Be Happy - It's Sukkot!

The festival of Sukkot has another name, Zeman Simchateynu, the Time of our Rejoicing. Why is Sukkot associated with joy? In fact, it could be perceived as an uncomfortable holiday. We leave the comfort of our warm, modern, spacious homes and we sit in small, impermanent huts that are exposed to the elements. Where's the joy in that?

When discussing the festival of Sukkot in the Torah, the following is said:

חַ֧ג הַסֻּכֹּ֛ת תַּעֲשֶׂ֥ה לְךָ֖ שִׁבְעַ֣ת יָמִ֑ים בְּאָ֨סְפְּךָ֔ מִֽגָּרְנְךָ֖ וּמִיִּקְבֶֽךָ׃ וְשָׂמַחְתָּ֖ בְּחַגֶּ֑ךָ אַתָּ֨ה וּבִנְךָ֤ וּבִתֶּ֙ךָ֙ וְעַבְדְּךָ֣ וַאֲמָתֶ֔ךָ וְהַלֵּוִ֗י וְהַגֵּ֛ר וְהַיָּת֥וֹם וְהָאַלְמָנָ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר בִּשְׁעָרֶֽיךָ׃ שִׁבְעַ֣ת יָמִ֗ים תָּחֹג֙ לַה' אֱלֹקֶ֔יךָ בַּמָּק֖וֹם אֲשֶׁר־יִבְחַ֣ר ה' כִּ֣י יְבָרֶכְךָ֞ ה' אֱלֹקֶ֗יךָ בְּכֹ֤ל תְּבוּאָֽתְךָ֙ וּבְכֹל֙ מַעֲשֵׂ֣ה יָדֶ֔יךָ וְהָיִ֖יתָ אַ֥ךְ שָׂמֵֽחַ׃

After the ingathering from your threshing floor and your vat, you shall hold the Feast of Booths for seven days. You shall rejoice in your festival, with your son and daughter, your male and female slave, the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow in your communities. You shall hold a festival for the LORD your God seven days, in the place that the LORD will choose; for the LORD your God will bless all your crops and all your undertakings, and you shall have nothing but joy.

From these verses, we see that Sukkot is not only a time for rejoicing, but a time when we should have nothing but joy.

Questions to think about:

  • How do we manage to have nothing but joy in a rickety sukkah?
  • This year in particular, how do we manage to be joyous in a rickety world where a pandemic is hovering over us and changing our normal course of celebration?

Celebrating Sukkot, the Time of Rejoicing, in the midst of a world-wide pandemic can seem like an oxymoron, and yet, the message of the sukkah can show us the way.

Restrictions put in place during the current pandemic have forced people to give up some of the luxuries and joys of life. This could be compared to scaling back to the basics like we do in a sukkah. In fact, while doing this, some people have noticed a silver lining. They have experienced a different kind of joy.

Psychologist Dr. Amanda Gummer describes it in the article, Coronavirus: Why spending so much time with our children could have unexpected benefits.

Never before, in modern history, have so many parents spent so much time in one place with their children.

Whilst this is not always a good thing, for some families, the coronavirus lockdown has provided a unique opportunity to reconnect, create memories and evaluate priorities...

I know many of my friends with newly returned [college] students feel like they are getting bonus family time with their now adult offspring.

The lockdown will also have increased family connections within the wider family too.

Many grandparents have become more adept at screen-based communication and so are now keeping more in touch with their often distant families than they did before...

The simple pleasures in life are being rediscovered too - a family walk has become a precious time of the day that everyone looks forward to, something many families may never have enjoyed before.

Questions to think about:

  • What, if any, have been your silver linings during the last few months?
  • What lessons from Sukkot and the Covid-19 experience would you like to incorporate into your life?

The great Hassidic teacher, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, took the idea of simcha/joy to a different level. He embraced joy as a way to connect with the Divine. The passage below from his book, Likutei Moharan, illustrates the power of happiness as a way to banish gloom and suffering.

בְּעִנְיַן הַשִּׂמְחָה. עַל־פִּי מָשָׁל, שֶׁלִּפְעָמִים כְּשֶׁבְּנֵי־אָדָם שְׂמֵחִים וּמְרַקְּדִים, אֲזַי חוֹטְפִים אִישׁ אֶחָד מִבַּחוּץ, שֶׁהוּא בְּעַצְבוּת וּמָרָה שְׁחֹרָה, וּמַכְנִיסִים אוֹתוֹ בְּעַל־כָּרְחוֹ לְתוֹךְ מְחוֹל הַמְרַקְּדִים, וּמַכְרִיחִים אוֹתוֹ בְּעַל־כָּרְחוֹ שֶׁיִּהְיֶה שָׂמֵחַ עִמָּהֶם גַם־כֵּן; כֵּן יֵשׁ בְּעִנְיַן הַשִּׂמְחָה. כִּי כְּשֶׁאָדָם שָׂמֵחַ, אֲזַי הַמָּרָה שְׁחֹרָה וְיִסּוּרִים נִסְתַּלְּקִים מִן הַצַּד. אֲבָל מַעְלָה יְתֵרָה – לְהִתְאַמֵּץ לִרְדֹּף אַחַר הַמָּרָה שְׁחֹרָה דַּוְקָא, לְהַכְנִיס אוֹתָהּ גַם־כֵּן בְּתוֹךְ הַשִּׂמְחָה, בְּאֹפֶן שֶׁהַמָּרָה שְׁחוֹרָה בְּעַצְמָהּ תִּתְהַפֵּךְ לְשִׂמְחָה. שֶׁיְּהַפֵּךְ הַמָּרָה שְׁחֹרָה וְכָל הַיִּסּוּרִין לְשִׂמְחָה, כְּדֶרֶךְ הַבָּא לְתוֹךְ הַשִּׂמְחָה, שֶׁאָז מִגֹּדֶל הַשִּׂמְחָה וְהַחֶדְוָה מְהַפֵּךְ כָּל הַדְּאָגוֹת וְהָעַצְבוּת וְהַמָּרָה שְׁחוֹרוֹת שֶׁלּוֹ לְשִׂמְחָה. נִמְצָא שֶׁחוֹטֵף הַמָּרָה שְׁחֹרָה וּמַכְנִיס אוֹתָהּ בְּעַל־כָּרְחָהּ לְתוֹךְ הַשִּׂמְחָה, כַּמָּשָׁל הַנַּ"ל.
On the topic of simchah. An analogy: Sometimes, when people are happy and dance, they grab someone standing outside [the circle] who is depressed and gloomy. Against his will they bring him into the circle of dancers; against his will, they force him to be happy along with them. It is the same with happiness. When a person is happy, gloom and suffering stand aside. Yet greater still is to gather courage to actually pursue gloom, and to introduce it into the joy, such that the gloom itself turns into joy. A person should transform gloom and all suffering into joy. It is like a person who comes to a celebration. The abundant joy and happiness then, transforms all his worries, depression and gloom into joy. We find that he has grabbed the gloom and introduced it, against its will, into the joy, as in the aforementioned analogy.

Questions to think about:

  • How does sitting in a sukkah bring you joy?
  • Have you ever been the sad and gloomy person in Rebbe Nachman's analogy? Were you able to stay sad while others were joyous around you?
  • What do you do that brings joy to others? How does it make you feel?
  • How have you managed to bring some joy into your life while living through a pandemic?

Rebbe Nachman acknowledged that life can often be difficult and gloomy. His answer was to practice happiness which he summed up in the following way. The first five words are often sung in the sukkah.

מִצְוָה גְּדוֹלָה לִהְיוֹת בְּשִׂמְחָה תָּמִיד, וּלְהִתְגַּבֵּר לְהַרְחִיק הָעַצְבוּת וְהַמָּרָה שְׁחֹרָה בְּכָל כֹּחוֹ.
It is a great mitzvah to always be happy, and to make every effort to determinedly keep depression and gloom at bay.

Israeli singers Shuki Salomon & Ishay Lapidot interpret Rebbe Nachman in the song below. They add that "a happy person lights up the world".

May we all embrace the joy of Sukkot and do our share to light up the world!