May 29, 2024
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May 29, 2024
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“Z’man simchateinu” has come! It’s time to be happy, and it’s time to party. Indeed, the Torah tells us that on Sukkot we are to be happy and joyous: “You should be happy before Hashem seven days” (Vayikra, 23:40). Yet, the Gemara (Sukkot 2a) describes the Yom Tov of Sukkot in the following terms: “Leave your permanent dwelling, and lodge in a temporary dwelling,” and Rav Yaakov Hillel says that this description is the essence of the Yom Tov. If so, it would seem that the idea of leaving your house is at odds with the idea being happy on Sukkot. To put it this way, let’s say I said “Be happy and start partying…arite get out of the house!” As fun as chilling in a sukkah may be, wouldn’t dwelling in it minimize our simcha?

Rav Yaakov Neiman (Darkei Mussar, p. 283) explains this apparent dichotomy by introducing one of the “rules of simcha” which is that the most ideal and true simcha that can be reached can only be attained when one understands that this world is only temporary, and learns to distance himself from—and be in control of—the pleasures that are specific to this world. Rav Neiman explains that the reason behind this is that simcha is something which is spiritual, and therefore, only a life lived spiritually, where one comes close to Hashem, will be a life where true simcha is experienced. Hence, leaving our houses, which are permanent, and going into the sukkah, which is temporary, is actually a critical contributing factor to our happiness on this chag, since it reinforces the belief that when we leave aside the pursuit of this world, and instead focus on the pursuit of spirituality, we can attain the peak of simcha. In connection to this idea, Rav Yaakov brings his Rebbe, Rav Moshe Rosenstein, who said that we usually think that Kohelet—in which one of the main themes is discouraging the pursuits related to this world—is read on Sukkot is in order to tame the simcha so that it does not get out of hand; however, it’s the exact opposite—it’s read in order to enhance our simcha!

While one method of reaching a higher level of simcha on Sukkot is by aiming our aspirations away from this world and instead towards spirituality, Rav Dessler (Michtav m’Eliyahu p. 688) suggests that another way to reach simcha is to use things in this world in order to give us a boost of happiness, so that we can ultimately use this happy frame of mind to better serve Hashem. The Chinuch (324) writes that the times of chag were an extremely joyous time for people, since that was when they would gather their produce and reap the rewards. Rav Dessler says we learn from the fact that people’s happiness was derived from things related to this world, that such happiness can bring us to a happiness that is derived from spirituality.

How is this so? Rav Dessler explains by bringing his rebbe, Rav Tzvi Hirsch Broyda, who said in the name of the Vilna Gaon the following principle: Just like its not possible to plant something in order that it grow unless one first plows that area, so, too, the spiritual defects (timtum ha’lev) prevent us from allowing the desire of spirituality to penetrate our heart. Hence we need to “plow” our souls to make them open for spiritual planting, and the Vilna Gaon says this can be accomplished by one of two ways: either through suffering, or through simcha, for either of these open up one’s heart and make it available for spiritual growth. Says Rav Dessler, we learn from this that even if the simcha we experience derives from things related to this world (gashmiyut), it nevertheless can open up our hearts and make it available for ruchniyut (spirituality). Hence, the produce that we collected made us very happy, and now that our hearts are accessible, we can accomplish much in spirituality. I thought that this idea of Rav Dessler is perhaps the intention of the Chinuch (ibid) itself, for after mentioning the reason for our happiness, the Chinuch continues and says “…and Hashem commanded us to make a Yom Tov for their merit in order that their main simcha be channeled to Hashem.” Hence, we can say that the Chinuch also meant that the produce is a “pump up” for us to ultimately use our good mood in order to come closer to Hashem.

I heard an amazing idea from Reb Itchy Taub. We know there are many reasons why reshaim prosper in this world. The first Alexandera Rebbe, known as Rav Yechiel m’Alaxand, gave an additional explanation that since reshaim have simcha in their ways, they therefore become successful. Reb Itchy said that kal v’chomer (i.e. how much more so) when a person has simcha in doing good things, how successful he will be!

Sukkot is “z’man simchateinu”—it’s a time to focus on being b’simcha, and through that we can hopefully leave the Yom Tov with much fuel to attain a successful year.


Binyamin Benji is a graduate of Yeshivat Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan and Wurzweiler School of Social Work. He can be reached at [email protected].

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