Pirkei Avot, “Ethics of the Fathers,” states in chapter 6:6: “The Torah is acquired in 48 ways.” This week: Way #17, “Limited pleasure”
What is pleasure? By listing it separately from “limited marital relations” and “limited eating and drinking,” pleasure must refer to something else.
The classic Musar (ethical) work Mesillat Yesharim (about which the Vilna Gaon reputedly said that he read the first 11 pages before finding a single extraneous word), defines pleasure this way: a relationship with G-d, the experience of holiness. There is no greater pleasure.
If so, why does Pirkei Avot advise us to limit it?
We have here an analogy to the Talmudic statement that if the Messiah arrives while you’re planting a tree, finish planting the tree, then greet the Messiah. G-d’s commandments supersede all. The acquisition of Torah is a commandment; in fact, one about which the Talmud says, “it is as weighty as the rest of the commandments combined.”
If the acquisition of the Torah is to be successful, even the ultimate pleasure, the direct pursuit of holiness, must be limited to its appropriate frameworks: Shabbat. Holidays. Prayer. Mikveh.
How these opportunities for holiness are experienced requires knowledge of their source: acquisition of the Torah is supreme. It is a process, aided when the direct pursuit of holiness is limited to its beneficial frameworks.
“Spaced out on holiness” is not the Jewish way, which, in fact, is the acquisition of the Torah.
The 17th way to acquire the Torah: Limited Pleasure.
Way #1, Study; Way #2, Listen; Way #3, Articulate Speech; Way #4, Understanding of the Heart; Way #5, An Intelligent Heart; Way #6, Awe; Way #7, Fear; Way #8, Humility; Way #9a, Joy; Way #9b, Purity; Way #10, Serving the Sages; Way #11, Interaction with colleagues; Way #12, Exchanges with students; Way #13, Deliberation; Way #14, Scripture; Way #15a, Mishnah; Way #15b, Limited Business Activity; Way #16a, Limited Marital Relations; Way #16b, Portion Control
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