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what makes us happy?

06/24/2021 09:13:51 AM


Rabbi Jeffrey Myers

The thing about taking a long drive is that there is ample opportunity to be alone with your thoughts without interruptions. While I possibly constructed a High Holy Day sermon in my head, this year has been one of thinking about the big picture questions.  Why am I here, and not solely why God sent me to Pittsburgh, but my presence on this planet? Is my presence about acquiring a lifetime of experiences to somehow prepare me for October 27, not that one could ever be prepared? Where do I fit within the graph of animals that exist on this planet and human beings who have made sublime contributions, using their talents for the benefit of humanity? What are the things that really matter?

Amidst thinking about my life, I was also wondering about happiness. Am I generally happy? How do I define happiness? As always seems to be the case, our tradition has an answer. We read in Pirkei Avot, Ethics of the Fathers 4:1: Ben Zoma taught: Who is rich? The one who is happy with his 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).

How does one go about defining portion? Is it our physical possessions, our retirement account, or our lot in life and the people in it? Is it the places we’ve been, the bucket list with nothing checked off, or how much is in checking and savings? Does God determine our portion? And what is this about eating the labor of our hands?

It would seem to me that the things that we have been able to create and do are the labor of our hands, and there is a sufficiently wide enough berth to permit each of us to identify what those labors are. For some it might be physical possessions. Some might refer to family. Some might think about the mitzvot we have performed, our roster of g’milut hasadim (deeds of lovingkindness), the people whose lives we have bettered as our labors. For some it might be their talents in business, the creative arts, prowess in sports, or other professions. I offer the suggestion that upon your concluding the reading of my blog (thank you for reading), that you pause for a moment, and look at your hands, and take a moment to answer the question: what is the labor of my hands?

Since my labor is not yet completed, it would premature of me to suggest what I think my answer might be, but that long drive, especially taking in the beauty of nature, inspires me to think about this teaching of Ben Zoma, and how applicable his words are two thousand years later. I hope that you can find your answer, and in the end, to reframe this teaching, that you will discover how rich you really are. If that does occur, I would hope that you would be happy.

Thu, September 23 2021 17 Tishrei 5782