Who is rich? He who is happy with his lot, as it is said, “When you eat of
the labor of your hands, you are praiseworthy and all is well with you.”2
You are praiseworthy in this world, and all is well in the world to come.3
Some questions shouldn’t be asked. A question for which everyone has the
answer is no question. Do we have any doubt about who is rich? Possessing
much money makes a person rich, end of story!
True, remarks Maharal. Money may make a person rich, but money comes and
goes. The Mishnah questions whether a person can be essentially rich, rich
by his nature, not by dint of something that may evaporate the next day.
(Moreover, having money does not seem to slake a person’s thirst for more.
Chazal point out that to the contrary, the more a person has, the more he
wants. People we routinely call rich, then, are some of the neediest
More importantly, what a man possesses does not make the man. Looking for
person whose essence is rich – a person who never finds himself lacking -
is a more daunting task. This is what the Mishnah sets out to do, and
finds him in the person who always finds joy and happiness in his portion.
The benefits of such a mind-set are greater than initially apparent. The
Sava Kadisha cautioned against seeing this attitude as an isolated midah.
To the contrary, he taught, finding happiness in one’s lot an all-
embracing principle. It produces a cascade of benefits. It brings wondrous
change to the heart of a man, and can lead him to teshuvah mei-ahavah. The
life of a proper Jew depends on it.
We have to be puzzled about this attitude. Many people lead what
objectively looks like lives of travail and sorrow. What is there to be
happy about? We can suggest a number of approaches.
The first owes to the Noam Elimelech, who parses the conclusion of the
Mishnah’s thought in a novel way. “You are praiseworthy in this world, and
all is well in the world to come” can be taken to mean that a person is
praiseworthy in this world when he translates all experiences and
opportunities into their value in gaining Olam Habo. In other words, a
person can be happy with his lot, if he has no expectation – and no
interest – in any temporal benefit, but stays focused entirely on
acquiring his place in the world to come.
The value in this is not simply ascetically shunning all pleasure in this
world, but something more subtle. The gemara4 tells us that before a child
is formed, it is ordained whether he will be rich or poor, wise or
foolish. The point is that no two people are identical. Hashem gives each
individual a unique set of challenges – the best way for him to gain his
portion in Olam Habo. For some, the challenge comes from dealing with
wealth; for others, the task is dealing with poverty. It would do a person
no good at all to switch circumstances with another, because those
circumstances are not going to help him gain eternal life. Everyone can be
happy in this world because his own peculiar conditions and circumstances
will lead to it being well in the world to come.
A different approach dovetails with a teaching of Toras Avos. When a Jew
joyfully accepts the way Hashem conducts his life, then Shomayim reacts
the same way to him. Measure for measure, the Heavenly courts look upon
him kindly; they are happy with him, regardless of the details of his
Acceptance of the manner in which Hashem shepherds him is hinted at in the
Shema. The phrase u-ve-chol me’odecha/with all your might can be seen5
as “with all your me’ods. In other words, thank Him exceedingly well. With
all your”very much,” your meod meod, acknowledge Hashem fully and
enthusiastically in each and every measure that He measures out for you.
This approach comes from a different place. It is a tributary of a
person’s ahavas Hashem. A person who truly loves Hashem will be happy with
anything that flows from Him, regardless of whether he understands it or
whether it brings him immediate pleasure. (This explains the link between
finding joy in one’s lot and teshuvah me-ahavah. It is the ahavah itself
that allows one to find joy in one’s situation, regardless of the
Yet another approach to being mesame’ach bechelko is hinted at in the
verse, “Hashem’s portion is His people.”6 If we assume the chelko of our
Mishnah to mean Hashem’s portion, rather than ours, we have a very
different reading. Who is rich? The person who understands that he himself
is a part of Hashem Above. A person who appreciates that his neshamah
comes from a “place” under the kisei ha-kavod, the Throne of Glory, will
never surrender to depression or melancholy. Recognizing the sanctity of
his neshamah, nothing will disturb him other than a sense of distance from
Hashem, and nothing will delight him more than his feeling of closeness
and attachment to Him. He will always, however, find satisfaction in
knowing the elevated source of his neshamah, the most personal and
precious part of himself.
We have shown that finding joy in one’s lot is not a simple slogan or
aphorism. It includes many wonderful consequences, and takes significant
spiritual accomplishment to get there. People who are not quite there find
this disconcerting. The key here – as is true of other high levels of
ruchniyus that Chazal teach about, like ahavas Hashem – is to realize that
it is not the preserve of a privileged few. Everyone can have some portion
of it. We are asked to take the first steps; HKBH will help us get as far
as we can.
1. Based on Nesivos Shalom, Pirkei Avos pgs. 220-222
2. Tehilim 128:2
3. Avos 4:1
4. Nidah 16B
5. Berachos 54A
6. Devarim 32:9
Text Copyright © 2009 by Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein and Torah.org