Part II. Happy husband

The delight: luxury or necessity?

People treat delight differently. There are three main approaches:

  1. Delight is a benefit, which should be achieved.
  2. Delight is an evil, from which should be abstained.
  3. The approach of the Torah.

Let's consider all three approaches in more detail.

I. Man is so made that he unconsciously has a longing for delights. A child, having tasted sweets for the first time in his life, begins to demand it again and again. Having grown older, he learns of more delights and longs for them, and upon receiving one, immediately begins to strive for the next. As a result, life is transformed into a continuous pursuit of delights. Here is a quotation from Omar Khayyam3, glorifying this lifestyle:

I will enjoy, for as long as I live,
the tender face of a woman and the green grass.
I drank wine, I drink wine and, probably,
I will drink wine to my last minute.4

And here's another:

In this life, inebriation is best,
a tender houri's song is best,
ebullience of free thought is best,
forgetfulness of all prohibitions is best.4

Here the author mentions some “prohibitions.” It turns out that the continuous receiving of delights contradicts social norms. In addition there are also natural difficulties. There is no money. There is a lack of desire from the people on whom the delight depends, etc. What should be done in this situation? Go commit a crime or go to work? In any case, you have to pay for the delights, either before or after. There is an option to take no action, to just sit back and hope that one day the delight will come by itself. Many people live this way all of their life. Most of them die with a feeling that they have not seen the delights of life at all. A small percentage of these people are driven to criminal activity due to a sense of lack of delights. It's a vicious circle. “Pleasure is a boon, when it does not cause repentance” (Antisthenes). And here is another of his sayings. “One ought to seek pleasures that follow toils, not precede them.” This approach seems most prudent. It does not prejudice the interests of others, as in a case of a crime, and at the same time active steps are taken, unlike the passive waiting. But let's look more closely. The phrase “should aspire delights” means that the acquisition of delights is the goal of life. What would the life of a man with such a worldview look like? Either he will be lucky, and his works will lead to the realization of his dream (but then what will he aspire to later?), or he will grow old with the feeling that he was lacking delights in his life, or he will commit a crime. The circle is closed again.

Awareness of all this pushed some people to choose the second approach. Here is a saying of Socrates. “What person, when he is a slave to pleasures, would not pervert his body and soul?”

II. Delight is evil. “Nature did not give anything more dangerous and perilous to people than sensual pleasures. They cause betrayal of one's homeland, overthrow of state authority, secret dealings with enemies. There isn't a single crime, a single bad deed, in which the passion for pleasure would not involve one: indeed, dishonest acts, adultery and suchlike abominations are caused by nothing else but the bait of pleasure” (Archytas). And Aristotle comes to the following conclusion. “More than anything else, one should eschew pleasure and whatever brings it.” A person with such an approach to life is much more resistant to committing a crime. But does this path lead to happiness? Such a person does not listen to the needs of his body and soul but tries to suppress them by the mind. He is deprived of delights, trying to convince himself that does not feel needs for them. His goes through life in a continuous struggle with himself. It is not easy to live near such a person, because he not only refuses himself delight, but also tries to impose on those around him his opinion of their immorality. Such a person cannot be happy for two reasons:
1) its purpose is not positive;
2) happiness is itself a state of the soul, not an intellectual aim.

In the form of jokes I'll give another Omar Khayyam's quatrain:

I asked the wisest of men: “What did you get
from your manuscripts?” The wisest man replied:
“Happy is he who is far from bookish wisdom
at night, in the arms of a tender beauty.”4

Well, now seriously, is it possible that God has created delight (God has created everything, so, delight too) with the only purpose being to prohibit a person from receiving it? The answer is no. It can be seen in the Torah commandment about Nazir (a person who voluntarily accepted additional restrictions in order to increase his level of spirituality). After a period of separation, he had to bring two sacrifices to God in the Temple: the burnt offering and the sacrifice for sin. What kind of sin is in question, if the man was trying to get closer to God? The Talmud answers that the sin in this case is receiving less delight.

So, deliberate objection to enjoying delights is also not ideal in both the people's eyes (the majority of humanity) and in the eyes of God (of course, this is a figurative expression, not literal).

III. The approach of the Torah is that delight is a necessary concomitant factor on the way to the goal. I would like to emphasize that, on the one hand, it is necessary and, on the other, only a “concomitant... on the way to the goal” not an end in itself. The goal must always be higher and greater than just having delight. This is a qualitative difference from Approach I. For clarity, let's consider this for sexual delight. It's not a secret to anyone that it is not necessary to create a family in order to receive delight of this kind. Really, who needs a family, if sexual delight is an end in itself? As some joke, “The family costs more.” In this approach to life, the delight itself can become the simple satisfaction of physiological needs. The Torah sets the highest goal before a person: achieving perfection. And you cannot do it alone. At the beginning the Torah says that God created a person, and then divided him into a man and a woman. From this we can conclude that the “person” as a functional unit of the universe is just a couple, not an individual man and woman. Only Dvekut of man and women makes it possible for further progress on the way to perfection. It is clear that Dvekut includes a lot of factors such as emotions, energy, economic community, the desire to have children together, etc. This whole set is simply irrelevant in relationships without the intention of creating a family, as well as in relationships outside the family. Now, let's discuss intimacy. Harmony in this sphere is one of the most important factors of closeness between a husband and wife. The shared delight from sex strengthens the family. The feeling of unity obtained through it is reflected in other areas of family life and contributes to achieving family happiness. Thus, a happy family is a goal, and sexual delight is a necessary concomitant factor. With this approach, sexual delight itself is filled with much higher sense than the simple satisfaction of physiological needs. Voltaire commented on this and not only on this. “The true delights are impossible without true needs.” And these are the words of Rabbi Yehuda Halevi, spoken long before Voltaire. “Whoever is unable to pursue such a course, consider not his pleasure a human pleasure, but a brutish one” (Kuzari, 3:17).

Using the same example, we'll show advantages of the approach of the Torah on delight compared with the approach that “delight is evil.” If an uncontrollable desire for sex leads someone to lechery, it's not necessary to conclude from this that the desire for the wife is evil too. Such an attitude will inevitably lead to an increasing distance between spouses. Despite the fact that such a family can look “very decent” outwardly, there is no a question about any Dvekute. The Jewish approach offers such a person, that rather than spend his life in the struggle with his animality, to use it (it's clear, with carefully monitoring) in the way of service to God. A happy family is a necessary foundation for a person's spiritual growth. The forefathers (the founders) of the Jewish nation give us examples confirming this rule: King David (the founder of the house from which the Saviour of all humanity will be descended), Rabbi Akiva (whose disciples brought us the largest part of the Oral Torah, which connects us with the Sinai Revelation), and many other great people who achieved their spiritual heights, being happy in marriage.

This conversation can be continued further, but I think it's a time to turn to the most frequently encountered problems on the road to family happiness and finding ways to solve them.

  1. Quoting someone's words, I don't try to give some estimates to the author in any way, but only use someone's ability to formulate an idea, which dominated many people. And it does not even matter what the author thought, expressing a particular idea. Being born by someone, an idea lives by an independent life.
  2. Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam are translated by Vlanes from the Russian book «From Omar Khayyam to Ecclesiastes» by German Plisetski (Герман Плисецкий, От Омара Хайама до Экклезиаста, “Фортуна Лимитед,” Москва, 2001).