Shabbat Message: Go and Enjoy — With God’s Blessing!

Posted on May 21, 2021 by Rabbi Arnold S. Gluck

After a year of many deprivations, and much fear and anxiety, we come to a teaching in the Torah that prescribes a practice of self-denial. It is the path of the Nazirite, described in Parashat Naso, and it involves a spiritual exercise based in abstinence. Any Israelite could choose to embark on this practice by taking a vow to refrain from drinking wine and from cutting one’s hair for a defined period to dedicate oneself to God. Upon reaching the end of this time, the Nazirite was to shave his or her consecrated hair and bring a sin offering to God.

The rabbis, reflecting on this practice, wonder why one who has lived in a state of sacred devotion would have to bring a sin offering. Abstaining from the joys of this world, they conclude, is not an act of piety but a denial of God’s purpose in creating a world filled with things that look good, taste good, and make us feel good. As we read in the Midrash on our parashah: “If the Nazarite needed atonement because he afflicted himself in abstaining from wine, how much more does one need atonement who gives oneself pain by abstaining generally [from pleasant and legitimate enjoyments].” [1]

There is a striking passage in the Jerusalem Talmud that amplifies this teaching. It comes at the end of Kiddushin, the tractate on marriage, and it makes it clear that God intends for us to enjoy the pleasures of this world.

It begins by telling us that Abraham observed the entire Torah, even though it hadn’t yet been given, and that he was rewarded with wealth in cattle, silver, and gold, and was blessed in all things. What are we to learn from this? We are to understand that a life of piety does not equate with asceticism. To the contrary, it should be filled with joy and quality of life.

The Talmud goes on to spell out what this means: Rabbi Hezkiya [and] Rabbi Cohen [said] in the name of Rav: “It is forbidden to reside in a city that has no doctor, and where there is no bathhouse…” Rabbi Yosi ben Rabbi Bon said: “It is also forbidden to reside in a city where there is no vegetable garden.” And then, to sum it all up in the clearest possible way, Rabbi Hezkiya [and] Rabbi Cohen [said] in the name of Rav: “In the future, a person will [have to] account for everything that his eye saw, and he did not eat.” Lest we think that this is merely a rhetorical flourish and not meant to be taken seriously, we are told that Rabbi Elazar paid attention to this teaching and kept small coins (in his pocket), so he could [purchase and] eat every kind [of produce] with them [at least] once a year.

I urge us always to embrace this life affirming attitude, and especially to do so now as we are beginning to emerge from the constraints of the last 14 months. As more of us are getting vaccinated (and please get vaccinated as you are able), it is time to start getting out to enjoy the beauty of the world in all its delights, especially as nature is in the full bloom of springtime. It is time, as we are able, to enjoy the company of family and friends, and to do so knowing that we do all of this with God’s blessing. As we are commanded in Deuteronomy 26 after the description of the ritual of the first fruits: V’samachta b’chol ha-tov asher natan l’cha Adonai Elohecha…, “You shall rejoice in all of the good that the Eternal your God has given you…” [2]

Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Arnie Gluck

[1] Sifra Numbers, Naso 30
[2] Deuteronomy 26:11