Rabbinic Reflections: Issue 49

Rejoice in Your Portion

January 22, 2021

Dear Holy Friends,

I hope this correspondence finds you well and in good health.

One of my all-time favorite Rabbinic texts to teach is the Mishna of Pirke Avoth. It is a compilation of the ethical teachings and maxims compiled during the second century. In my opinion, the text is unique because it is easily accessible, regardless of one’s knowledge of Hebrew or their religious background, and almost everyone can offer a thoughtful response to the teachings contained therein. In fact, there is no Talmudic commentary on the Mishna, which I believe invites us, even more so, to respond to the text in our own voice.

In Chapter 4, Mishna 1, Ben Zoma asks “Who is rich? He who rejoices in his lot.” As it is said: “You shall enjoy the fruit of your labors, you shall be happy and you shall prosper.” (Psalms 128:2) “You shall be happy” in this world, “and you shall prosper” in the world to come. This concept of being satisfied with what we have, can indeed lead to emotional and spiritual well-being. On the other hand, if we always desire something more, one may argue, we thereby place obstacles in our path to happiness.

Recently, I had the opportunity to draw on this Mishna in my own life.

I have a friend, Michael, who is an observant, religious Jew. He attends minyan daily and even throughout the months of Covid, he participated in his synagogue’s outdoor prayer services. He observes Shabbat and Kashruth.

Ten years ago, after completing his undergraduate education, my friend’s son, Zach, went to Israel to spend a year studying at a Yeshiva. Enthralled with the experience, the young man extended his learning for an additional year. Thereafter he began medical school while continuing his Yeshiva education at night.

Since returning to the U.S., six years ago, Zach has been looking for a Shidduch (an arranged marriage). His mom and dad would say special selections of Tehillim (Psalms) and visit various Rabbis, all to try to find a perfect match for their son, the doctor, who by now, is well into his thirties. For Mom and Dad, the fact that their son was still single was hugely troubling.

This past Sunday, I joined some of the guys after minyan for a socially-distanced coffee. My friend announced to me, over a cup of coffee, “I don’t know if you heard, but Zach got engaged.” I responded, “Fantastic!” in spite of the fact that Michael didn’t look or sound overly excited by the news. In fact, Michael explained to me that he was upset because Zach and his bride to be, who is also Orthodox, have decided to get married almost immediately. Michael was upset because, in consideration of Covid protocols, the wedding will have to be scaled back and not look like what they had imagined.

Remembering the teaching from Ben Zoma, I suggested to Michael that indeed God had finally answered his personal petition, which he had literally been making for years. Yes, it is true that the wedding will be modest due to Covid, but his son will finally be able to get married. By sharing the Mishna with Michael, he was able to reorient himself and place himself in a position of gratitude.

As Shabbat begins, may we also adopt a similar attitude of gratitude and rejoice in the richness of our own portion.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Eric L. Wasser, EdD
201 562 5277

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