A man may have a hundred children and live many years; yet no matter how long he lives, if he cannot enjoy his prosperity and does not receive proper burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he. — Ecclesiastes 6:3
I recently read a story about a young man who was confined to a wheelchair as a child. But rather than confine himself to a life of not being able to do much, this boy chose to focus on what he could do, what he wanted to do, and then he made it happen.
It turns out that from a young age, this boy realized what he really wanted to do was to have fun like his siblings at a skate-park. Usually those who skate up and down the curvy walls, doing tricks and flips, are kids who can use skateboards, rollerblades, or other contraptions that require a healthy body with functioning legs.
Well, this boy didn’t have that but he did have wheels. He began using his wheelchair to “skate.” That turned into years of training, record-breaking, and inspirational speaking to others like himself bound to a chair but prepared to break boundaries. In spite of his circumstances, this young man is happier than most people with functioning bodies. His life holds meaning, joy, and a whole lot of gratitude.
In contrast, in our verses today, King Solomon described quite the opposite situation. He wrote: “A man may have a hundred children and live many years; yet no matter how long he lives, if he cannot enjoy his prosperity and does not receive proper burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he.”
Solomon was describing a man who has every ideal circumstance anyone could ever want — a long life, many children, prosperity. When the verse tells us that he “does not receive a proper burial”, the Jewish sages explain that it doesn’t necessarily mean that this person was buried inappropriately.
One commentator explains that it means that the man hadn’t been buried yet – meaning he’s still alive and well. Another rabbi teaches that this man hadn’t experienced any burials in his lifetime. In other words, none of his loved ones died. This man really had a dream life. And yet: “he cannot enjoy his prosperity.” Still, this person was not happy. Such a person, wrote Solomon, was better off never having lived at all.
The main teaching from Solomon’s description is that a person can have everything and still be miserable. The lesson of the boy in the wheelchair is that a person can have a terrible lot in life and yet be joyful. There is no shortage of stories like his. The choice to be happy or not has nothing to do with our circumstances — and everything to do with us.
Choose to be grateful today. Choose to praise God for all He has given you. We can choose happiness at any moment. Why not choose to be happy now?
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President