Judaism and the Lust for Life
Irving stone called his biography of Vincent van Gogh “The lust for life.” The same title can be used to describe Judaism. Many religions shy away from, and categorically prohibit, some of life’s chief sensuous pleasures as sinful and unworthy.
For example, in Islam alcohol is strictly prohibited under any circumstances. A Buddhist monk may never eat meat, and a catholic nun or priest practice celibacy for their entire lifetime. Judaism is very different. Our faith prescribes that all of life’s pleasures are here for us to enjoy and elevate.
In our parashah, we read about the Nazir. The Nazir was a person who took a voluntary vow to refrain from certain activities for a specifically limited period of time. For example, a Nazir could vow to refrain from consuming alcohol for six months. But after the Nazir fulfilled his vow, and refrained from consuming alcohol for six months, the Torah stipulates that he has to go and place an offering at the Temple. Why the offering? Because the Nazir just spent a period of time in which he turned his back on one of G-d’s gifts to humanity, in this case – alcohol.
The Jewish philosophy of life is that everything that exists in this world has a spiritual purpose, and we are commanded to harness it for spiritual elevation. That’s why we kick off every Jewish festivity from Shabbat and a Jewish holiday to a bris and a wedding with alcohol, and that’s why intimacy between husband and wife is a lofty mitzvah, and that’s why it’s a worthy mitzvah to enjoy a lavish meal during Shabbat and Jewish Holy Days.
Unlike some other faiths, Judaism embraces life’s sensuous pleasures. Judaism is not about self-deprivation, it is about self-elevation.