Sukkot, Z'man Simchateynu, the Time of Rejoicing comes on the heels of the most serious and solemn days of the Jewish year. Individuals, together with their community, have prayed, and fasted and atoned and now it is time to rejoice.
But how do we rejoice in a time of adversity? This year, celebrating Sukkot in the midst of a pandemic poses new challenges. Luckily, we aren't the first to experience adversity and our texts have a lot to say about the role of joy and happiness and how we can attain it.
There is a special power of happiness which comes from rejoicing with another, or causing another to rejoice. In light of the following sources we might call it the sacred side of joy.
During Moses's conversation with God at the burning bush, Moses tells God that he would like God to pick someone else to go to Egypt to demand that Pharaoh free the Children of Israel. God is angry with Moses and tells him that his brother, Aaron, will accompany him.
Emotions are not often mentioned in the Torah. Why does it say that Aaron will be happy to see Moses? What are we to learn from this? A midrash in Yalkut Shimoni illustrates the importance of being happy for others and rejoicing with them.
- How might Aaron have felt when his younger brother was chosen by God to be the leader of the people?
- What is the importance of God saying that Aaron will be happy to see Moses?
- What if Aaron wasn't really happy that Moses was the leader? What do we learn about happiness from his example?
- How do you think Aaron's happiness, either genuine or purposeful, helped Moses in his mission?
Lifting the Spirits of Others
The Talmud stresses the importance of lifting the spirits of others in the following text.
- Often jesters are viewed as silly and unimportant. How do the rabbis of the Talmud view the role of jester?
- Why do you think that those who cheer up the depressed merit the World-to-Come?
- How does this relate to how we might celebrate Sukkot during a pandemic?
Seeking God is its own source of endless joy, because there is always more to pursue.
Beginning with a verse from Psalms, the 18th century Torah commentary by David Solomon Eibeschutz, Arvei Nachal, explains why those who seek God find happiness.
- According to the Arvei Nachal, what is the difference between seeking finite knowledge and seeking infinite knowledge?
- How might the prospect of a lifetime pursuit of knowledge bring you joy?
- What is the relationship between hard work and joy?
Rejoicing, Even When it Hurts
Life often presents difficulties and bumps in the road. What is the value of being happy even during the tough times? How does one actually accomplish this?
The great Hassidic teacher, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, turned rejoicing into a mitzvah in the well-known teaching that is often sung in the sukkah.
Rebbe Nachman continued by acknowledging that life is full of gloom and depression. For that very reason, he said that a person must put effort into being happy and bringing happiness into the world.
- What might be the benefit of forcing oneself to be happy?
- How does one make oneself happy? What do you do to make yourself happy when you aren't feeling it?
Putting it all Together
- In a time when celebrating Sukkot might look different than usual, how will you be able to rejoice in the holiday?
- Why might it be even more important this year to rejoice on Sukkot?