Sukkot is supposed to be the holiday of simcha or joy. Simcha is often translated as happiness or joy, but it encompasses more than just a fleeting emotion. It’s the absence of sorrow and worry, a state of contentment, and an expression of gratitude for life’s blessings. In the Torah, simcha is highlighted as a great mitzvah, emphasizing its importance in Jewish life.
The Tanya emphasizes the mitzvah of being in a constant state of simcha. King David, in Tehillim, urges us to worship Hashem with joy. The Gemara (Shabbos 30b) underscores that the divine presence only rests upon those who are joyful. Celebrating yom tovim (festivals) with simcha is counted as positive mitzvah number 488 by the Michas Chinuch. This joy is not mere advice but a fundamental commandment.
In the time of the Beit Hamikdash, sacrifices were offered to celebrate yom tovim. Rabbi Soloveitchik noted that these rituals were designed to remind people of Hashem’s constant presence. Observing simcha includes eating meat, drinking wine, wearing new clothes and giving fruits and candy to children.
Of course eating, drinking and wearing new clothes is not the personification of simcha itself; However, it is a means of putting a person in the right frame of mind, so that they can be happy and perform the affirmative mitzvah of being in a state of simcha.
The Minchas Chinuch explains that simcha harnesses human traits and desires for the service of Torah values. Hashem provided holidays and occasions to channel our innate need for happiness toward divine worship. Simcha is a bridge between our earthly desires and spiritual aspirations.
In Tehillim (chapter 100), King David instructs us to serve Hashem with rejoicing. Being aware of our relationship with Hashem naturally leads to a happy and content mind set. Once we reaffirm our “bitachon,” our faith in Hashem, our frames of mind naturally become happy and content. Simcha isn’t simply a recommendation; it’s an essential component of our spiritual journey.
Is being in a state of simcha just good advice? How important is it to actively pursue being in a state of simcha? Parshat Ki Sovo warns us that neglecting to serve Hashem with simcha can result in severe consequences. At the end of the “tochacha,” the verse states that the 98 terrible curses will come “as the result of not having served the Lord, your God, with simcha and with good spirit.” Simcha is not optional; it is integral to our connection with Hashem and our well-being.
Chazal tell us that talmidei chachamim (scholars) increase peace in the world. Talmidei chachamim are said to increase peace in the world because they are at peace with themselves. Inner happiness and peace are contagious, influencing those around them. Conversely, unhappiness breeds dissatisfaction and envy.
When a person is happy with himself he is willing to share that peace and that happiness. Those feelings affect other people. When a person is not happy with himself, he is miserable and he dislikes other people’s happiness or success. Just as happiness rubs off, so too unhappiness rubs off and such a person cannot be satisfied with anyone else’s success.
Simcha isn’t merely happiness; it’s an exultation of spirit, delight, awe and gratitude. The psychologist, Abraham Maslow’s, theory of peak experiences aligns with this concept. People can glimpse the essence of life’s beauty and purpose through moments of intense happiness. Religion helps us acknowledge that there is a larger world out there, that there is something greater than ourselves. Realizing that there is a divine plan helps bring us into this state of serenity and joy.
A touching story illustrates the transformative power of gratitude and joy: An elderly gentleman, riding on a train, sat quietly looking out the window. His eyes searched each leaf, each cloud, the lines of passing houses, the upturned faces of the children watching the train go by. He even smiled and waved as he watched a passing hay wagon.
“You think it’s strange,” the old gentleman said, “that a hay wagon means so much to me. But you see, last week the doctor told me that I only have three months to live. Ever since, everything has looked so beautiful, so important to me. You can’t imagine how beautiful. I feel as if I had been asleep and had only just woken up.”
As we celebrate Sukkot, let us internalize the essence of simcha, recognizing its deep significance in our lives. May we approach each day seeing the seemingly ordinary things in our world through the same eyes as the elderly gentleman, with awe and rapture. May we experience gratitude and confidence in Hashem’s care, and a sense of inner peace. Through our contagious positive mood, may we spread joy to all those we encounter.
Chag Sameach—Wishing you a joyous holiday!
Rabbi Dr. Avi Kuperberg is a forensic, clinical psychologist and a member of the American Psychology-Law Society. He is the coordinator of Bikur Cholim/Chesed at Congregation Torah Ohr in Boca Raton, Florida. He can be reached at [email protected].