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The Five Levels of Pleasure (Part 1)

Moshe Unger - Columnist
Posted 6/3/21

I want to present here a fascinating teaching that I heard from Rabbi Noach Weinberg. Reb Noach, as he was affectionally known, was the founder of Aish Hatorah, one of the largest educational …

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The Five Levels of Pleasure (Part 1)

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I want to present here a fascinating teaching that I heard from Rabbi Noach Weinberg. Reb Noach, as he was affectionally known, was the founder of Aish Hatorah, one of the largest educational institutions for Jews who didn't grow up with Judaism.

He was a very wise person and I constantly learn a lot from his teachings which have been recorded on the Aish websites: aish.com or aishaudio.com. One of his classic teachings is “The Five Levels of Pleasure”.

Humans are pleasure seekers. We always seek pleasure, without choosing to do so. We are not able to ‘turn off' the quest for pleasure. As we shall see, there are a few classes of pleasure.

Surprisingly enough, our work in this world is to become expert pleasure seekers, to experience the greatest pleasures as frequently as possible. G-d created us for our good so anything short of achieving the greatest pleasures is a reduction of a person's potential and purpose.

There are five classes of pleasure. For something to be in a higher class it must be in an entirely new category. Reb Noach used to call it “an exchange rate”. If one pleasure is exchangeable with something else that means they are in the same class, as I will explain.

The fifth class of pleasure, the lowest class, is material pleasure, which is everything that is experienced with the five senses. The fourth class of pleasure is love and relationships. No one will sell a child or a family member for any amount of material pleasure. On the other hand, people will forgo a lot of material pleasure and spend enormous amounts of money for their children or family.

This shows us that love and relationships are in an entirely new category, it is not in the same class as material pleasure. We constantly swap between different material pleasures according to our choices and resources, but we will not swap love for material pleasure.

Reb Noach also taught that every class has its ‘counterfeit', which means, things that purport to be pleasurable but are not. In material pleasure, the counterfeit is too much material pleasure. Food is delicious till a certain point. When a person is just about full, the food still looks pleasurable but consuming it will bring regrets and even disgust.

The counterfeit of love is the notion that love is possible effort-free. Regarding the relationship between a parent and a child it is obvious that it is not effort-free, but so it is in a marriage and even between friends. Love needs investment. Investment of time, focus, and feelings.

On a deeper level, real love is giving and extending oneself. By being a giver to one's spouse, child, or friend, a person becomes more and more in love with the receiver. Of course, giving needs to be done smartly, in a way that the receiver is able to receive. Sometimes giving too much overwhelms the receiver and it becomes counter-productive.

A baby thinks just about herself. As she grows older she starts taking in other people in the image of the self. Great people are able to take in a lot of other people in their image of self and they see themselves as part of something bigger. When a person gives, they extend their selfhood to others and that is true love.

In the next article, I'll continue with the other classes of pleasure. Have a wonderful week!!

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