Rabbi Ari Kahn on The Sin of Ascetism

An excerpt from The Sin of Ascetism by Rabbi Ari Kahn:

God created a beautiful world, and He placed the first man and woman in the “Garden of Eden,” which means, quite literally, the garden of pleasure. In a particularly beautiful passage, the Talmud teaches that a person who fails to enjoy the beautiful world God gave us will be held accountable as he or she stands in judgment at the end of their life. The Talmud then recounts the custom of one particular sage who took this teaching to heart and made it his custom to visit the market regularly in the hope of finding some new fruit or other delicacy, seeking out new tastes in order to be able to recite the appropriate blessing and have an opportunity to say the “shehecheyanu”, to appreciate the wonder and variety of God’s creation and to avoid the wrath of Heaven should he fail to take advantage of all that God created for the pleasure and benefit of mankind.(3)

The nazir’s decision to take on a level of asceticism, to forego certain earthly pleasures, is an option that the Torah condones for those who feel they are in need of more sharply-defined boundaries in order to achieve a higher level of spirituality. However, this decision has consequences: The nazir has taken a vow that precludes taking full enjoyment from the physical world, and for this, the nazir must make amends. As he (or she) prepares to return to his former life, he must “apologize” to God for passing up on the pleasures this world has to offer. The nazir’s sin-offering, then, is an important message for us all: In His benevolence, God created a world of wonder and delight, which He allows us to share. The Torah is the framework through which the pleasures of this world can be experienced and appreciated, enjoyed – and sanctified.