Corona: An End to Self Indulgence

The Corona Pandemic has left the world baffled as to how to make sense of what everyone is going through. It seems presumptuous to try and figure out what the Divine message is in the midst of all of this turmoil. However, while trying to be as objective as possible, there appears to be a serious challenge to a philosophy and specific way of life.

We had been enjoying unbelievable affluence over the past fifty years. There is so much wealth and comfort, the likes of which had never been seen before. Contrast this to the Talmud’s definition of a wealthy person: One who has enough money to eat meat every day of the week! The current luxuries and comfort, have given birth to philosophies of gross self indulgence. “if it feels good, it must be right.” “I only want to do what makes me happy.”

These attitudes seemed to mock religious people and their belief in the Bible. It looked so foolish to live a life that doesn’t allow a person to partake of the good things in life. The emphasis on materialism, manifested itself with regular visits to the local bar, the gym and spa, the mall, restaurants, and an obsession with sports. Traveling and vacations , were the norm for one to feel good and be happy.

The glaring effect of Corona, is that suddenly, all of these everyday pleasurable activities have been removed from society. We are in lockdown and none of the above mentioned activities are available to us for the foreseeable future. Clearly, this represents a major change in lifestyle and it forces us to do some serious introspection.

Nobody knows for sure how long this current situation will last. But we must reevaluate our priorities now that we need to live without those things that were so much a part of every day life. Some say that one benefit of the current lockdown is that we can learn to appreciate our families. The threat of the disease, brings loved ones closer, and, hopefully, allows us to rise above petty arguing and bickering.

But perhaps we need to probe a little deeper into our new reality. By contrast, a religious Jew, whose life is focused on the spiritual, does not go through such a dramatic change in the current situation. Being at home, means more time for Torah study, and connecting with G-d. The indulgences of others are not that important to the G-d fearing Jew. He does not need to reflect on life’s priorities, because his priorities carry him through situations like this.

Judaism does not oppose enjoying life’s simple pleasures. Maimonides writes that we are meant to partake of such things as a beautiful home, falling in love and intimacy, and even a lavish meal, and fine clothes. These things can potentially become even holy acts when they are accompanied with discipline. There is a time and place for everything. If it is at the right time with the right person, it is holiness. If it is based on lust and self gratification, it is very profane and lowly.

When we eat, we are doing so to strengthen our souls. The same is with exercise. We work out so that we will have stronger bodies to be able to “walk in G-d’s ways” and not “crawl in His ways.” Even when we sleep, we are to consider its importance as a means to better serve G-d. Material activities become a means towards getting closer to G-d, and are not, an end in themselves. They become spiritual acts.

Another neglected point to ponder, is that we must acknowledge that we were given a body and a soul. Just as the body needs its nourishment with food and sleep, the soul also has needs. The “food for the soul” comes with giving to others, charity, saying a kind word, and , of course, Torah study. When our soul is nourished, we are truly happy. Selfish people cannot be happy, because they never give of themselves.

It very well might be that this is one lesson to be learned from the Corona Pandemic. When our material indulgences are taken away from us, what are we left with? Do we fall apart because these indulgences have suddenly been taken away from us? Or, do we use this as an opportunity to reexamine our lives to learn what is important in life, and what is not. It’s obvious by now that life is about much more than “feeling good”, or doing “what makes me happy.”

About the Author
Rabbi Cohen has been a Torah instructor at Machon Meir, Jerusalem, for nearly twenty years. He has been teaching a Talmud class in the Shtieblach, Old Katamon, Jerusalem, for the past twelve years. Before coming to Israel, he was the founding rabbi of Young Israel of Century City, Los Angeles.
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