Eliezer Shemtov
Trying to make a difference

How simple are our simple pleasures?

Naso

One of the causes of anxiety and distress is when we look at what we lack instead of what we have.

Take, for example, a “simple” glass of water. Is it really all that simple? Have you ever thought about what it represents? What would life —your life— be like without access to that glass of water? Have you ever stopped to think about how wondrous and how perfect the water cycle is, manifested every time it rains and every time you drill down into the earth to discover —just meters below the surface— crystal clear water?

As a matter of fact, every time we are about to drink a glass of water we stop to reflect on what that “simple” Divine creation represents and through it, all of Creation that surrounds us and of which we are a part.

Shehakol nihiya bidevaro. “…through whose word everything came into being.” That is the ending of the blessing that we pronounce before we drink a “simple” glass of water. But there is a condition — the blessing is recited only when the water is drunk to quench one’s thirst. It is only then that we can enjoy its true “taste” and value, both physical as well as spiritual. By valuing the greatness and blessing that a simple glass of water represents, we can increase our happiness by becoming aware of and seeing greatness in all the other simple and not so simple things in life that we have to enjoy.

Gratitude has two connotations: 1) being grateful and feeling lucky for what one has; 2) being grateful and recognizing the goodness and love of the one who gives us what we have. This second connotation, in turn, has two objectives: 1) recognizing the goodness of the benefactor; 2) recognizing the fact that one is loved.

Is it possible to remain bitter and distressed when you see that you are the recipient of so much goodness and so much love?

In this week’s reading, Naso [1], we read, among other things, about the Nazir [2], an individual who decides to take a personal vow of abstinence. One of the components of this vow is that during its duration they are forbidden to consume grapes or their derivatives. At the end of the abstinence period, the Nazir must bring a sacrifice of atonement. What must be atoned for by an individual for whom the obligatory precepts of the Torah were not enough and who sought to do something “extra”? Rabbi Elazar Hakapar says [3]: it is because he deprived himself of wine. The Talmud [4] deduces from this: If by depriving oneself of wine one is considered to be a ‘transgressor’, how much more so for every thing of which he deprives himself!

What’s the idea here? Why does someone who deprived himself of enjoying wine require an atonement?

Based on what we explained, it is understood. By not enjoying the blessings that abound, we are in effect disregarding the goodness and expressions of love of the One who created and provided them. By not enjoying the pleasures of life —within the boundaries defined by Halachah, obviously—, we not only deprive ourselves of pleasure; we deprive G-d Himself of His pleasure.

Imagine a woman who spent hours preparing a tasty and wholesome meal for her family. When dinner time comes and her family sits down at the table to eat, who enjoys it more, the children who eat or their mother who watches them eat? The more the children enjoy the food she prepared, the greater the mother’s enjoyment!

G-d created this wonderful world with food that is not only nutritious but also delicious because he loves us; he wants us to enjoy it and he wants to see us enjoy it. He wants us to know how much He loves us. And he wants us to know how much he wants us to know that he loves us.

That’s right. The infinite and all-powerful Creator cares about your personal happiness. That’s why He created this wonderful world that provides us with so much pleasure. We don’t have to open our eyes too wide to see how lucky we are; we just have to make sure not to close them.

So this week’s tool is: before enjoying something “simple”, take a few moments to reflect and appreciate how incredibly wonderful it is and the magnitude of the expression of love it represents.

Shehakol njihiya bidevaro.

———–

Numbers 4:21- 7:89
2. Ibid. 6:1-21

3. See Talmud, Nazir 19a. Quoted by Rashi in his commentary on verse 6:11

4. Talmud, ibid.

About the Author
Rabbi Eliezer Shemtov, born in in Brooklyn, NY in 1961. Received Smicha From Tomchei Temimim in 1984 and shortly after was sent by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, may his merit shield us, together with his wife Rachel to establish the first Beit Chabad in Montevideo, Uruguay and direct Chabad activities in that country. He has authored many articles on Judaism that have been published internationally. Since publishing his popular book on intermarriage, "Dear Rabbi, Why Can't I Marry Her?" he has authored several books in Spanish, English and Hebrew dealing with the challenges that the contemporary Jew has to deal with.
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