Jewish Thought

Isn’t It Preferable Not To Benefit From This World?

Q. Hi.

If a person goes hiking and sees beautiful streams or views does this deduct from his merits? This is also a kind of spiritual pleasure, so does that mean that according to the Torah one should try and lessen one's pleasure from this world and not go hiking, since it will decrease his merits? Or if for example a person listens to music or plays it, which is a spiritual pleasure, does it take away from his merits that he has derived spiritual pleasure from this? If this is the case then a person should reduce his pleasure from this world to a minimum, but this would make him depressed. Thanks for your response.

A. Hi,

G-d created beauty, smell and taste in the world so that we derive benefit from them and gain strength from perceiving them. Judaism does not reject benefiting from this world. The Sages even said that “A man will be judged before G-d for everything that he saw and did not want to eat even though it was permitted, as it is written “And all that my eyes wished for I did not deny them” (Yerushalmi Kiddushin 84).

When it says that a person's “merits will be decreased”, it is only discussing a situation where a person has experienced a special miracle. This is why the Sages say that one may not rely on miracles.

One should know that physical pleasures can also be a catalyst for spiritual pleasures, since if the pleasure is positive, it doesn't just not lessen one's merits, it can also adds merits to a person.

For example, if you eat and drink in order that you should be healthy and have the strength to fulfill G-d's will, you are performing a mitzva. Even if you hear music, if you know that you are doing it in order to relax your soul and make it happy so that you will afterwards be able to learn Torah and perform mitzvot with joy, then you have changed this pleasure into a positive experience. Similarly if you enjoy a good taste and a good smell and make the blessings on them with the intention of thanking G-d for His wonderful world, then you are performing a mitzva.

This is how the Rambam explained this exalted goal (De'ot 3,5):

“A person should direct all his actions to the goal of knowing Hashem, blessed be He. His sitting, standing, walking and talking should all be directed to this… similarly when he eats, drinks and has marital relations he should not have in mind to perform these actions for pleasure alone, to the point that he is only eating and drinking sweet items and having relations for pleasure alone. Rather he should have in mind that he is eating and drinking in order to keep his body and limbs healthy….Thus one who follows this path all his life is serving G-d at all times, even when he is involved in business, or even when he has marital relations, since his intention at all times is to fulfill his personal needs so that his body will be prepared to serve Hashem”.

Even when you gaze at beautiful fields and orchards in order to praise in your heart the Creator who made them with such wisdom and love, this is praiseworthy and for the purposes of gratitude, in order to increase your love for the Creator, and this is a big Mitzvah, as Rambam writes in Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah (2,1) “What is the way to love Hashem and fear him: When a person reflects on His deeds and His amazing and marvelous creations, and sees through them His infinite wisdom, he immediately will love and praise and glorify G-d and will have a tremendous desire to know His great name, as David ,king of Israel, said “My soul thirsts for G-d, for the Living Deity”. “

A person who eats and drinks for his own personal satisfaction and is constantly harking after honor and fulfillment of desires, all from an egoistic perspective that does not show genuine gratitude to the Creator of the world would demonstrate a negative trait. It would not have any spiritual purpose and would show a lack of gratitude. However if a person recognizes his Creator and thanks him for every pleasure and understands that the most important aspects of life are Torah and Mitzvot, the pleasures of this world can even elevate him and are considered to be merits for him.

Best Wishes

Daniel Blass

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