All the days of the oppressed are wretched,
but the cheerful heart has a continual feast. — Proverbs 15:15
I once heard a rabbi describe life like a blanket that is too short. If your feet are cold and you pull the blanket down to cover them, then your arms are cold. If you pull the blanket up, then your lower half will be cold. There’s never a happy medium!
The rabbi was teaching that life was not meant to be comfortable. If it’s not one set of challenges, than it’s another. Yet, that’s not a bad thing. God gives us difficulties so that we might grow and prosper. However, just because life requires constant work and stretching our souls to the limit, doesn’t mean that it can’t also be wonderful, exciting, and festive – all the time.
I love this quote from Proverbs: “All the days of the oppressed are wretched, but the cheerful heart has a continual feast.” Life can be a perpetual feast for the person with the right perspective. And just to further emphasize the point, the Hebrew word for “oppressed” used in the original Scripture is ani which means “poor.” This is extremely significant because the Jewish sages teach that determining who is rich or poor has nothing to do with money.
The sages answer the question, “Who is rich?” with “he who is content with what he has.” So it is the person who is never satisfied with what he or she has that experiences a wretched life no matter how much wealth that person might possess. In contrast, a person who is content with what God has given them is cheerful and grateful, and consequently, can experience life as one continuously amazing experience.
What a refreshing idea in a world where so much complaining abounds! Moreover, in today’s world, the bar has been set so high for what one must have and achieve in order to have a “good life” — a certain income level, a certain standard of living, a certain career path. This verse in Proverbs, however, teaches us that having an amazing life is really quite simple — just rejoice in what you have and never mind what you don’t.
One of the most fundamental extrabiblical works in Judaism is “The Code of Jewish Law” written in the 16th century. The first book in this series begins “I keep my eyes always on the Lord” (Psalm 16:8) and concludes with “but the cheerful heart has a continual feast.” The common denominator between both phrases is the Hebrew word tamid, which means “always.” The rabbis teach that when we see God in everything always, we can experience life as a feast always.
Life can be full of joy in spite of the challenges we face. The trick is to see God’s hand and perfection in all that happens to us. As we keep our focus on God continually, we will experience His blessings constantly.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President