Parshas Vayeitzei – Simple Pleasures

Store on Black FridayQuestion:

What do children look forward to most?

A) School ;   B) Playing at home;  or C) A family vacation to Disney World?

“Survey says”:  C – by a landslide.

Another question:

During which of the above activities are children most likely to fight, “kvetch,” and complain?

The surprising answer to this question is very likely choice C, as well.

Many children don’t like school, and may regularly gripe about homework or going to school, but they don’t actually complain all that much in school. They basically get the idea that this is their responsibility, part of the reality of life, and they make the best of it.

At home children may complain more, but they can often occupy themselves with play for hours. Occasionally there is sibling rivalry, fighting, and the inevitable cries of “I’m bored!”  But families develop a workable day-to-day routine that gets them through with minimal kvetching and complaining.

Meanwhile, the potential horrors of family vacations are the stuff of legend.

While these examples of dissatisfaction and complaining often involve children, it is no different for most adults.  Materialistic pleasures rarely live up to the hype.

The Talmud teaches that physical pleasures are largely illusory. We have an endless drive for more, being fooled into to believing that girl, that car, that home, that vacation will bring us happiness. But they won’t, because by their very essence they can’t.

The Kabbalists give a parable of a princess who gets lost in the forest and is taken in by a well-meaning, kind-hearted commoner. Despite his good intentions, he can never satisfy her royal tastes.

So too with the soul. As a spark of the Divine, it yearns for the spiritual; in vain we try to satisfy it with a good steak and a cruise to the Bahamas.

For the record, I am a big fan of family vacations and a good steak, and I might not turn down an offer to build me a sunroom or fly me first class to a choice vacation destination. The Torah doesn’t look favorably on an ascetic lifestyle, and actually commands us to enjoy the pleasures of this world, at the right time and within the correct parameters.

But it can’t be our focus. In this week’s parsha, we are told about our patriarch Yaakov (Jacob) and how he achieved great wealth. But that was never his primary desire. At the beginning of the parsha we find him asking G-d to take care of his physical needs; he specifically asks for nothing more than basic clothing and some bread to eat. And this never changes; Yaakov enjoys his wealth and uses it in the service of G-d. But he never changes his priorities; he always remains happy with simple bread.

That is the paradoxical reality: Keep one’s expectations and desires to a minimum, and enjoy a lot. Expect and desire a lot, and you will derive minimum enjoyment.

So this year, sleep late on Black Friday. That latest gadget will not bring you happiness; it will only increase a thirst that can never be quenched.

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