Parashat Behar- Experiencing the Sweetness and Delight of Torah
The Torah in Parashat Behar(25:37) introduces the prohibition against lending on interest: "Et Kaspecha Lo Titen Lo Be’neshech."
The Or Ha’haim (Rav Haim Ben-Attar, 1696-1743) adds a deeper level of interpretation, explaining that the word "Kesef" (money) is associated with the verb "K.S.F.," which means "crave" or "desire." Money is called "Kesef" because it is something which people naturally crave. In this verse, the Or Ha’haim writes, the Torah warns us not to allow ourselves to be "bitten" by our cravings, our desires for physical enjoyment and delights. If we indulge in physical pleasure without restraint, even if they are all technically permissible, then we will be "bitten" in the sense that the "venom" of sin will be injected into our souls.
The verse continues, "U’b’marbit Lo Titen Ochlecha" – that we may not lend people food on interest. The Or Ha’haim explains the word "Marbit" as meaning "excess," referring to overindulgence, such that the Torah here commands us not to involve ourselves excessively in "Ochlecha" – even permissible food.
In developing this concept, the Or Ha’haim formulates a fundamental principle about spiritual life. He writes that when a person overindulges, and instead of merely satisfying his natural hunger, he eats excessively, he thereby "darkens the light of the soul, because when this one rises, this one falls – when the sensual appetite increases, the spiritual appetite decreases." The Or Ha’haim establishes that a person’s physical and spiritual cravings are inversely proportional to one another. The more we focus our attention on experiencing physical enjoyment, the less drawn we will be to spiritual enjoyment. If we lust after physical pleasure, we will lose our desire for spiritual fulfillment.
This principle developed here by the Or Ha’haim sheds light on his more famous comments later, in Parashat Ki-Tabo (26:11), in reference to the verse, "Ve’samahta Be’chol Ha’tob Asher Natan Lecha Hashem Elokecha" – "You shall rejoice over all the good which Hashem your G-d has given you." The word "Tob" (goodness) in this verse, the Or Ha’haim writes, may be understood as a reference to Torah learning, such that the Torah here speaks of the unique joy of studying Torah. The Or Ha’haim explains that if people sensed the sweetness of Torah, they would "go crazy" ("Mishtag’im") over Torah learning, and no other enjoyment in the world would amount to anything in their eyes, as nothing would compare to the joy and pleasure of Torah learning. We generally find Torah study difficult and burdensome because we are unable to experience the unparalleled sweetness of Torah. The reason why we do not enjoy the sweetness of Torah is explained in the Or Ha’haim’s remarks here in Parashat Behar. Our preoccupation with physical enjoyment and material delights compromises our desire for spiritual enjoyment. By placing too much importance on physical delights, we undermine our ability to experience spiritual delight.
As we prepare for the holiday of Shabuot, which celebrates Matan Torah, let us resolve to prioritize our involvement in Torah, and to moderate our involvement in physical enjoyment. While we of course all have physical and material needs that must be met, we must ensure not to overindulge, that our mundane pursuits do not become obsessive. If we exercise moderation in our enjoyment of physical and material delights, we will better able to experience the unparalleled joy and sweetness of Torah, and will be drawn to engage in Torah study at every free moment.