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The Restriction Prescription

January 21, 2001 | by Rabbi Yaakov Salomon

Is less really more? Why does Judaism have so many restrictions?

They installed a water meter in my home. Just like that.

This calamity happened about a month ago. The doorbell rang. The man spoke with authority. He had a clipboard with a dangling pen attached to it. "All your neighbors are gettin 'em too," he said. "It's the law!"

Ninety minutes later it was all over. The meter was installed. I didn't cry, but I wanted to. "Now they'll know exactly how much water I'm using," I moaned.

Life, as we knew it, would never be the same again. No more 40-minute showers. No more dripping faucets that I could ignore for months. No more endless water fights for my kids, with the driveway hose. Our long-standing, carefree lifestyle effectively came to an end on that fateful day.

A calamity? Indeed. But maybe it's more than just that.

Let's examine it from a very different angle. If we believe in God - a just God, a loving God, a compassionate God - then we also believe that God is only interested in providing for us, in giving to us. After all, if God is perfect, what could He possibly need or want from us? He has no needs or wants. Perfection, by definition, means that nothing at all is missing! And if there is really nothing that we can provide for God, what then is our purpose here?

If the only thing God "wants" is to give to us, our "job" is to find the best way possible to accept and utilize all the gifts He gives us, and to get the most out of all we receive!.

What is God's method of giving us the maximum fulfillment of every one of life's pleasures? What recipe did He impart to us, that GUARANTEES that we will enjoy and appreciate every avenue of satisfaction and happiness in this world?

In one word...restriction. In two words? Temporary restriction.

I like steak very much. But try having it every night.


Surprising as it may seem, restriction is actually the single most important ingredient given to humankind that affords us the greatest opportunity to enjoy every positive experience on this planet.

For instance, I like steak. I like it very much. Rib, fillet, sino, shoulder - you name it. Especially if it is medium rare. But try having it every night. It's just not the same, is it?

Enjoy the Beatles? Metallica? Bach? Just try to listening to them all day...every day.

What happens to your enjoyment level? Is it the same? Does it grow? Is that the premium method for experiencing the maximum amount of enjoyment from the steak? From Metallica? From a roller coaster? A sunset? A vacation? A great web site? A hockey game? Sleeping late in the morning? (O.K. Salomon, now you've gone too far.)

When God bestowed upon us that great instruction manual for living, also known as the Torah, he included in it 613 regulations, also known as commandments. These are the ingredients which, when adhered to, comprise that total recipe for fulfillment on this world. But only 248 of them are positive commandments - things "to do." 365 of them are things not to do. them restrictions, if you like. Yes, symbolic of one each day, for every day in our solar year. And along with these instructions are a host of "temporary restrictions," that when adhered to, comprise the greatest blueprint for our greatest enjoyment.

So valuable is this prescription, that you'd be hard pressed to find ANY pleasure in this world that isn't lawfully proscribed, at least temporarily. Why? Not to punish us, restrict us, frustrate or constrict our lifestyle. Quite the contrary! It is rather to make certain that we are pacing ourselves properly, so as not to over-indulge on any single benefit this world has to offer - thereby diluting the excitement and appreciation of each experience.

Experiences potentially damaging to our bodies or souls are always prohibited - even though they might look enticing or fun. Again, because it would interfere with our game plan of getting lasting, maximum pleasure. But even the every day stuff, which is given to us specifically to enjoy, is, at some time, made unavailable for us to experience.

Of course, self-regulation could work too, but "legalized" restriction is a lot more effective (and, therefore, more pleasurable). Suggesting to your kids that they "turn in early" for the next few nights to help them "catch up" on their sleep, might not work quite as well as giving them a temporary curfew and sticking to it.

Parents knows that the worst thing you can do to your child is to never say "No."

For example, not eating bread for a full eight days (Passover) may sound terribly oppressive to some. But anyone experiencing that "first slice of P.P.P. (Post Passover Pizza)" knows how indescribably memorable that can be. It's a fresh appreciation of something we easily become habitually accustomed to.

Numerous others examples come to mind. Music (during periods of personal or national mourning), creative work (Shabbat and holidays), comfortable shelter (Succot), eating (Yom Kippur and other fast days), telephones, video, and computers (Shabbat) are some of the more obvious pleasures which are also temporarily restricted.

A really good parent knows all too well, that the worst thing you can do to your child is to never say, "No," to him. Want a sure-fire way to get him to hate that new set of 'hyper, ergo-dynamic, jumbo, turbo, energized, jet-powered, alpha-omega, quantum, phaser-propelled, prismatic lego? Let him play with it ALL DAY...every day. Then watch his interest fade into cyberspace, or wherever things fade into these days. Life without restriction is, colorless, jaded, and uninspired. Perhaps we are beginning to recognize that setting limits on the things we do, only adds luster, passion, and vigor to the adventure we now call ""

Don't misunderstand me. I do not love my new water meter. But I suppose there is something to say for moderation, accountability, restriction and 8-minute showers. Or am I just getting old?


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