The Anatomy of a Mitzvah

For the week ending 22 June 2019 / 19 Sivan 5779

Indulging in Pleasure

by Rabbi Reuven Chaim Klein
Library Library Library Kaddish

Rabbi Shlomo Pappenheim of Breslau (1740-1814) writes that eden and oneg both refer to pleasure. He notes that both terms speak about enjoyment, regardless of whether that pleasure is ultimately beneficial. The difference between these terms is that eden refers primarily to physical pleasure, while oneg refers primarily to spiritual pleasure. Physical pleasures are those experienced by the five senses: taste (tasty food), hearing (a beautiful voice), smell (a pleasant scent), vision (a beautiful sight), and touch (intimacy, bathing, anointing). Spiritual — i.e. abstract — pleasures refer to things which only the soul enjoys. These include authentic understanding, comprehending a complex idea, achieving wealth, receiving honor or prestige, experiencing love, exacting revenge on enemies, living in peace and seeing friends be successful. These are spiritual, or intellectual, forms of satisfaction, which involve the mind and the emotions and not just the body.

Ever the philosopher, Rabbi Pappenheim digresses from this discussion to sharpen the interplay between physical and spiritual pleasure. He writes that there are some things which the body enjoys but the soul does not, such as sleeping (which replenishes the body but dulls the mind) or drinking when already intoxicated (which again might be physically enjoyable, but dulls the mind). Similarly, sinning may result in some physical, tangible enjoyment, but pains the soul.

The converse is true as well. There are some things which bring joy to the soul but are not pleasurable for the body. For example, working very hard physically to accrue wealth brings intellectual/emotional satisfaction but not physical pleasure. Likewise, consuming a needed but foul-tasting medicine is physically unpleasant but provides the intellectual/emotional pleasure of doing something to cure one’s ailment. Similarly, there are mitzvot which bring spiritual ecstasy but not necessarily physical pleasure.

There are also physical pleasures which bring about spiritual/intellectual pleasure. Examples of this include consuming a tasty medicine, which both tastes good physically and provides the intellectual satisfaction of doing something with health benefits. Similarly, enjoying food on Shabbat and Yom Tov, or engaging in intimacy when it is a mitzvahto do so, provides both physical and spiritual pleasure. Nevertheless, Rabbi Pappenheim points out that the converse does not hold true. There is no such thing as a spiritual pleasure which brings about a physical pleasure.

Based on this, Rabbi Pappenheim explains that eden/edna refers to physical pleasure, even when such pleasure also leads to spiritual/intellectual pleasure. Accordingly, the term Gan Eden — the Garden of Eden — denotes both the physical pleasures of that utopian paradise, and the intellectual nirvana associated with that place.

Rabbi Pappenheim explains that the root of eden/edna is the two-letter string AYIN-DALET, which refers to “joining/connecting disparate entities.” Other derivatives of that root include ad (“until”), which joins together everything included in, say, a chronological or geographical set: yaad (“destination”), which joins a traveler with where he wants to go; eidah (“congregation”) or vaad (“council”), whose members join together for a joint purpose; moed (“set time for meeting”), which denotes the joining together of various parties; and eidut (“testimony”), which connects a crime to a specific wrong-doer. In that spirit, eden/edna refers to physical pleasure which essentially creates a “connection” between the one experiencing the pleasure and the object which gives said pleasure.

A careful look at the usage of eden/edna in the Bible reveals that it almost exclusively refers to the senses of taste and touch. Maadanim refer to pleasant foods or delicacies which are served at the king’s table (see Ps. 36:9, Jer. 51:34, and Lam. 4:5). Indeed, the Tribe of Asher was blessed that they would “provide the maadanei melech” (Gen. 49:20) — the king’s “delectables”. When Sarah was told that she would yet bear a child, she laughed, rhetorically asking, “After I have become worn out, I shall have edna?” (Gen. 18:12). Targum Onkelos translates edna as “youthfulness,” eliciting Radak to write that edna refers to the smooth skin of “youth,” while Ibn Ezra takes it to mean the pleasures or enjoyment of “youth.” Rabbi Yehuda Chalava (son of the famous 13th century scholar Maharam Chalava) explains that edna refers specifically to physical pleasure enjoyed from conjugal relations. (It is possible that some of these sources associate the term edna with the Aramaic idna, meaning“time”, and understand that it relates to youthfulness, which is viewed as a “bygone time.”)

In any case, edna refers to taste/touch-related pleasures. This fits with Rabbi Pappenheim’s understanding that eden/edna is derived from the root meaning “joining/connecting” because of all the five senses only in the senses of taste and touch does the object of pleasure come into direct contact with the sensory organ. Something which is adin or adinah (see Isa. 47:8) is something sensitive, delicate, or dainty — it is susceptible to being over-stimulated by sensory overload. (Interestingly, Adina appears nowhere in the Bible or Chazal as a proper name, but does appear twice in the quasi-Midrashic work Sefer HaYashar as the names of Lavan and Levi’s respective wives.)

While eden refers to pleasures which are primarily physical, the word oneg refers to spiritual pleasure, even if rooted in a physical pleasure. For example, the concept of oneg Shabbat (Isa. 58:13) calls for one to “enjoy” Shabbat primarily in a spiritual/intellectual way, but that enjoyment might come about through eating delicious foods. A pampered person is called an anug (Deut. 28:54) because his spiritual (i.e. intellectual and/or emotional) well-being requires him to be coddled with physical pleasures. Nonetheless, oneg also refers to spiritual/intellectual/emotional pleasure that is divorced from any physical pleasure, such as enjoying peace (Ps. 37:11), enjoying love (Song of Songs 7:7), enjoying honor (Isa. 66:11), and even enjoying G-d Himself (Ps. 37:4, Iyov 22:26). All of those are purely abstract “spiritual” pursuits.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888) explains oneg differently, as the state of being surrounded by favorable and pleasant conditions. He compares this to the word anak (“necklace”), an object that surrounds the neck of the wearer.

Similarly, anak can also mean “a grant,” as we find when the Torah commands a Hebrew bondsman’s master to “grant him a ha’anakah” (Deut. 15:14) when his term of service is finished. In explaining the etymological basis of that word, Rabbi Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenburg (1785-1865) writes that the KUF of anak can be interchanged with a GIMMEL to produceoneg — a reference to the gift which the newly-freed bondsman can enjoy.

The third word which might refer to “pleasure” is pinuk. It is a hapax legomenon, as itappears only once in the Bible, when warning a master not to be mifanek his slave lest his slave come to rule over him (Prov. 29:21). This means that a master should not overindulge his slave or flatter him too much for his efforts because then the slave will become accustomed to such treatment and expect it from his master.

Rabbi Pappenheim claims that pinuk does not mean “pleasure” but rather refers to “playfulness” and “flattery.” While this position fits well with pinuk’s context in the Bible it does not account for its usage in the Targumim, which consistently use pinuk-related words as Aramaic translations of oneg and eden (which clearly mean “pleasure”). For example, the word anug (mentioned above) is translated as mifanak/mifunak, and the term maadanei melech (also mentioned above) is translated as tafnukei malkin. Interestingly, Mah Yedidot — customarily sung on Friday night — uses the phrase tafnukei maadanim. According to what we have learned, tafnukei and maadanim actually mean the same thing (“delicacies”), albeit in different languages. (I once thought that the English word finicky is derived from the Hebrew/Aramaic pinuk, but after looking into it I see that finicky is actually based on the English word fine. Go figure!)

  • For questions, comments, or to propose ideas for a future article, please contact the author at rcklein@ohr.edu

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