Posted on | August 13, 2009 | By Guest Contributor | 1 Comment
By Rabbi Shafier
ספר דברים פרק יב
(כ) כִּי יַרְחִיב יְדֹוָד אֱלֹהֶיךָ אֶת גְּבֻלְךָ כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר לָךְ וְאָמַרְתָּ אֹכְלָה בָשָׂר כִּי תְאַוֶּה נַפְשְׁךָ לֶאֱכֹל בָּשָׂר בְּכָל אַוַּת נַפְשְׁךָ תֹּאכַל בָּשָׂר:
רש”י על דברים פרק יב פסוק כ
(כ) כי ירחיב וגו’ – למדה תורה דרך ארץ שלא יתאוה אדם לאכול בשר אלא מתוך רחבת ידים ועושר.
“When HASHEM your G-d will broaden your boundary as He spoke to you, and you say, “I will eat meat,” for you will have a desire to eat meat, to your heart’s entire desire you may eat meat.” – Devarim 12:20
For forty years in the midbar the Jewish people ate mon. Guided by Moshe Rabbeinu, engaged in constant Torah study with every physical need taken care of, the Klal Yisrael lived on a lofty spiritual plane. Now that they were being ushered into a different era – entering Eretz Yisroel where they would begin living in a natural manner – they were given many directives to retain their status as an exalted nation.
One of the points that Moshe Rabbeinu made to the Klal Yisrael is that when they settled the land and followed the Torah, they would find success in their endeavors, and HASHEM would expand their borders. When this would occur, they would desire meat. And they would be allowed to eat it anywhere they wished.
Rashi is bothered by the relationship between the expanding of borders and the “desire to eat meat.” It almost implies that the expansion of borders brings on the desire. Rashi explains that the Torah is teaching us a principle in derech eretz. A person should only desire meat when he can afford it. When HASHEM expands our borders and we enjoy financial success, then it is appropriate to desire meat – not before.
This Rashi seems difficult to understand. What is wrong with desiring meat? The Torah might tell me that if I can’t afford meat, I shouldn’t eat it. If it is beyond my means and purchasing it would create an undue expense, I shouldn’t buy any. But what is wrong with just desiring it?
Pleasures and Passions
The answer to this can be best understood with a moshol. Imagine that you find yourself shipwrecked on a desert island. You haven’t eaten in three days, and you are driven by one burning desire – food. As you hobble along the island, you notice a brown paper bag under a palm tree. You open it up to find a dry peanut butter sandwich that has sat out in the sun for three months. You gulp down that sandwich with more gusto than anything that you have ever eaten in your life.
Here is the question: how much pleasure did you derive from eating that sandwich? There is no question that you had a powerful urge, a very real desire, but how much enjoyment did you receive from that activity? The answer is not much. It certainly relieved your hunger, and in that sense brought a release from pain, but it would be hard to imagine that for the rest of your life you would be reminiscing back to the sensation of the bitter, spoiled peanut butter and dry, cracked bread as it scratched your throat when you swallowed it.
This is a good example of the distinction between pleasure and passion. You ate that sandwich with great desire – a lot of passion – but you didn’t derive much pleasure from that activity. Passion is the pull to engage in a given activity. Pleasure is the amount of enjoyment you receive from it. As unusual as it may sound, most people fail to make a distinction between pleasures and passions.
HASHEM wants us to be happy
This seems to be the answer to the Rashi. While it is true that life is a battle, and exerting self-control is the primary vehicle of growth, HASHEM created us to be happy. If you bring new desires into your world, desires that you can’t possibly fulfill, you are destined to be miserable. You will be constantly wanting, constantly hungry. Your life will become the opposite of a pleasurable existence.
The Torah is teaching us that our desires are things that we can and need to control. If you have the capacity to meet the desire to eat meat, and it is within the parameters of your purpose in life, there is nothing wrong with allowing those desires to surface. HASHEM created many pleasures for man to enjoy, and you should use those pleasures to better serve Him. But if you don’t have the means to fulfill those hungers and you allow them to be present, then you will be living a very uncomfortable existence, constantly hungering for something that can’t be met.
When HASHEM grants you abundance and you can afford luxuries, then you will desire meat – but not before. The Torah is educating us into a higher form of living. When you enjoy the pleasures and control your desires, you use this world for its intended purpose, thereby living b’ shleimus – complete, not lacking.
Consumerism – a national culture of competitive acquisitions
This concept is very applicable in our times. Economists refer to us as the consumer generation. The word consumer is a derivative of the word “consume,” which means to eat, to use up. And it is very telling. The culture we live in breeds the need to consume, whether it be food, clothing, appliances, electronics, cars. . . These products aren’t acquired. They are used up – and at an ever-increasing rate. It has been said that progress today can be measured by the speed by which yesterday’s luxury becomes today’s necessity.
But it is more than simply being cultured into the need to acquire material possessions. Spending has become the vehicle to establish social position. For many people, their personal identities are tied up in the type of car they drive and the brand of clothing they wear. Their entire sense of self is based on an image sold in the marketplace.
We are the Chosen Nation – expected to live above the rest of the nations. Unfortunately, that sense of living at a higher standard can become perverted into materialism, where the expectation is that for people like “us,” nothing less than the best will do. And so our weddings, our wardrobes, our homes, and our cars have to be the best. The way our children dress and the types of toys that they expect are nothing short of top-notch. And we find ourselves with an ever-increasing cost of living. When barely surviving in our communities means that we are expected to earn three to four times the national median household income, something is wrong with our lifestyle.
But what can we do about it? We can’t be expected to live with less than everyone else. And so we find ourselves caught in this ever-increasing spiral of earn and spend, earn and spend, until no matter how much money we make, we never seem to make ends meet.
While only a Navi can define for us why HASHEM does what He does, when we witness “market corrections,” and a general sense of “we must cut spending” arises, we might conjecture that it is a great chessed to us. It teaches us to enjoy what we have without creating new desires and expectations – to break out of this culture of spending, and the baggage that it brings.
We live in times of mass prosperity where the average person is rich, but to enjoy that great bracha, we must maintain control. The Torah’s goal is for us to be live an exalted life, to be the Chosen Nation, to be happy and satisfied in our existence. Everything in this world was created for man’s use – but it must be used properly, in balance, in the right time, and in the right measure. When man does that, he enjoys his short stay on this planet and accomplishes his purpose in Creation.
For more on this topic please listen to Shmuz #156 Get out of Debt
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