Counting the Omer with Emily Fox
Day 19 — Limiting Pleasure
Miyut Ta'anug • מיעוט תענוג
By Alan Morinis, Vancouver, BC, Canada
Judaism embraces pleasure. We have no monasteries nor celibacy nor much of an ascetic tradition. The Jerusalem Talmud even says: “On Judgment Day, a person will be called to account for every permissible thing one might have enjoyed in this life but did not” (Kiddushin 4:12).
If there is no objection to pleasure, why the caution to limit it? The answer is that pleasure is wonderful in moderation, but it is destructive if unrestrained. Indulgence soon causes pleasure to become our master, instead of our higher selves ruling over our sensory pleasures.
I find it so easy to lose myself in a bag of potato chips or a chocolate bar, not to mention even more intense forms of physical pleasure. Not only lose myself, but to become a zealous devotee of the perfect cup of coffee, the smokiness of a single malt scotch, the thread-count of the organic cotton sheets. I take the injunction to limit pleasure as a guideline that will spare me from making the mistake of positioning the physical at the center of my life, where the spiritual is meant to abide.
The Talmud (Sanhedrin 111a) tells of Rav Kahana sitting in front of the sage Rav and fixing his hair and pampering himself, whereupon Rav castigated him, saying, “The Torah is not found in one who indulges physically.” Like much in the teachings of Mussar, the ideal is not to try to push away an inherent aspect of the human condition – what a losing proposition that is! – but to get the best out of all aspects of life by seeking balance and moderation.
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