A Thought for the Three Weeks

The Mishnah in Avos 6:4 states: “This is the way of Torah: eat bread with salt, drink water by measure, and sleep on the ground; live a life of deprivation, and toil in the Torah. If you do so, then ‘you are fortunate and have it good’ (Tehillim 128:2) – you will be fortunate in this world and have it good in the World to Come.” The Maggid discusses this Mishnah in his commentary on Eichah 3:17. He explains that there is a fundamental conflict between the physical and the spiritual, and so a person can develop a wholehearted love of Hashem only by separating himself from physical pleasures. Meat and wine, and similar pleasures, tend to lead a person away from Hashem. They clog up the soul and cloud the intellect. This conflict, the Maggid says, is due to our being in exile. Accordingly, in Eichah 3:17, Yirmiyahu laments: “My soul has given up on having peace; I have forsaken good.” There is no peace between the body and the soul, and so we must forsake the good things of the physical world in order to preserve our souls.   
In the times of the Beis HaMikdash, the situation was different. The altar, through the offerings, made peace between the spiritual and the physical. The fat and the blood would be brought upon the altar, while the meat would be eaten by the one bringing the offering, in a state of ritual purity and in holiness. Then we took delight in Hashem and rejoiced in all our blessings.
The pleasure experienced in conjunction with the offerings benefited both the body and the soul. The meat nourished the forces of the body and vitalized it. At the same time, the holiness associated with the offering nourished the forces of the soul and healed it from its maladies. Thus, the physical pleasure of eating the meat did not in any way compromise a person’s service to Hashem, but, on the contrary, served as a catalyst that activated the person’s desire to show his love of Hashem and serve him wholeheartedly. In this vein, Shlomo HaMelech declares (Shir HaShirim 7:7): “How beautiful and pleasant you are, O love laden with delights!” When we are stirred to genuine love of Hashem through physical enjoyments, it is indeed good and pleasant.
On Pesach, Shavuos, and Sukkos, when the Jews presented themselves before Hashem in the Beis HaMikdash as the Torah dictates (Devarim 16), they experienced joy and pleasure unlike that of any other time. As it is written (Tehillim 42:5): “These things I remember, and I pour out my soul within me: how I passed along with the throng, walking with them with measured steps up to the House of God. It was a multitude in festive celebration, calling out with spirited song and praises.” Sincere love of Hashem and complete holiness prevailed. Thus the psalmist sings (Tehillim 84:2-3): “How beloved are Your sanctuaries, Hashem, Master of Legions! My soul yearns, indeed it pines, for the courtyards of Hashem. My heart and my flesh sing to the living God.” The added physical pleasure would intensify our love of Hashem. This enhancing effect is alluded to in Shir HaShirim 1:4, reading the verse homiletically: “We shall recall your love through wine” [reading מיין as meaning through wine rather than more than wine]. In a similar vein it is written (Devarim 26:11), “And you shall rejoice in all the good that Hashem your God has given you …,” with “all the good” referring to both physical and spiritual blessing. May we be privileged soon to see the Beis HaMikdash rebuilt, and experience the return to the days when body and soul are in complete harmony.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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