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Areivim - Jewish Consciousness - Part 3
by Rabbi Shmuel Gluck

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Jewish Consciousness – Part 3

I found myself stuck in my car during the last blizzard. There were five other vehicles in front of me: cars, trucks and even snow plows, all trying to get out of a snow bank. It was past midnight, but there were still several men and women of all ages outside of their homes observing us. Many stayed outside in the blustery wind for more than two hours. They were talking to each other, the stranded drivers, and to those who responded to the numerous calls for help. I found it fascinating that the “parking lot” of cars would hold such a spellbound and loyal audience. The group of onlookers was animated and lively. They really seemed to be enjoying themselves.

It reminded me of something I read with regard to adults and teenagers who play video games. Adults can sit in front of a video game or computer for hours. They’ll speak proudly of their achievements and the time that they’ve invested in order to reach the video or computer milestones that they set for themselves. They’ll tell this to all types of people, unaware that many of them may be shaking their heads at their investment of time and money for such seemingly unimportant things in their lives.

I don’t believe that people should be robots, and not waste a second of their lives. I also appreciate that trivia and atypical incidents are interesting to many people. Those people who were talking outside of their homes during the snow storm may have done it as a “break” from their otherwise busy and productive life. Everyone needs to “get away’ once in a while. This article focuses on those people who spend large amounts of time on “nothingness”.

I’ve included this subject in the Jewish Consciousness series because it’s the secular world that promotes people’s right to do what they want, without being accountable to others or themselves. Today’s society promotes the belief that people should do what they want and not do what they don’t want. People who want to spend their days playing video games should be allowed to. People’s rights are inalienable, even when they conflict with their responsibilities towards their spouses, children and jobs.

Jewish thought strongly disagrees with this philosophy and promotes the concept that people are supposed to do more than what they need for themselves. They have a moral obligation to do as much as they’re able to help themselves, others, and the entire world.

Before I offer my insight into this subject I’d like to offer the following introduction. I often discuss self improvement and helping others improve. People need to have two separate standards for judging, one for themselves, and one for others.

When judging themselves they should be demanding and even slightly critical. When judging others, they should be patient and understanding. When trying to change others it must be done with a feeling of empathy and not impatience. I’m constantly reminding people that when they attempt to change others they must be goal oriented. Their purpose should be to make the other people better, and not to make themselves feel good.

Let’ return to my happy, but cold, friends of a few nights ago. People have different things that interest them and its these interests that define who they are. For instance, people who constantly help others demonstrate the trait of kindness.

However, wanting to help others may also indicate that the helpers have poor self images. Helping others may be rooted in a need to be appreciated, a selfless act motivated by selfish needs. Nevertheless, observing people who constantly do acts of kindness, even if they’re motivated by selfish reasons, still indicate that they’re kind people. People in need of being appreciated can do many things. Kind people who feel a need to be appreciated do kind things; unkind people do unkind things.

Some people’s interests highlight intelligence, others an absence of intelligence. Most people whose interests demonstrate a lack of intelligence or depth, have never been exposed to the beauty of a life with meaning. There are many “tastes” that must be cultivated to be appreciated. One may question as to why a person should attempt to cultivate an appreciation for an expensive wine or beautiful furniture, but there are “tastes” that are important for healthy living and are worth cultivating.

There are different categories of interests and each one corresponds to a different level of pleasure. The first and lowest level is the pleasure of fun. Fun, in my mind, is highly overrated. It’s something for which children, teenagers and some adults feel a strong need. They aren’t satisfied with the enjoyment that comes from reading a good book, or the accomplishment that comes from helping others.

The problem with the fun form of pleasure is that it wears off quickly. Being superficial, it doesn’t internalize within the person and creates only a short lived pleasure which disappears when the fun is over. Just as water slips from an oiled object leaving little or no residual effect, fun leaves little or not effect. Since the effect is short lived, the person must continue to look for more fun, more intense excitement, and constant stimuli.

The second level of pleasure is the arts. This is something that’s more spiritual and more individualistic to man. (Have you ever seen a moose staring at a sunset or listening to a beautiful song?) The pleasure of the arts has a certain comfort to it. Although intangible, the arts are deeply appreciated by people. These first two levels of pleasure have one thing in common. The people who’re the recipients of the pleasures don’t contribute to them. They’re passive and not active.

The third level of pleasure is the feeling of accomplishment. People can do very mundane and boring chores, but when they’ve completed them, they feel a sense of accomplishment. They may have even tried to “get out” of doing them, but once completed, they stand back and admire their work. They’ve created something. It may be a neat room or a tasty supper. If they helped others, they may have created within the others the ability to do something that they weren’t able to do previously.

The fourth level of pleasure also has to do with the feeling of accomplishment, but on a higher level. It’s reserved for accomplishments that focus on the purpose of our being in this world. One can easily understand that people will feel greater pleasure in finding a cure for cancer than from cleaning a garage. The magnitude of the work, how many people have been helped, and the manner in which they were helped, separates this level from the previous ones.

People can cultivate within themselves and their children an interest in higher levels of pleasures. This is an easier goal with young children than with adults. Children, who see their parents as being conscious of time, Chesed, and goal oriented, will naturally feel that those traits are positive ones to emulate. Children whose parents highlight that “things matter” and that “things make a difference”, will learn that people are allowed to have fun but, like everything else, fun has its time and place. Adults also can gain an interest in higher levels of pleasure by surrounding themselves with people who are goal oriented and thereby acquire a taste for a life dedicated to accomplishing.

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