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The Pleasure of Shevat

Pleasure, enjoyment, happiness…These are all beautiful words. It is truly a pleasure to hear them. Does the Torah ‘like’ these concepts? At first glance, it would seem that we are not in favor of enjoyment and pleasure. We accept the ‘yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven’ upon ourselves with fear of Heaven – not for the fun of it. Maimonides puts it succinctly: “The commandments were not given for pleasure.”[1] Aren’t enjoyment and pleasure coarse and lowly, replete with self-focus instead of focus on helping others?

Subtle Pleasure

On the other hand, if Adam had not sinned, he would have remained in the Garden of Eden, a place of wondrous pleasure. True, he had to “work it and safeguard it”[2] but the ultimate purpose is to “take pleasure in God.[3]”  This is also the reward promised in the world of souls, which is called the Garden of Eden, where “the righteous people sit and take pleasure in the glow of God’s immanent presence.”[4]  On Shabbat, we are also commanded to make the day pleasurable, from the fountain of the World to Come…to take pleasure in delights.

Shevat is the month of pleasure. The Garden of Eden is filled with trees, and Shevat is the month of the New Year of the trees. Eating the fruit of trees is delightful. There is basic food and then there are sweet, delicious fruits. In the “Borei nefashot” blessing that we recite after eating certain types of food, we bless God for the food that we need to fill our basic needs, ”Who creates  many souls and fulfills their lack.” Then we continue, “For all that You created with which to bring life to the soul of every living being,” referring to fruits, which come to bring us vitality and pleasure. The tribe of the month of Shevat is the tribe of Asher, whose name also means “happiness,” as Asher’s mother, Leah, said when he was born: “Happy am I, for the daughters will call me happy.”[5] The tribe of Asher was blessed with an abundance of fruit trees: “As for Asher, his bread shall be fat, and he shall yield royal dainties.[6] “And he immerses his foot in oil.”[7]

What is the true and correct pleasure? Subtle, refined pleasure, as is alluded to in the name of the Garden of Eden. In Hebrew, ‘Eden’ means ‘gentle’ or ‘refined.’ The more that a person becomes pure, so his pleasure becomes refined. There is a connection between the Hebrew word הנאה (pleasure) and אני (I). Both these words also have the same numerical value. There is crass pleasure, which amplifies the ‘I’. This type of pleasure will always be temporary and fleeting (and disappointing). The letters of the rectified ani (‘I’), however, are rearranged to spell ayin (nothingness) – the enjoyment and pleasure of nothingness, similar to the feeling of weightlessness in the water. A person has to serve God by accepting the yoke of His commandments upon himself. But the ultimate purpose is that this service will flow forth from a place of happiness and pleasure. How enjoyable it is to serve God!

The New Year for Pleasure

Each month of the Hebrew calendar has its own soul power. Some months are more action-oriented, others intellectually oriented. Faith is above all, in the Crown. Pleasure is also in the Crown, in the superconscious of the soul.

There is the experience of pleasure, but the pleasure we are discussing is deeper and more foundational. In a concealed place, in the essence of the soul, there is an attribute of pleasure. The pleasure that we experience is a relatively external expression of what is taking place inside, above our consciousness. The world of pleasure is very rich: We can experience pleasure from music, nature, works of art, wisdom, a fascinating story, family, friends, and much more. Every ‘personal pleasure’ also expresses the soul. The more that a person is immersed in pleasure, the more his entire soul is drawn there.

What activates us? We can say that willpower is the main motivator of the soul. It is true that nothing can stand in the face of the will. Will is the direct motivator. But deep inside, there is the indirect motivator: pleasure. When we want something very much, it is because the soul experiences pleasure from it, and then the will is activated. Pleasure is not just another attribute of the soul, but imbued with all the other powers, as well. It is the oil – which expresses the happiness of the tribe of Asher – that gurgles beneath the surface in every place in the soul.

In the month of Tishrei, we worked on our will. On Rosh Hashanah, we decided that we have the will to be servants of God. That is an excellent start. Now, we are approaching the second, more inner New Year – the New Year of the trees. On this New Year, the power of pleasure in the soul is renewed, like the power of growth that begins to ascend through the trunk of the tree. Not only do we have the will to do good, but we are filled with pleasure in every aspect of our lives and service of God.

Image by Sven Hilker from Pixabay

 

[1] Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Shofar and Sukkah and Lulav, ch. 1:3
[2] Genesis 2:15.

[3] Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto, Mesilat Yesharim ch. 1.

[4] Brachot 17a.

[5] Genesis 30:13.

[6] Genesis 49:20.

[7] Deuteronomy 33:24.

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