In recent days and weeks, the media have been inundated with accusations, evidence, trials and sentencing all revolving around various acts of abuse. Whether the perpetrator is a religious figure, rock star or other powerful person, in all such cases we are saddened and horrified for the innocent victims who have been attacked.

Depending on the society, certain behavior, actions and relationships are considered appropriate, while others are not. Once a society determines that something is abusive or debasing, it then is considered morally, if not also legally, wrong. Yet right and wrong are then subjective rulings, based solely on what others deem correct or incorrect at any given time.

Historically, and continuing through the present, it is shocking how the same actions can sway from one end of the spectrum where they are cherished, to the other, where they are seen as horrific and destructive.

Most people would agree that a brother should never be allowed to marry a sister. Because our society has deemed such a relationship perverse, we do not challenge that it should not be allowed. But what if our society didn't have a problem with it? What if it was socially acceptable to marry a sibling, as was the case in the Egypt of the Pharaohs? In that case would it suddenly be ok?

In Greek times, it was not only acceptable but encouraged for older men to have relations with young, prepubescent boys. This was not seen as abuse. This was seen as a normal way for men and boys to interact.

Until recently when certain laws were created to protect women, there was no such thing as a man being guilty of raping his wife. Since the two were legally married, the government assumed that it was the husband's right to have relations with his wife, even if she did not acquiesce.

Yet the Torah has a very clearly defined description as to which relationships are allowed, and which are forbidden. In some of these cases it may even be hard to understand at first glance. Why is one act an act of love whereas another is an abomination? Our problem usually stems from the fact that we are forcing our opinions and definitions of right vs. wrong, morality vs. immorality, on the Torah. Yet the Torah is not reducible to our changing ideas. The Torah's definitions do not shift according to what is socially acceptable.

For example, amongst other prohibitions, the Torah teaches that a man cannot marry certain close blood relatives, the ex-wives of certain close blood relatives, a woman who has not been validly divorced from her previous husband, the daughter or granddaughter of his ex-wife, or the sister of his ex-wife during the ex-wife's life time.

These relationships are not forbidden because they are deemed unnatural. In today's society, many like to argue that if something is natural, if it is an innate desire, then it should be allowed. The Torah never denies that one may have a tendency or desire towards something that is forbidden. If anything, the very opposite is the case: the reason there is a prohibition is because Torah acknowledges that some people may have a natural desire for such an action, but because it is wrong and destructive, there is a law prohibiting it.

The Torah is extremely sensitive to all contact and interaction between the sexes. There are numerous laws forbidding situations where a man and woman would be alone together, and this also applies to adults with children, when it is not of a parent and child. Furthermore, there is no allowance for touch of any kind between an unmarried man and woman or man and girl, woman and boy.

To many, these laws appear extreme, over-reactive and unnecessary. How can it be that a little first grader can't hug her father's best friend, or that two adult co-workers of the opposite sex can't work alone in the office to finish an important project?

And yet, when we read the news these days, how many of the terrible tragedies would not have been able to occur if someone else had been around? How many little girls and boys have been terrorized by abusing adults who were trusted by others? How often do we hear of "date-rape" and other such attacks where a woman was alone with someone she knew and didn't fear?

These laws are two-fold. They exist to protect us from others and to protect us from ourselves. They exist because Torah knows touch, physicality and closeness to be arousing. Torah knows sexuality to be incredibly powerful. Torah does not see these truths as negative, but as intrinsically positive forces. Torah wants us to want to bond and connect with another intimately. But Torah wants to ensure that there is both an active giver and an active receiver. Torah wants to ensure that both partners are committed in a marriage relationship where their physical intimacy is paralleling their spiritual and emotional bond, and that through their love they will create an everlasting embodiment of their love and their relationship.

Our first commandment in the Torah is to be fruitful and multiply. Our very first mitzvah is about having physical relations. And yet, because of its capability to be so holy, it has the ability to be the most unholy act as well. Procreation is a human being's closest way of emulating our Creator. Just as He created the world, so too, when we have children, on a microcosmic level, we too create.

We are taught that one of the unique characteristics which differentiate a human from an animal is our ability to have deah v'dibur, knowledge and speech. And Torah refers to marital relations as "knowledge" ("And Adam knew his wife Chavah"--Genesis 4:1). Relations is understood as the ability to take the deepest and most essential aspect of oneself, and convey it to another in order to create a new reality and physical representation of the love of the couple. We are taught that every time a man and woman have relations in the context of a divinely-sanctioned marriage, souls are created through their intimacy. Sometimes those souls come into physical bodies, other times they remain spiritual, but every intimate union creates souls.

Because of the power of sexuality, even within the context of a marriage there are circumstances where the couple is forbidden from being together physically. In addition to the times where a couple is separated because of the laws of family purity, there are three other times when Torah law says that a couple may not be together: 1) if either partner is drunk, 2) if the couple have decided to divorce, 3) if either person is thinking about someone else. These three restrictions show us that in order for a couple to have relations, mind, heart, body and soul must be united and connected to one another. If any part, either physical, mental or spiritual, is not in place, then physicality may not occur.

Physicality is forbidden in these cases because in order to create, both people must be fully conscious and desiring of sharing their love of the other. If the desire to be physical is stemming from anything other than this goal, then it is the animal within who is seeking gratification, and while the bodies may connect, the act will ultimately cause a rift and separation between the two.

This duality can be seen in the Hebrew word, chayah. Chayah means both "life" and "animal". They way we live and the way we create life is through the love and bonding with another human being. But when we use our physicality not to create but to destroy, then we are no longer human, we are no longer living. It is then that we are merely an animal, something that does not think, does not speak, but merely acts, for its own gratification, pleasure and desire.

When physicality is misused or abused, the results are unbelievably powerful in the most negative of ways. To take advantage of another human being, to force oneself when unwanted, is the greatest and most intrusive violation. In this kind of situation, there is only one person who is the giver and the receiver. The abuser gives, but does so for his own satisfaction and enjoyment, therefore he or she is the only receiver as well. The person being taken advantage of is not a receptacle, is not part of this relationship, but has been turned into merely an object. Any time that both people are not consciously choosing and desiring this intimacy, and any time this intimacy is not an expression of love within the context of a marital union, the Torah is teaching us that the motivations are wrong and destructive. If the goal of the physicality is not to create an everlasting bond and representation of the love that is shared between the man and the woman, if it isn't love expressed through physicality but rather love that is motivated by physicality, then it is a debasement, rather that a fulfillment, of our most G‑dly power.

The intricate Torah laws regarding sexuality, marriage and relations are intended to teach us how powerful and holy our bodies can be. These laws are intended to remind us that we are human, and because we are human, in everything we do we have a choice. And that choice is to reduce ourselves to an animal in the jungle, or to elevate ourselves to the Creator that gave us life. When we act G‑dly, we are a nefesh chayah, a "living soul"; and when we do not, so we are only a chayah, a beast.