Religious Jews Are Not Deprived
Parshat Kedoshim begins with the words, קדושים תהיו, “Be holy.” The Rabbis comment on this by saying, קדש עצמך במותר לך, “Sanctify yourself with what is permitted.” Many believe that when one chooses to live the life of an observant Jew, he is depriving himself of many of the joys of life. This statement of the Rabbis, proves the contrary.
The Rambam in Hilchot Deot makes this point very clearly. He wrote that it would almost be sinful not to partake of worldly pleasures. The goal is to elevate and sanctify them. For example, it is strongly recommended to marry and fall in love. A religious couple learn to express their love in different ways. When the laws of Family Purity are observed, the times when a physical bond is permitted, it is considered a holy union.
We are allowed to partake of delicious food. We only need to be certain that this food is kosher. We add additional sanctity to our food, by making a blessing, before and after partaking of this food.
There is nothing wrong with living in a beautiful house. We make our house a home, by putting Mezuzot on our doors. We make it a special home by welcoming guests, and creating an atmosphere of warmth and love.
This is what is meant by sanctifying oneself with what is permitted. Religious Jews do not feel deprived. They learn to take even mundane activities, and add some Godliness to it.
A student once came to me the morning after learning this valuable lesson. He told me that when he brushed his teeth that morning, he did it with the intention of having a fresh and clean mouth. This would be the respectful way for him to say his morning prayers. He got the message.