Pirkei Avot, “Ethics of the Fathers,” states in chapter 6:6: “The Torah is acquired in 48 ways.” This week: Way #26, “Happiness with one’s lot”
Look at a picture of the late President John F. Kennedy. By some quirk of anatomy, only one of his eyes peers forward. The other glances upward. This might be a parable for the person who always has one eye on something else. He’s in one job, but covets another. He lives in one place, but thinks about another. He has one wife, but looks at his neighbor’s. He pursues one project, but wishes it were something else.
The acquisition of Torah is a jealous host. If taken seriously, it does not admit of a bifurcated mind or soul, ever distracted by some other goal or temptation — certainly not a material one. One who is “happy with one’s lot” is secure in his financial position, be it modest or lavish. Either way, if one is satisfied, one is happy.
This is a great aid in acquiring the Torah because material goals have a way of dominating one’s time and sapping one’s strength.
We have here a symbiosis. True, to be happy with one’s lot is to aid in acquiring the Torah, but also, to acquire the Torah is to make one happy with one’s lot. What could compare to Torah?
We have here a call for dexterity. With respect to material possessions, the imperative is: be satisfied. With respect to knowledge of the Torah, the imperative is: never be satisfied. Always strive to acquire more and to understand more deeply.
The 26th way to acquire the Torah: Being Happy with One’s Lot.
Way #1, Study; Way #2, Listen; Way #3, Articulate Speech; Way #4, Understanding of the Heart; Way #5, An Intelligent Heart; Way #6, Awe; Way #7, Fear; Way #8, Humility; Way #9a, Joy; Way #9b, Purity; Way #10, Serving the Sages; Way #11, Interaction with colleagues; Way #12, Exchanges with students; Way #13, Deliberation; Way #14, Scripture; Way #15a, Mishnah; Way #15b, Limited Business Activity; Way #16a, Limited Marital Relations; Way #16b, Portion Control; Way #17, Limited Pleasure; Way #18, All nighters; Way #19, Limited Conversation; Way #20, Limited Entertainment; Way #21, Slowness to anger; Way #22, A good heart; Way #23, Faith in the sages; Way #24, Acceptance of suffering; Way #25, Knowing one’s place