Parshat Shemini.

Pleasure or Purpose?

How many times have you been fed up with nuisances or hardships in your life?  Just as you think you have control of your life something else comes up and puts a cog in your wheel.  Imagine you could plug into a simulated reality of your choice and live out your perfect life.

With the rate at which science is progressing, it’s not hard to envision the possibility of such an invention.

The machine would use all the information necessary to create your perfect life, with all its facets to make it most pleasurable, blissful and satisfying.  You won’t know you’re in a fake world.  You will feel like your world is normal, albeit perfect.

All things being equal and no chance of flaws, would you do it?

Would you plug yourself in?

The corporeal world is full of bounties waiting for us to pounce on them but it also has its drawbacks, it’s setbacks that transform joyful moods to miserable ones. Yearning to rid the negative ones is only natural.

In this week’s Parsha of Shemini there are two interesting themes discussed by the commentaries which might shed some light on this idea.  One of the major subjects are the various laws of what is permitted to be consumed, the laws of Kashrut.

The importance of eating food is not one lost on Jews. In fact the Talmud writes

“A person will have to answer for any food their eye beheld but that they did not consume”.

Which is in sync with an explanation for the Nazarite’s sacrifice, being a punishment for missing out on the foods he could’ve eaten but didn’t due to the Nazarite vow.

Reading into it, the laws of kashrut might seem to be a scheme to indulge without a guilty conscience.  The limited restrictions might actually help the gorger convince himself that it’s acceptable.  It might even appear that gluttony is not a bad thing at all!  The main thing, it seems, is to enjoy your life!

Is Happiness all that matters though?  A common phrase in the lexicon amongst certain demographics today is “YOLO”.  You only live once.  Summarizing the hedonistic theory that happiness and pleasure are keys to life.  But is that true?  Do you believe that all you really desire in life is for your pleasures to be met?

Could it be that there are other values in your life to increase your well being besides for the pursuit of pleasure?

Nadav & Avihu Bring the Unauthorized Incense Offering. credit:Chabad.org

In the middle of this week’s Parsha a terrifying scene takes place ending with the death of the two eldest sons of Aaron.  Just as the tabernacle’s narrative reaches closure, Nadav and Avihu enter the Holy of Holies, bringing an unauthorized fire before G-d.  Fire then came forth from before G-d and consumed them.

The juxtaposition of the prohibition of alcohol with this story led some sages to attribute their death to their inebriated state.  Normally, under the right circumstances, drinking wine can bring a greater state.  The Talmud says “When wine enters, secrets emerge” the ultimate secret being our unity with G-d.

Aaron’s sons were so dazed by the celebration of the culmination of the tabernacle that they felt overcome by emotion and wanted to reveal their divine souls.  So smitten by the supernatural, they just wanted the flame of their soul to leave its wick.

Although they achieved their desire, the nation were warned against it.  The practical, everyday lives should be more virtuous and ethical than any craving.  The purpose of life is to add meaning and holiness to the physical world.

The Torah wants every pleasure to be filled, but not in a way of self-indulgence, rather in a way that will elevate the world to a holier place for everyone.  Once a person realizes this goal and is able to fulfill it, missing out on it would be a tremendous shame.

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Ari Rubin is the Rabbi of the Cairns Jewish Community and together with his wife run the Chabad of RARA base in North Queensland

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