By David Lichtenstadter
MyLife Essay Contest 2017
We all love to relax and to be entertained in the time that we know that life has real meaning and we have serious goals to achieve. So it is intriguing why we have the urge for these acts and to know if they are at all permissible.
In today’s day and age we live in a fast paced world with lots of pressures and outside influence which entice us even more to engage with entertainment. Our kids are growing up with so much access to entertainment, and entertainers are having more and more influence on world views. This all forces us even more to deal with this question. So let’s see what Chasidus has to say on this topic, to clarify its purpose, and how we shall utilize it properly.
Why We Need to Break
Body and soul, living together in harmony and peace, is the design of creation that Hashem put forward as his plan for our world. Ultimately the mission is to enhance the soul, but purposely only in a body 1. The challenge of that is that the body has needs of its own, that might seem to be contradicting the needs of the soul, but if they aren’t cared for properly, they will ultimately end up restraining us from doing what we are supposed to do.
We are therefore obligated to care for our body, treating it as a partner which enhances our mission in this world. We address bodily needs by eating and sleeping etc. These activities are necessary to keep us alive and healthy. When engaging in these activities we should not see it as wasting time and effort, but rather as important activities, helping us to achieve our goal 2.
This idea is essential to Chasidus and widely discussed, but what is less known is additional needs of the body which are not that obvious as the above mentioned, yet they are crucial to life sustenance. These needs are nevertheless crucial for our mental and spirit well being, and for that we might need to engage in what might look like frivolous acts or as a ‘waste of time’, but if we do it in the right manner and with the correct attitude it is as holy as all other work we do.
Categories of Pleasure
These activities can be generally categorized as ‘pleasure’ – which is a broad term, including in it various levels- we can classify them in the following order:
1) Pleasure in life essential activities
2) Pleasure from non essential activities
4) Pleasure from nature and the arts
5) Relaxing and vacationing
6) Pleasure from engaging the mind
Pleasure in life essential activities – like the enjoyment of good tasting food, the consumption of the food keeps us alive, and the pleasure of the taste broadens our mind. (The same can be said for the pleasure of a good sleep etc.) 3.
Pleasure from non essential activities – The pleasure of enjoying fragrance helps deepen our minds for study and learning 4.
Humor – enhances our moods and lifts the spirit, which is necessary to keep us joyous and uplifted in our service 5.
Pleasure from nature and the arts – being entertained by physical beauty; nature, art, music etc. which relax the mental state of the body enabling us to continue in the appropriate fashion (music might be Halachically questioned but in this spirit it is permissible) 6.
Relaxing and vacationing – when the body needs to recharge, we pause from serious work to get back our strength to continue in our work.
Pleasure from engaging the mind – the enjoyment of wisdom and innovation. This pleasure is a finer the all above mentioned, being that it is unique to humans and therefore it isn’t animalistic like the the others 7.
After we have clarified the purpose of entertainment we know that it is something that has to fulfill the necessity of each individual. A person has to know what his body needs to be able to relax properly just like every person knows which foods fulfill his needs and how much sleep they need, so it is with entertainment and vacationing 8.
All the above activities is what can be called ‘playing’, an animalistic activity, and Psychologists define ‘play’ as ‘any activity that is not serious or work’, and its uniqueness as ‘activities in which means are more valued then ends’ 9. When explaining why people play, some go so far as saying that, when we are just living our lives freely, we ‘play’, all other serious activities that we are engaged in and occupy ourselves with for the majority of our time like work, family etc. is just out of necessity to survive but when we are free we play 10.
Yes, we can say that play is activities in which means are valued over ends, but it itself has an end results which justifies its means, that is to use it to fulfill our mission.
No, it is not where we live, it is a state of breaking for the sake of living better. Life itself cannot pause even for a moment, therefore the purpose for what we are created for, which is the essence of our life to serve Hashem cannot go on vacation or cease its action, but life comes with side shows as the body and because it is only a secondary therefore it can take a rest and break for recharge 11.
One has to be extra careful when engaging in these mundane states, that it should be in the appropriate manner, so it will fulfill its purpose – by helping us fulfill our purpose. This attribute of seeking pleasure and entertainment is as everything else in life, we should strive and work to refine ourselves to satisfy our pleasure with finer ones, and if one can, ultimately to take pleasure and joy only from spirituality. But as we all climb our own ladder of life, we should all be joyous in our way of serving Hashem, untill we will Bez”h fulfill our mission, making our lives and the world a home for Hashem to enjoy.
Footnotes and Sources
1. See Tanya chapter 37 p. 96. A Tzadik could live without taking pleasure from the physical world as in Tanya ch. 8, the Rebbe Raha”b in Kun. Etz Hachaim ch. 8 writes that this is only by ‘tzadikim gemurim’. The Rebbe Rasha”b was physically forced to take breaks from his Avodah see Toras Menachem vol. 4 p. 335.
2. Ramba”m Hilchos Daios 3:3, Sichos 12 Tamuz 5724 (6), Hayom Yom 28 Shvat, Rabeinu Bachya Breishis 27:4.
3. Yuma 76b, Eiruvin 64a, Tanya chapter 7.
5. Tanya Ibid, Mamorei Lecha Dodi, Sefer Mamarim 5670 p. 71.
6. Ramba”m Sh’monah Prakim chapter 5, Shu”t Shevet Halevi vol. 6 res. 69.
7. Kuntres Umayan Mamar 1.
8. Sichos 12 Tamuz 5724 (6). Kuntres Umayan Mamar 1.
9. Marc Bekoff Ph.D. , Times Higher Education May 2014.
10. Bernard L. De Koven, Psychology Today Oct. 2016.
11. Lekutei Sichos Vol. 8 p. 321, Sichos 12 Tamuz 5731 (10).