Jonathan Muskat

Rav Yaakov and Elisha Medan know the secret to happiness

One man washing dishes. His son thanking God after losing his legs. This father and son team was the source of my inspiration yesterday. The father is Rav Yaakov Medan, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Har Etzion. Because of the war, most of the yeshiva’s students and many of the Rabbeim have been sent to the front lines. Therefore, the remaining staff has been pitching in to do kitchen duty. When the Rosh Yeshiva saw the CEO of Yeshivat Har Etzion Yoni Holtzer washing dishes, Rav Medan immediately put on an apron, grabbed some gloves and began to help wash the dishes. A Rosh Yeshiva in the kitchen washing dishes? Someone snapped a photo, and the photo went viral.

Meanwhile, his son Elisha was critically injured in Gaza, lost both legs and was recently released from the hospital to rehabilitation. He said, “That I am alive, even without both legs, is a present from God. I thought that I was going to die. I said Shema and viduy (confession). Everyone who saw me (wounded) thought that I was dead. I would prefer to have my legs but this is a present.”

As I thought about the humility of the father and the gratitude of the son, I realized that both of them know the real secret to happiness. It’s not about me. It’s about the other. In fact, the first example of happiness in the Torah occurred in last week’s parsha, when God tells Moshe at the burning bush that Aaron is waiting for him, that he will see all the greatness that Moshe has achieved and that he will be happy for Moshe. In Parshat Ki Tavo, after we perform an act of service through bringing our first fruits to the Beit Hamikdash and though expressing gratitude to God for taking us out of Egypt, the Torah tells us that we will find ourselves in a state of happiness.

In discussing the laws of Yom Tov, the Rambam rules that if we celebrate with a festive meal with our family but we do not provide food to those who are needy, we will not fulfill the mitzva of happiness of Yom Tov. Additionally, in the laws of Purim, the Rambam states that the highest level of happiness that we can attain is to bring joy to those who are downtrodden. The secret to true happiness is to live a life of service for others.

What is the key element to live a life of service? It’s humility. Even though the Rambam believes in the Golden Mean whereby we should balance all of our values and not be extreme in any one value, he makes an exception with respect to two character traits. One of them is humility. We should always be humble in the extreme. Moshe Rabbenu, the leader of our people, our role model par excellence, is defined by this characteristic.

What does it mean to be humble? In his book, “Mere Christianity,” C.S. Lewis, the famous British writer, gave a seemingly surprising definition of humility. It is not someone who walks around feeling so lowly. It is someone who will not be thinking about himself at all. He will be thinking about others. His motto will be, “How can I help you?” For the humble person, it’s never about him or her. A humble person does not need to undervalue or disparage himself or herself. He or she is far too busy engaging in the world beyond his or her own self-drama. Moshe is called “anav m-od mi-kol ha-adam.” Moshe Rabbenu is humbler than everyone else. How did this humility manifest itself? Moshe’s humility was an expression of his conviction that everything he accomplished was because God assisted him. He saw himself as an “eved hashem,” a servant of God. Just as a loyal servant doesn’t focus on his own desires; rather, he strives to please his master, so too Moshe the “anav” is Moshe who lives his life in service of God. To be humble is exactly that: to live your life in service of others.

Indeed, if we always live our lives in service of others and always think about ways to help others, then we do not feel any sense of entitlement and we view everything that we have in life as a gift. You may think that this is impossible to achieve. Can we really live a life with such humility and such gratitude?

Well, in one day, I read about a father who expressed this humility and a son who expressed this gratitude. In the darkest of times, this father and son team demonstrated the secret to true happiness: living a life of service to others.


About the Author
Jonathan Muskat is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Oceanside.
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