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Thursday, 13 November 2014

G-d wants you to enjoy life

Daf Yomi Yevamos 40
Brandeis professor Sylvia Barack Fishman recently described Modern Orthodoxy as the “Great American Jewish Dream.”   She argues that “observant Jews can have it all and still remain within the fold.”

But isn’t ‘having it all’ antithetical to religious life?  Shouldn’t we be focusing on our spirituality instead of indulging in the world around us?

Concerning Yom Kippur, the Torah states: For anyone who does not afflict himself, that soul shall be cut off from its people.
Reish Lakish taught: Basically, this refers to eating on Yom Kippur.  However, even one who eats gluttonously on Yom Kippur is likewise exempt from punishment.
Rashi explains: Because this too is affliction since he is harming himself by over-eating.

Judaism does not believe in asceticism.  The Almighty gave us the world to enjoy.  He takes pride in his creations and gets nachas when we derive benefit from the pleasures of this world.

But, everything in moderation.   When you overindulge in material and physical pleasures, that becomes harmful to body and soul.   It’s okay to eat good food, but don’t become a glutton.  It’s okay to wear nice clothes, but don’t become a fashion junkie.  It’s okay to live in a nice home, but you don’t need a king’s palace. 

The same is true of the intellectual and cultural pleasures of this world.  G-d wants us to embrace and appreciate academic scholarship, literature and the arts.   Just as long you don’t take it to extremes and forget what your main source of pleasure must be – the joy of the spirit. 

Rabbanit and I used to live in Boro Park, New York, the centre of American Hasidic life.  You walk into these homes and kene hora they have the most exquisite chandeliers, the most beautiful furniture and they spare no expense on their silverware and Shabbos couture.   

But then they shun the culture of the world around them – museums, art galleries, university.  Why?  It makes no sense!  G-d wants us to enjoy his world – not only material pleasures, but cultural pleasures too – just as long as we don’t go overboard. 

You can have it all!  You can be an observant Jew and still enjoy the world.  In fact, that’s exactly what G-d wants of you.  He gave you this world to enjoy.  When you enjoy the world, He gets nachas.  And when you turn to Him and thank Him for the pleasure He has given you, there is no greater nachas than that!

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