Invest Wisely

Avraham Tzvi Schwartz

“What would you rather be: rich or happy?”

“One minute,” you’ll ask, “can’t I be rich and happy?”

“You’re right. So let’s rephrase the question. What would you rather be: rich and miserable, or poor and happy?”

“Obviously,” you’ll say, “no one wants to be miserable. What are you saying?”

“Firstly, I am saying, there are people who choose to be rich and miserable.

“But more importantly, we should note, that just as we are ready to put effort – thought and even money – to enrich ourselves, so we should be ready to put effort – thought and even money – to be happy. Happiness is not free. We have to work to achieve it. We may strive to enrich ourselves – but we must also strive to be happy.

Now, the great question becomes: What would you rather be, spiritually rich, or just happy? Would you rather be a lofty Torah personality, an important supporter of communal causes, or simply happy living in this world?

This question however, contains a mistake. For, there is no such thing as spiritual growth without being happy. Even a prophet cannot receive prophecy unless he is happy.[1] To make progress, real progress, we must be joyous.

Moreover, and all the more so, our sages teach that a mitzva done once in pain, with effort, is worth a hundred done without pain, without effort.[2] And since it costs us effort to be happy, it follows that a mitzva done with joy is worth a hundred times more than a mitzva done without joy. To be rich, we must be happy.

   By Yourself

What would you rather be: popular or happy?

Normally, a happy person does attract friends, but not always. Many times, he must perform all sorts of tricks to gain laughs, hugs, backslaps. Now, to bring joy to others is an act of kindness, but this is not what we really look for. Our baser nature does not seek to give. Rather, it wants the pleasure, the thrill of receiving admiration, applause and love from others.

We need to remember, though, that being popular makes us happy only for a while. For, the animal we call our ego is insatiable – we cannot feed him enough. As much as he consumes, he wants more, he demands more, endlessly.

Therefore, we should separate our happiness from our popularity. Our good mood should not depend on how loved or hated we are. We need to be joyous without outside help. Then, when an opportunity to be nice to others, to give pleasure to others, comes along, we will perform this without waiting for praise and a pat on the back.

We must be happy, no matter our situation. And if the heavens see fit to have others like us, admire us, love us, we will accept the gift gracefully. We will say thank you.

   It Depends

What would you rather be: wise, or happy?

There is a certain bliss in being ignorant – “with more wisdom is more anger, and he who gains knowledge, hurts more.”[3] For instance, can we enjoy our children when we know they must die? Can we enjoy our wealth, our health, when we see it diminish? Can we enjoy life when we envision calamity, tragedy, lurking on each corner, waiting at every turn?[4]

Still, this applies only to the wisdom, the technology and philosophy of a finite world, a world that rusts, rots, dies. Higher wisdom however, knows that the soul is infinite, that there is life after life – that Hashem rules all, with justice, with mercy. Such knowledge leads us to joy.

To be happy we need true wisdom, true perception. And to achieve this we must strive to do good, great acts and to please Hashem. For, “to the person He regards as worthy, He gives wisdom, knowledge, and happiness.”[5]


See also Happy Thoughts

[1] Shabbos 30b; Rashi, Breishis 45.27

[2] Michtav M’Eliyahu, Vol.3 p.14; Avos dRebbi Nosson 3; see also Shir ha Shirim Raba 8.14

[3] Koheles 1.18

[4] Ibn Ezra, there

[5] Koheles 2.26

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