Of all the world’s philosophies, the one that is closest to Judaism, in my opinion, is hedonism. By hedonism, I mean its true Greek version, not its Western incarnation.
It has to be that way really. A monotheistic G-d cannot possibly gain anything from creating a world. As He exists outside of time, He cannot ‘get bored’ and need something to do. As He is infinite, He has no needs – He is all of His needs! (But let’s not get too philosophical here.) The only possible reason G-d could have created the world is in order to give. And we lucky human beings get to be the ultimate recipients of His giving. This world is the ultimate ‘free lunch’. And there is nothing we can do for G-d in return. (Because there is nothing we can give Him that He doesn’t have) All we can do is to allow Him to give to us. The deal really could not be better. We are here to have pleasure. He wants to give it. The greater the pleasure we experience in this world, the more we are doing G-d’s Will! Sounds dead easy? Well, it’s not quite as easy as it sounds.
You see, G-d has a little problem. To give to us, He has to make us independent – otherwise He is giving to Himself! By definition, you cannot create independence, merely offer it. In order for independence to be real, we need the ability to choose. And that’s where our problems begin. Pleasure takes effort. No pain, no gain as they say. G-d has created a world filled with opportunities for pleasure, but equally filled with opportunities for what we’ll call counterfeit pleasure. There is real pleasure – it takes effort and struggle, but its rewards are lasting. Then you have the counterfeit – the painless way to pleasure. Problem is, it’s also the pleasureless way to pleasure. It’s the ‘quick fix pleasure’. Be it drugs, be it lust, be it infatuation, be power, be it any number of cheap thrills that offer us the world and deliver absolutely nothing. In fact, they usually leave you feeling worse than when you began.
The Rabbis talk of five levels of pleasure, each greater than the next. Correspondingly, there are 5 levels of counterfeit pleasure. Looks like the real thing, seems like the real thing – leaves you feeling miserable. If you can’t distinguish between the two, you will almost always end up with the counterfeit – because real pleasure is so much more work. If you want real ecstasy (not the stuff that comes in pill form) Torah is G-d’s guide to attaining it.