Parshas Kedoshim – Pious Pleasures

Beach and Palm TreesA fancy house…

A cool car…

Carnal pleasures…

An exciting vacation…

Designer clothes…

The best doctors and hospitals…

Power….

Information…

Being popular…

Admit it – these are all things you desire. And if you don’t, you are in the minority.  Listen to the radio or social conversations. Look at any of a multitude of advertising campaigns –  these and/or similar enticements take up an inordinate amount of time and focus.

But should they? And while we may desire these things, are they even what we truly want?

Isn’t it likely that we are focusing on a house when we really want a home, on pleasure when we really want love, on information when we want wisdom, etc.?

You get the idea.

In this week’s Torah portion, G-d tells us “You shall be holy” – and a holy person does not focus on the the things described above, a list of desires that are physical and temporal. And as the great Jewish philosopher, Kabbalist, and legal expert, Nachmanides, explains, this is so even if the desire is technically legal, moral and “kosher.”

So why do we focus on these things? The Kabbalists explain that our soul longs for meaning and fulfillment, causing an ache and yearning inside of us. Our bodies convince us that we can satisfy it with physical pleasures. But we can’t –  our soul craves spiritual nutrition, and we try to satisfy it with the equivalent of “junk food.”

So does that mean that we should give up on all physical desires? Should we focus on or desire the things on the following list instead?

Home…

Love…

Inner peace and security…

Fulfillment, etc…

You get the idea.

The shocking answer is no, you do not have to give up pleasure; and no, you should never focus on the second list.

Yes, that is correct. Never focus on list two – because it is a waste of time.

It is a waste of time not because one can’t achieve it, but because it can only be achieved by not focusing on it.

Spiritual gifts are always available, but the only way to receive them is by making oneself a worthy receptacle for G-d’s blessing. One should certainly not focus on the first list, but neither on the second. One should not focus on love, but on being the type of person that people will love. One’s singular effort should be to become the kindest, most sensitive, holiest person possible – do so, and all the items on list two miraculously follow.

And then the real magic kicks in. While living a holy life does not guarantee you a fancy home or an exotic vacation, it does guarantee a more pleasurable life. There is nothing more enjoyable than a loving home and a loving relationship, nothing more pleasurable than living a life of meaning.  So don’t waste your time with list one, and don’t obsess over list two. Live a life of holiness, and you will have it all.

Rabbi Yitzchok Oratz is the Rabbi and Director of the Monmouth Torah Links community. Shortly after receiving his semicha (rabbinic ordination) from Bais Medrash Govoha, the famed Lakewood Yeshiva, Rabbi Oratz, along with his wife Toby and family, moved to Marlboro, NJ where they co-founded the MTL community in 2001. Aside for his “Devar on the Par” that he writes for MTL, his writings have also been published on Aish, Times of Israel, Seforim Blog, Hakira, and in various Rabbinic journals. Rabbi Oratz looks forward to continuing teaching Torah in a way that is timely and timeless, and sharing meaningful Jewish experiences with the amazing MTL community.

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