The Battle of the Generation - Day 9
Our weekly excerpt from the book "The Battle of the Generation"
Another reason physical pleasures can’t make us happy is that they only last for a short time and then are gone, leaving us with nothing. To make matters worse, realizing this limits our enjoyment during the short time we experience it. Deep down, we know that something that lasts so short can’t be what we really seek.
If the pleasure is forbidden, there is the added problem of guilt. The uneasy feeling we experience when we know what we are doing is wrong is already in full swing by the time we give in. This limits our ability to enjoy the pleasure. Clearly, despite all the false advertising, pleasure does not make us happy, even during the short time we experience it.
The third stage of desire comes after the pleasure has ended. We usually get a small reprieve from our desires before they return to full strength, and we regain clarity. This is when we kick ourselves for giving in. Our conscience does not relent, and we feel shaken up. The regret is searing. Worst of all, we feel low as people. We feel like fools because we lost control. There is no doubt that at this point, rather than being happy, we are as miserable as can be.
Yet perhaps the most painful part of this episode is when we give up on our dreams. Feeling permanently stained by our sins, we believe we can no longer become what we dreamed of. Even if we know that we should never give up on our dreams no matter how low we have fallen, emotionally we feel that anyone who has fallen this badly can’t become great. We wanted to become special and significant, and instead, we feel doomed to be inferior forever. There is nothing more painful than this feeling.
As long as pleasure has not turned into a need, we can enjoy whatever appropriate pleasures we experience. In fact, Hashem created these pleasures because He wants us to enjoy them in our stay in this world. But when our desires go out of control and become an addiction, when we rely on physical pleasure to deliver us from misery to happiness, or when we chase forbidden pleasures, life becomes a living hell with a few short spurts of empty highs that don’t give us the happiness we were searching for. We end up feeling pulled around by desire instead of being masters of our own ship.
To make matters worse, pursuing our desires brings us inner turmoil when we notice that we keep only some mitzvos but not others. For example, a person might not be willing to eat nonkosher food, but he might still look at things he shouldn’t. If he walked into a dark room on Shabbos, he might be able to hold himself back from turning on the light to see something forbidden, but if it were already on, he might look . . . despite knowing that looking is also forbidden. These inconsistencies make us feel like hypocrites. We cannot figure out where we are holding or who we really are. At times, we wish something would just pull us out of the grasp of desire, but at other times, when our desires rage strongly, we only want to give in. This confusion is excruciating, and it is tragic that so many people experience it. Nobody should have to live with this pain.