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Jewish Culture

The Five Levels of Pleasure - Part III

Moshe Unger, Columnist
Posted 7/2/21

Imagine you are on vacation in New York City, sightseeing in one of those excursion boat rides around Manhattan Island. As you are admiring the Statue of Liberty, one of the other sightseers falls …

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Jewish Culture

The Five Levels of Pleasure - Part III

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Imagine you are on vacation in New York City, sightseeing in one of those excursion boat rides around Manhattan Island. As you are admiring the Statue of Liberty, one of the other sightseers falls off the boat.

He can’t swim – he’s drowning. So, you jump into the East River – filthy with garbage, dead fish – but you don’t care, you are trying to save a life. You grab him, he struggles – you go under the murky water – finally he stops struggling, but now he is heavy as lead – you pull him with all your might – you are gasping, the water stinks.

Finally, after what seems like eternity, you drag him to the shore. People are there to lend a hand, and an ambulance takes the drowning victim to the hospital. Thank G-d, he’s alive, coughing and spitting a little murky water, but he’s gonna be okay. You go back to your hotel and take a dozen showers to wash off the muck and smell of rotting fish. You say, “I’m never coming back here for the rest of my life!”

Thirty years and 100 vacations later, what is your most memorable vacation? It was the time the guy fell off the boat and you saved a life!

This is Rabbi Noach Weinberg’s classic example of how doing the right thing and making a difference is a great pleasure, far surpassing physical pleasures.

The highest level of pleasure, teaches Rabbi Weinberg, is an encounter with G-d. Now, this needs explanation. How can one explain an encounter with G-d? Rabbi Weinberg asks us to recall any event where we were struck with awe at creation. It might be when seeing the Niagara Falls, the birth of a baby, etc. Sometimes in the morning we hear chirping and chatting from far away, and we are struck with a deep longing to something that we don’t even know what. All this is a glimpse of an encounter with G-d.

The feeling of awe is ‘awesome’. It is a feeling of being nothing in light of something far greater than oneself and, at the same time, feeling a great longing to be included and part of this greatness.

Rabbi Weinberg was a deep thinker and a master at bringing deep ideas to a practical level. Still, I’m not sure I understood his teachings correctly, and I’m not sure I explained it correctly here over the last few articles.

However, I think the main point that we can derive is that pleasures in life are far from limited to the ones seen on the surface. Also, that being righteous is not something to just enjoy in the afterlife, it is something to enjoy here and now.

Thank G-d, we don’t need to fly around the world to pick up pleasures and enjoy the richness of life. The most pleasurable moments are available within us.

It is not only giving and self-sacrifice that can be very pleasurable. Eating a good sandwich and mindfully thinking about the taste and being grateful to the Creator for it, is many times more pleasurable than eating it in a distracted manner.

Broadening our knowledge in study and praying for our welfare and the welfare of our family and friends, are wells of pleasure waiting to be enjoyed.

The smorgasbord is open for everyone to taste and see!

Comments? Email me: moshe@mosheunger.com

(The story at the beginning of the article was taken from aish.com)

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