20. The Ultimate Pleasure
Building a relationship with G-d.
1:2:1 (Part 4)
Section 1: Fundamentals of Existence
Chapter 2: Purpose of Creation
This is also true in another way. True good exists only in G-d. His wisdom therefore decreed that the nature of this true benefaction be [exemplified by] His giving created things the opportunity to attach themselves to Him to the greatest degree possible for them.
In our previous point, the Ramchal described that G-d is absolute unlimited perfection, and He had only one purpose in creating: to give us pleasure. Therefore, creation must be an unlimited perfect expression of G-d giving us a world of pleasure.
The Ramchal is now examining this question from a human perspective: What does it mean for us to get "perfect pleasure"?
We live in a world that has tremendous variety and depth of pleasures – chocolate, watermelon, deep loving relationships, children, self-esteem, spirituality, discoveries, music, accomplishments, etc. We know that the reason we enjoy these things is because G-d engineered us – our bodies, hearts and minds – in a way that can experience these pleasures. In other words, G-d planned out in advance thousands of varieties of tastes, and at the same time gave us a tongue with thousands of taste buds to enjoy those tastes. Similarly, He gave us a heart capable of feeling deep love and the system of interpersonal relationships.
If we look at the kind of pursuits that a 5-year-old finds gratifying, compared to a 10-year-old, a 20-year-old and a 40-year-old, we see a graduation. The principle at work is as follows: As we become more mature (greater intellect, more life experience), we realize that the deeper pleasures are the ones worth pursuing, even though they require greater effort.
The deeper pleasures are almost by definition going to be more subtle and less physically tangible, but we learn to appreciate the depth that those refined pleasures offer. The 10-year-old knows how great a cold can of Coca Cola is on a hot summer day, but the wine connoisseur gets a deeper experience from the bouquet, the mid-palate, the color, and the aftertaste of a vintage Beaujolais.
With this principle in mind, it follows that love is going to be greater than sex: love is more subtle, less palpable, less physically tangible. Yet it affects us on a much deeper more visceral level and becomes an essential part of who we are.
It also follows then, that spirituality, which is the most elusive and subtle of all pleasures, is also going to be the deepest. It's the hardest to attain, and yet the most pleasurable.
G-d is the source of all of existence, and the one quality that we can identify is that He is an ultimate giver, an ultimate dispenser of pleasure. It naturally follows that the greatest pleasure that we are capable of receiving is the pleasure of connecting directly back to that Source.
The Ramchal is also pointing out another essential difference between the pleasure of G-d and the pleasure of ice cream. It's epitomized in the famous statement that a rebbe made to his student: "You're not eating the fish because you love fish. You're eating the fish because you love yourself. If you loved the fish, you would have left it alone!" The rebbe wasn't advocating vegetarianism. He was pointing out that in the lower forms of pleasure, like eating and ego, we draw things toward ourselves as a means of self-gratification. A higher form of pleasure would entail the opposite: stepping outside of yourself. Truly loving someone is the paradigmatic example. When you open yourself up to another, that enables him/her to fulfill his/her desire to connect.
And when it comes to the pleasure of the spiritual, of "being with G-d," the Ramchal describes it exactly in those terms, by "giving created things the opportunity to attach themselves to Him."
So in summary, the Ramchal has taken the principle of "G-d created us to get pleasure," and added two dimensions:
- By definition, the greatest pleasure possible is the source – G-d Himself.
- We achieve that pleasure through building a relationship with G-d.
This naturally leads us to a question: How do we have a relationship with an infinite being? We know how to have relationships with parents, friends, children, bosses, neighbors. Each has its own dynamic, and we learn to negotiate successful relationships through our accumulation of experiences. But how is it possible for a finite being to "relate" to a G-d who is beyond our imagination and understanding? Over the next few classes, the Ramchal will answer this existential question.
- Why is attachment to G-d the greatest pleasure? Can't a person conceivably enjoy golf or marriage more than spiritual connectedness?
- What's the essential difference between the pleasures that involve taking (like physical self-gratification) and giving? In what way could we say that giving is more "G-d-like"?
- Wouldn't it be more pleasurable if G-d had arranged creation in a way that the greatest pleasures were the easiest to attain?