Sunday, March 05, 2006

Enjoying Life, Slabodka Style

The medieval works are fairly clear on their attitudes towards enjoying life. Some, particularly from Ashkenazic pietists, advocate ascetism and denounce worldly pleasures. Others, most notably the Rambam, steer clear of ascetism and recommend moderation and partaking only as is necessary for health. I cannot think of any that advocate enjoying life as a fulfillment of finding God in everything or dutifully partaking of God's bountiful world.

Louis Jacobs, in his Beyond Reasonable Doubt, pp. 220-222, states that the Hassidic movement also does not advocate enjoying worldly pleasures. This seems to be counter to my impression, at least of more mainstream Hassidic thought, but I defer to his knowledge of Hassidic texts.

However, the Alter of Slabodka, R. Nosson Tzvi Finkel, seems to have taken a very different approach. R. Shlomo Yosef Zevin, in his Soferim U-Sefarim p. 130, quotes an article by the important student of the Alter, R. Yitzhak Isaac Schorr, on the subject of oneg Shabbos. R. Schorr argues that God wants us to taste from this world and enjoy the wonders that God has presented before us. But not only on Shabbos:

From the teachings of our master [the Alter] we learn that this is the way of perfection all year long [and not just on Shabbos]... It is upon one to enjoy all of the physical pleasures and to recognize, through this--to increase and become complete in this recognition--that one is delighting in God.
Jacobs quotes R. Yosef Leib Bloch, in his Shi'urei Da'as (vol. 2 pp. 104-116), as similarly advocating fulfilling and enjoying one's basic needs for pleasure.

Jacobs fails to cite an important essay on this topic in Or Ha-Tzafun (vol. 2 ch. 21 pp. 122-127), compiled by the editors of the book from notes of a lecture given by the Alter himself. The Alter is quoted as saying:
The holiness of Shabbos comes specifically through physical delights, like eating and drinking... From here we see that repentance also only comes through physical delights, since the essence of repentance is to fix a flaw in holiness. If holiness is delight, the flaw in holiness is a lack of delight, and one can only fix it through completing delight, i.e. through physical pleasure...

We see that it is in man's power to raise even physical matters to a level of holiness...

In truth, in existence there are no physical things because all objects in this world are initially spiritual, but man in his decline makes them physical.
See also the writings of another Slabodka alumnus, R. Ya'akov Moshe Lessin's Ha-Ma'or She-Ba-Torah (here - PDF), vol. 1 pp. 438-445.

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