We all want to feel pleasure, and we want it now…don’t we deserve it? It’s human nature to feel that way. According to Judaism, there are five levels of pleasure, and at each level, there is a healthy approach and a counterfeit approach to reaching that pleasure.
Rabbi Teller, Aish HaTorah’s brand new LA Jewish Experience Rabbi (we are so blessed to have this wise and kind individual!), gave a lecture to a group of young professional Jews in Los Angeles, CA, on Monday, April 22, 2013. He patiently and enthusiastically explained three things to remember about pleasure, and what each level represents.
Three important notes to keep in mind as we learn about the levels of pleasure:
1. Become a connoisseur: know what level the pleasure is on, to identify it’s importance and value.
2. Focus on the ultimate goal, not on the effort required to reach the goal.
3. Never trade a higher level of pleasure for a lower level of pleasure.
So what are these levels? Think of them as a pyramid. We will start our discussion at the fifth and most basic level, at the bottom of the pyramid. Each level leads to the next, moves us towards goals, and pushes us beyond our current limits, forcing us to venture outside our comfort zones.
The 5 Levels Of Pleasure
5. Physical – This is the lowest level, since it is the most easily attained. It satisfies our most immediate needs. It is important and answers one of the most basic human needs for survival, but while it should be answering needs, the counterfeit is that we all too often have an obsession with selfishness, and it ends up answering wants.
4. Love – Love is defined by the Rambam as choosing to focus on one virtue that is so admirable, that you love that virtue. Love means focusing on the memories, the stories, the positive. It means that you would never trade anything for that love. Love’s essence is giving. It is not passive at all – “falling in love” is a passive phrase that we are all aware of, but true love is very active and requires work. Love is having a true connection. The counterfeit in this case is lust and infatuation.
3. Meaning – Fighting for a cause you believe in, donating, living for something worthwhile…these are all examples of ways to bring meaning into your life. Meaning is when an Israeli mother sends her son to fight for her country. It can be something completely different for every person. The counterfeit is when an individual’s intentions are not entirely good, but he or she wishes to look good in the public’s eye.
2. Power and Creativity – Do not be turned off by the word “power”; its definition can mean many things. In this case, Rabbi Teller explains that G-d is the creator and we are all the created. Since we are all upposed to be like G-d, we should therefore create, be productive, and feel powerful in our doing so. We all have the ability to cause change and give seed as we grow through our own changing process. This process is powerful and creative, similar to what we go through on Yom Kippur. This ability gives us our G-d like feature, and we should always be powerful by growing and bettering ourselves and the world. The counterfeit is trying to look powerful.
1. Relationship with G-d – The highest level of pleasure a person can experience is when we know we are not living only for ourselves. When we know we were not created randomly; that events that occur, no matter how painful, all happen for a reason. Mitzvot (good deeds) are the gateway to connecting with G-d, and even if we at times do not understand why we follow a certain law, it is still good to say you are doing it because it brings you closer to your religion, closer to your relationship with G-d, or just makes you feel good as a Jew.
We need all five of these pleasures, so long as we are able to understand where they belong and how to ensure we do not experience their counterfeits. Rabbi Teller suggested a wonderful exercise that I have been doing, and highly recommend to everyone:
Think of simple and random things to be grateful for. Make a list of five different items every day. This is a great way to acknowledge and appreciate tiny miracles that occur all around us, every day.
Life is a test!
Be grateful and find pleasure, even in pain. It will lead to good. So…tizremu!