109 The Power of Pleasure – Repenting in Happiness -Special Holiday Edition – Rosh Hashanah – Yom Kippur – Sukkoth – Based on a class form Rabbi Avigdor Miller -Hashem wanted to give Adam HaRishon physical pleasure, in order that Adam should say, “Hashem, I love you.”
The Torah Podcast Transcript
The Torah Podcast 109 – The Power of Pleasure – Repenting in Happiness
Special HolidayEdtion — Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Sukkos – Based on a class by Rabbi Avigdor Miller
Rav Avigdor Miller wants to explain that when the spies came to Eretz Yisroel, it was already 400 years after God promised the land to the Jewish people. What was going on during that period? The land was being cultivated by the Canaanim. By the time the Jewish people came to the land, the possuk says, “Tov ha’aretz meod meod.” The land is very, very good. The land flowed with milk and honey, and it was the most cultivated place on the planet. The fruits were enormous, it took eight men to carry a cluster of grapes. And the Gemara in Berachos 44a says that Rav Yochanan used to take his talmidim to Ginosar to taste the fruits there. It’s next to the Kineret. And even though it was after the destruction of the Beis Hamigdash, the fruits there were still close the original level, so Rav Yochanan used to take his talmidim there to taste the fruits.
Rav Miller wants to explain that they went there in order to taste the gashmius, the physical, the blessing that was bestowed on our forefathers, the physical blessing. They didn’t want to just have an intellectual understanding of the happiness that our forefathers had, while they were Eretz Yisroel in its glory, they wanted to taste it, they wanted to feel it. He wants to explain he said, “Yedia Chushis,” they wanted to have the same feeling that our forefathers had. And even though these were the greatest thinkers of all time, the greatest intellectuals, but they ate and they ate in order to experience the pleasure of what our forefathers had in Eretz Yisroel, because they wanted to understand what does it mean that the land was tov meod meod, very, very good. This is the land that God gave to the Jewish people. What does that mean? And how does it feel to be truly blessed by Hashem in the physical world? They wanted to understand that.
With this, we could understand the connection between Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Sukkos. Rosh Hashana is a time when we have to make Hashem the King. It’s a time to get the concept that God is running the world. Then comes Yom Kippur, and we need to repent. We need to check out our actions, and we need to feel the heaviness of our sins. And we have to make sure we take responsibility, and we’re filled with fear, and the heaviness, and the responsibility for our deeds. Rav Miller wants to explain, all of this is bedi eved, this is all after the sin of Adam HaRishon. He says, “Really, the Mesillas Yesharim brings down that man was created in this world for pleasure. And that’s because happiness is the true way to come close to God, and it’s the most effective and the most important thing that a person could have in order to come close to God.” Happiness, pleasure. And therefore, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur come before Sukkos. It’s all a preparation for the real serving of God, which happens on Sukkos, a time of our simcha, zman simchaseinu. Sukkos is a time of true happiness. He explains that when man was created, he was put into Gan Eden, and Eden means “pleasure, delight.” And he was put into an orchard with trees, and beautiful fruits, and everything that he could possibly want on the physical level. So, he asks, “Adam HaRishon, the first man, was the most intellectual being that existed in the universe. He could see from one end of the world to the other. He gave all the names to all the animals. He was a conceptual person.
Why was the gift that God gave him physical? Give him something intellectual. Fruit trees, an orchard, is that what you would give Rabbi Akiva Eiger? No, you’d buy him seforim, you’d buy him books. You would give him something to advance his intellectual curiosity, not a nice hotel filled with the physical pleasures. So, what’s going on here? He wants to explain that Hashem wanted to give Adam HaRishon physical pleasure in order that Adam should say, “Hashem, I love you.” He gave him the gashmius, he gave him the physical in order to bring him closer to Hashem. And in this way, Adam would understand the chessed, the kindness of Hashem. He would sing to Hashem, he would come closer to Hashem by receiving the physical. And with each different fruit that Adam saw, he would go higher and higher. He saw a pear, he saw an apple. He saw the red in the apple, where did the red come from? The ground is not red, the tree is not red. Why is the apple red? And with each different pleasure he would come closer and closer to God. He would see the greatness of God. And when you see all the wonderful things that God gives you for your pleasure, there is no limit to your happiness. There’s no limit to the desire to come closer and closer to God.
And why did Yitzhak ask Esav to bring him venison in order to bless him? Because there’s no comparison, giving a blessing to a son who didn’t give you pleasure, as compared to a son who just brought you pleasure. He wanted to give him a greater blessing. This is the nature of man, our physical pleasure draws us to the source of that pleasure. And the happiness that you have on Sukkos and the dancing that you do on Simchas Torah is all a sign of how close you are, and how close you feel to God. It’s an expression of that. So, if Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur worked and you came close, so surely you will experience tremendous happiness during Sukkos and Simchas Torah. But if you’re wasting your time during Sukkos and Simchas Torah you’re outside the shul talking, that’s surely a sign that you’re not really close.
He brings the Chayei Adam who brings a moshul that a man wanted to fatten a goose, so he would force-feed the goose. At a certain point, the goose stopped eating. So, what did he do? He waited a couple of days, and then afterwards the goose ate even more. He says, “It’s like a person who repents during Rosh Hashana, during Yom Kippur. And this relieves him of his guilt, but afterwards as soon as his Yom Kippur is over, he’s back to his old ways. He’s back to his sins, and he’s sinning even more”. But surely, a person who really repented, a person who really came close to God is going to feel tremendous happiness during Sukkos and Simchas Torah. And he says that that happiness is surely a sign that you are truly a servant of God.
Why did Rabbi Yochanan and his talmidim go to eat those fruits? Because the pleasure that they had, they used it to come close to God, just like Adam HaRishon used the pleasure that he had to come close to God. He wants to explain that a great person uses the pleasure to go higher and higher in levels of spirituality. But a person who’s not like that, he’s just choosing the pleasure for himself. He takes the pleasure for himself, and he goes on his merry way. He forgets about a God. But a person who really appreciates all the kindness that God is doing for him, he has kakores hatov, Hashem made a whole world for him with trees, and fruits, and air, and mountains, and snow – everything that Hashem made for us. If we’re aware of that pleasure, it’s going to bring us closer and closer to God, if that’s our goal.
But it’s only a person who really searches for that, who opens his mind to see the pleasures that God is giving him on a daily basis, minute to minute. And this is why Gan Eden, the Garden of Eden, and Eretz Yisroel, and Yerushalayim were filled with physical pleasures, in order to elevate the Jews to bring them back to higher levels. And this is what the verse in Shmuel says about the days of Shlomo HaMelech. “They ate, and they drank, and they rejoiced.” This is a brief description of Shlomo HaMelech’s time, the glory of the Jewish people during the Temple period. It’s not l’havdil like the nations say, “Eat, drink and be merry, because tomorrow we die.” No, it’s “Eat, drink and be merry because we want to be close to God, to come back to avodas Hashem, to learn Torah, to daven, pray, to do mitzvos, commandments.” This was the purpose of the world. This is why Hashem made Gan Eden with so much pleasure. And this is in the blessing when we eat the fruits of Eretz Yisroel, the blessing says, “Bring us into the land in order to eat the fruits and be satiated with the happiness of the land, and we will bless You because of that.”
So, even though the base of Judaism is intellectual, seicheli, understanding, sitting in yeshivas, coming close to God by using our intelligence, but the physical pleasure is the engine that makes the whole system run. And when they ate in the Beis Hamigdash, when the Cohanim ate the korbanos, sacrifices, it made them holy. It says that Rav Yochanan ben Abba was famous for eating until he became very heavy, physically heavy – why? Because he was going up and up in kedusha, in holiness. This is the chiddush of Judaism, this is the novel ideal of Judaism. We take the physical and we uplift it, we come back to God through the physical pleasure. And what does the verse mean, “The tree was good to eat from?” the tree in Gan Eden was good for Adam to eat? It means it was good for Adam, it was really good because it was his purpose. His purpose in life was to eat from the tree and to elevate himself.
I remember there’s a Gemara somewhere that says that the fruit of Eretz Yisroel bring holiness, they bring holiness to the person. And this was the meaning also of the korban Pesach. The korban Pesach was the first korban, the first sacrifice that was eaten by the Jewish people because the verse says, “My children, my firstborn son.” When the Jews came out of Egypt at that point they became the chosen people, and they were actually able to eat the sacrifices, because they were on a level, they were able to uplift it and come closer to God, and eat leshem shemayim, eat for the sake of God.
And this is what the verses mean when it says, “Eat in the presence of Hashem.” Eating itself is a service to God. And he claims that we could do it also, if we sit down and we eat and we say, we’re eating le shem shemayim, in order to be borei behazak l’avodas Hashem, in order to be healthy and strong, in order to serve God, so our eating itself brings us holiness. And he says, “Even if you don’t mean it, at least try it. Say it to yourself. ‘I am eating in order to serve God. I’m eating in order to do the will of my Creator.’” But it’s not only eating. It’s seeing all the wonders that God creates. If you look under a microscope it’s a miracle. If you look through a telescope it’s a miracle. All of these pleasures and details, and the kindness of God, should bring us back to Him. And this is what the Rambam says, “In every small thing there’s a wisdom without end.” Adam HaRishon saw into every detail of creation. He was ecstatic with happiness. He says, “He was wild with happiness.” Adam HaRishon was flying with the happiness that he had.
So we now have to understand what’s the goal of the Chagim. What’s the goal of Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, and Sukkos? The goal is Sukkos, Rosh Hashana is to recognize the King, to see the greatness, the wonders of God. Yom Kippur is to repent for our sins. But the real goal is the happiness, it’s the thing that’s going to really bring us back. It’s called teshuva meahava, to return to God in happiness, because of happiness, because of the kindness that He does for us. So, if we want to return to God in happiness, we need to open our minds and see the wonders of creation, all the details, all the expansiveness of all the heavens, the solar system, the universe. Down to the eating at the Shabbos table, the pleasures from the food that we have, should all bring us back. This is the true teshuva. This is the teshuva from ahava, returning to God because of love of God.
So, the real thing we need to work on before Rosh Hashana, before Yom Kippur and before Sukkos is love. And if we can feel that love we will surely be blessed by God. And when we eat the apple with honey on Rosh Hashana, we should think of the kindness of God and return to Him with a full heart.
Rabbi Eliyahu Mitterhoff