Positive Vision - Day 41

Our weekly excerpt from the book "Positive Vision"

Day 41 - True Pleasure - Coarse Versus Refined

Let's refocus on the mitzvah of Kedoshim tiheyu.

The Ramban famously says that this means that one may not be a "naval b'reshus haTorah" - a glutton within the Torah's guidelines. Even after the numerous taryag mitzvos with all their details and bylaws, we are still not done. We must still sanctify ourselves with that which is permitted to us.

Now this seems unfair. One feels like throwing up his arms in protest and complaining "Leave me be! Let me enjoy myself! I'm keeping the rules, with all the d'rabbanans and harchakos - and now you tell me to add more restrictions on my own! Am I supposed to be miserable?!"

Indeed. Is the Torah anti-pleasure?!

Of course not - and the point can be best driven home with the following true anecdote.

A man was asked by his employer to fly overseas for a business trip and the company provided him with a seat in business class. As he proceeded to his seat, he noticed the elderly Slonimer Rebbe seated in the economy section. He approached the Rebbe and insisted that they switch seats. The Rebbe demurred but the businessman persisted. So the Rebbe relented and went to the more luxurious section. Several hours into the flight the businessman decided to go up front to see how the Rebbe was faring. To his chagrin, he found the diminutive Rebbe reading a sefer while sitting contentedly on the edge of the oversized business-section seat! He had not even used the back of the chair! But then he looked at the Rebbe's face, on which pure contentment was evident. The business-man shrugged his shoulders, smiled to himself, and returned to his seat.

Let us focus a moment on the Rebbe. As he was perched on the edge of the chair, was he uncomfortable? Was he experiencing distress or was he enjoying himself? He had not even reclined!

Yet, if his facial expression was any indication, he was experiencing pure pleasure. What could be better than sitting and learning without being disturbed!

We are composed of two parts: a physical self and a spiritual neshamah. Each compo- nent wants pleasure, but they have different ideas of what is pleasurable.

In telling us to be kedoshim, the Torah is advocating a pro-pleasure position, but it is instructing us which pleasure to choose - the pure pleasures of the neshamah over the more immediate, but fleeting pleasures of the body.

We are not referring to some abstract, vague idea of pleasure, but rather to a concept of pleasure that is very much down to earth.

Take for instance two concerned fathers, one a simple peasant, the other a sophisticated intellectual. Each one wants the best for his child. The peasant teaches his son about the pleasures he understands - where the best tavern is and which fast-food place sells the best burgers. The sophisticate, on the other hand, sends his son to institutions of higher learning where he is taught to play music, to understand the elegance of complicated mathematical equations, and to appreciate subtle philosophy. After much toil, the young man in fact achieves these goals.

How much richer and meaningful is the latter's life. And indeed, how much more pleasurable!

The Rebbe R' Bunim of P'schis'che once said, "If the baalei ta'avah would only know how much pleasure the tzaddikim have, they would become tzaddikim overnight!"