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Jewish Culture

The Five Levels of Pleasure (Part 2)

Moshe Unger
Posted 6/18/21

In the last installment, we started going through Rabbi Noach Weinberg’s teaching on the “five levels of pleasure”. Every level has to be in a different category than the previous …

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Jewish Culture

The Five Levels of Pleasure (Part 2)

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In the last installment, we started going through Rabbi Noach Weinberg’s teaching on the “five levels of pleasure”. Every level has to be in a different category than the previous one. Meaning, when we sacrifice one pleasure for another that means that the latter is in a higher category.

As discussed, the lowest level of pleasure is physical pleasure. Above it is love and relationships. A person would forego physical pleasure for love but not love for physical pleasure. Children are the greatest testimony for this. They require immense sacrifice of physical pleasure, but they are the joy of a person and well worth the investment. The reason for this is because the pleasure of children is on a different plane; it is in the next level of pleasure.

As discussed, there are also counterfeit pleasures in each of the categories. The counterfeit of physical pleasure is excessive consumption. The counterfeit of love is the illusion that love is about receiving or taking. In reality, love is giving.

The next level of pleasure is the pleasure of honor, accomplishment, and meaning. Doing something that makes a difference is a great pleasure. Meaning comes when a person is needed for something important. Soldiers on the front feel an immense sense of accomplishment even though they sacrifice a lot of physical pleasure, and they sacrifice love and family. This is because they sense the importance of protecting their nation. Even though one soldier alone cannot protect the whole nation, each of them still experiences this pleasure because they are part of something bigger and important.

This pleasure is also felt even when what we do is meaningful for just one person like giving food to a poor person or when we light up someone’s day with a nice compliment. Doing meaningless things causes agony, emptiness, and boredom.

The counterfeit of this pleasure is the pleasure of control. Many people have sacrificed a lot for the feeling of control. An example is dictators. Sometimes dictators will do everything to stay in power even sacrificing their lives. It is because they are infatuated with the desire of control. Obsessive perfectionism is also in this mix. It gives a false feeling of accomplishment.

Also, sometimes we do things that seem meaningful or that society deems meaningful, but it is not. That eventually leads to regret and boredom. Boredom can happen even if we do meaningful things, but when a person feels a constant drag, they need to reevaluate what they are doing.

The next level of pleasure is the pleasure of doing the right thing. When we overcome a character trait or a negative urge and we make the right choice, we are awarded with a boost of pleasure that can last for a very long time. Many times, this pleasure is not instant, it only comes later, but it can last a lifetime.

One way to figure out what is the right thing is by guilt. When we make a wrong choice that we later regret, it sometimes feels very awful, and the tendency is to suppress it. Really, the guilty feeling is a blessing because now we know better what the right choice would be the next time.

There are things in life that are a combination of pleasures. When we do something that we are responsible to do for family there is a combination of love, meaning, and doing the right thing.

We’ll continue in the next installment.

Questions? Email me: moshe@mosheunger.com.

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