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Sukkot 2019

“The Time of our Rejoicing” - How Can We Feel It?

Leaving our houses and spending days in the sukkah doesn’t necessarily make us feel joyful. So why does the Torah command us to be happy particularly on this holiday?

“The Time of our Rejoicing” - How Can We Feel It?
Without a doubt, the holiday of Sukkot is a kind of relief. The sequence of the holidays that preceded it — the days of Selichot, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur — were days of judgment for all of us. We all feel pressure and tension towards the new year. And now, suddenly, the holiday of Sukkot arrives. No longer do we hear about “a day of reckoning” or concepts like regret and confession. Here the language is difference. Yomtov, chol hamoedUshpizin, “the time of our joy.”

But is it really the time of our joy?

If we take a look for a moment at the various holidays, the last one that would appear to us joyful is Sukkot. Passover, with the Seder night as its centerpiece, is tremendously joyful. The entire family spanning several generations converges around the festival table like free men. Yet “the time of our rejoicing” was not said about Passover. 

With Sukkos, we exchange our regular home for a primitive hut, and we read the Book of Ecclesiastes which speaks about the end of every person and how life is “futile and full of frustration”. (Eccl. 1:14) How can this festival be termed “the time of our joy?”

Rabbi Shmuel Aaron Yudelevitz gave this answer:

We should view the situation as exactly opposite: the entire year a person is swept away by his life of futility and frustration, driven and driving, and never attaining anything. Because whoever has one dollar will always want another 200 dollars. And once he achieves 200 dollars, now he desires 400 dollars. His appetite is never satiated and the items he feels he is missing just increase. In such a situation, how can he be joyous and what can possibly make him joyous?

So what did G-d do? He made him stop and said: “For seven days leave your permanent home where you are always feeling that you lack so much and are unhappy because of it, and go to your temporary home. Disconnect from the non-ending rat race and read the Book of Ecclesiastes to realize that everything is futility and frustration and you will take nothing with you besides the Torah you learn and the commandments you do.  Once you are clear on that, you can direct your mind to Torah and commandments, which is the eternal and genuine happiness and wealth that lasts forever.”

He brought a parable to explain this:  A hundred years ago in Poland, a Jewish family lived cramped in a small home. Finally the wife told her husband that she can’t stand it anymore. But because their financial situation was so terrible, they couldn’t extend their house and buying a bigger house was out of the question. Finally they decided to go to the village rabbi and ask his advice. That evening they approached him.

The rabbi listened to the wife’s complaint and afterwards told the husband, “Your wife is right. Your home is not fit to live in.” “But rabbi, I don’t have the money necessary to buy a new house!” the husband sighed. 

“You’re right too!” the rabbi declared. “But nevertheless do exactly what I tell you to do. Tomorrow, at the crack of dawn, buy a full-sized ram and bring him into your apartment for a week and be sure to take him out at the end of this time! In another week, return here and we will see what to do.”

The husband and wife left the rabbi’s house in shock. They didn’t understand what he was getting at. But if the rabbi said to do it, they have to do it. So the next morning, the husband bought a ram and brought it into the house. From that moment, the family’s misery grew in bounds. The crowding was unbearable. The family members who managed to fall asleep awoke from the ram’s grunting during the night. Above all was the awful stink which reached every corner in the house.

After a week, the couple returned to the rabbi and told him how terrible the past week had been. “Now,” the rabbi commanded, “Take the ram out of your home and come back to me in a week.” 

From the moment the ram was taken out of the home, they felt instant relief. The peace and quiet returned to the home, clean air filled the four walls of the house and suddenly, everyone felt tremendously content. Suddenly there was room for everyone…

In the following meeting with the rabbi, the wife thanked the rabbi for the difficult days with the ram. Now she understood that her situation had not been bad, and how much worse it could have been. She was content with what she had now, and didn’t ask for more than that.

Every year, we want and run after more money, promotions, honor, influence. The rat race never ends. And we always feel that we need more and more… 

The festival of Sukkot makes us stop, forces us to return to our point of origin, leave the house for a small sukkah, and remember that all our success is a gift from heaven, and to be happy with what we have.

Leaving the house for the sukkah is truly a reason to feel “the time of our rejoicing.” When one sleeps in a temporary place, and stays in a place without our regular comforts — we understand that actually we have it quite good in our day-to-day life. Now we can think over our life and see what is important and what is not. Now we can remember that our main job on earth is to serve Hashem by keeping His commandments and working on our character, instead of pursuing all the vanities of This World.

And even more. In contrast to other commandments like tefillin, keeping away from non-kosher food or tzitzit, the sukkah is one of the only commandments that requires the participation of one’s entire body to fulfill it. A person who enters a sukkah fulfills a commandment every second just by being in it. The sukkah symbolizes the physical, transient world, and teaches us that one can fulfill a commandment with all our limbs every second just by being there, and not only when actively doing one commandment or another.

When a person eats, sleeps or even plays — but does it so he can store up strength for his service of G-d, then his actions are considered as doing a commandment. In this way, a person can live his entire life without losing one second. This thought makes a person into a happy and content person, since his entire time is sanctified.

It truly is the time of our rejoicing!