is in its lack of definition, of undirected desire or fantasy.
The seeker of wisdom must be driven by “more;” a sense that there is always more to his wisdom. He must always study with an awareness that he can constantly access his wisdom on increasingly higher levels, but beware of the dangers of such desire if not directed.
One who is aware of his desires, who discerns the difference between immediate desire and fantasy, and carefully observes his wisdom for both, will “walk in the way of good men, and keep the paths of the righteous. For the upright shall dwell in the land, and the whole-hearted shall remain in it.”
One who denies the role that desire and fantasy play in acquiring wisdom will be vulnerable to both, and “shall be cut off from the land, and the faithless shall be plucked up out of it.”