I had a deep and meaningful conversation with a congregant recently, reflecting on the drive and determination necessary to be successful in life, and lamenting on the inability we have to slow down and smell the roses, sometimes too late. I referenced a thoughtful text from Pirkei Avot 4:1 -
“Who is rich? Those who are content with their portion; as it is written: ‘When you eat the labor of your hands, happy will you be and all will be well with you'" (Psalm 128:2)
The word translated as “content” is from the root “sameach”, to be happy.
What constitutes happiness? Is it tangibles, such as: income; amount in pension; size of home; cars; vacation home(s); frequency of trips? It can be intangibles, such as: love; friendships; family; employment satisfaction; avocations; health. No doubt each of us will define happiness using our own criteria, and I daresay that there is great variety in the answers. The deeper question each of us can and should ask is: Am I really happy? Am I content with my portion? If you have little control over your portion, you can change your circumstances and hopefully your portion, lament your status, or find a way to be happy with what you do have. Indeed, all of us could be in worser positions, no matter how extreme that position might be right now. To paraphrase: “There but for the grace of God go I.”
To extend the text from Pirkei Avot a bit, I offer the following personal addition: Who is happy? The one who makes others happy; as it is written:
“Happy are they that dwell in Your house; they shall forever praise You.” (Psalm 84:5)
We must first be happy with ourselves and about ourselves, then we must find it in ourselves to share that happiness to help others become happy. The degree of work needed will vary, but in the end, to make others happy is indeed rewarding, and it fuels the desire to continue. Perhaps then we can answer “Who is rich?” more succinctly.