There is a machzor (prayerbook) for Yom Kippur in which the following instructions appear: “Here one cries”. Excuse me? That’s right. At some particular juncture in the davening we are supposed to cry. But what if I can’t cry, at least, not right now? Apparently that’s your problem. Most people, unless they are professional actors, cannot dial up their emotions at will. Some things make us happy, some things make us angry, and other things make us mad. But without these external stimuli, most people typically function on an even keel.

And this makes the holiday of Sukkot somewhat problematic. All of the holidays have multiple names. Rosh HaShanah is also called “Yom HaZikaron” – the Day of Remembrance. Yom Kippur is called “Yom HaDin” – Judgment Day, and Pesach is called “Chag HaMatzot” – “The Holiday of Matzo”. Sukkot is called “Z’man Simchateinu” – the “Season of our Happiness”. This name comes from a verse in the Torah [Devarim 16:14] found in the description of Sukkot: “You shall rejoice in your holiday”. The Talmud in Tractate Pesachim [109a] rules that it is positive commandment to be happy not only on Sukkot but on Pesach and Shavuot as well. The reason that Sukkot stands out as “Z’man Simchateinu” is because the commandment to “rejoice in your holiday” appears explicitly only in connection with Sukkot[1]. Be that as it may, the normative Halacha is as per the Talmud. Here is what the Rambam has to say on the topic [Hilchot Shevitat Yom Tov 6:16-18]:

Just as it is a mitzvah to honor the Shabbat and to take delight in it, so too, do [these obligations apply to] all the holidays… It is forbidden to fast or recite eulogies on the seven days of Pesach, the eight days of Sukkot, and the other holidays. On these days a person is obligated to be happy and in good spirits; he, his children, his wife, the members of his household, and all those who depend on him, as it states [Devarim 16:14]: “You shall rejoice in your festivals.” The “rejoicing” mentioned in the verse refers to sacrificing peace offerings… Nevertheless, included in [this charge to] rejoice is that he, his children, and the members of his household should rejoice, each one in a manner appropriate for him: Children should be given roasted seeds, nuts, and sweets. For women, one should buy attractive clothes and jewellery according to one’s financial capacity. Men should eat meat and drink wine, for there is no happiness without partaking of meat, nor is there happiness without partaking of wine. When a person eats and drinks [in celebration of a holiday], he is obligated to feed converts, orphans, widows, and others who are destitute and poor. In contrast, a person who locks the gates of his courtyard and eats and drinks with his children and his wife, without feeding the poor and the embittered, is [not indulging in] rejoicing associated with a mitzvah, but rather the rejoicing of his own gut.

The Rambam seems to be addressing our question above by giving us recommendations in how to make people happy: Give the kids toys, give the women a bottle of perfume, and make sure you have enough money to buy yourself a burger and a can of imported beer. Notice what the Rambam has done: instead of the holiday making us happy, we must make ourselves happy in honour of the holiday. That’s all fair and good, but there is one problem: the Rambam says that the men eat meat and drink wine “because there is no happiness without meat and wine”. Why, then, must a person waste hundreds of shekels buying his wife a new outfit when she and he can together pop open a bottle of 2012 Almaya from the wonderful Abouhav Winery in Tzfat and they can both be happy?

In order to answer this question, we will venture into a topic in which I admittedly feel somewhat inadequate to discuss, and that is the definition of “happiness”. This is a hot topic of discussion nowadays, not only among psychologists, but among behavioural economists as well, because their rules of economy are based upon man – homo economicus – making rational decisions in order to maximize not his wealth, but, rather his happiness. What, then, makes a person happy?

The answer to this question depends upon who you ask. If I ask my daughters what makes them happy the answer will probably have something to do with clothing. If I ask my sons, the answer will have to do with the New York Giants winning[2]. My wife and I would answer this question much differently. Just sitting and watching our children play together or coming home from work and being greeted by our grand-daughter with a great big “Hi, Zaydie!” are enormous sources of happiness. Scientists are aware of this duality, and as a result have defined two different types of happiness: “Hedonic happiness” and “Eudaemonic happiness”. Hedonic happiness is a sort of “localized happiness”. Examples include the way a person feels after he buys a new car or drinks some good wine, or when he gets a high score on a difficult test. These things elicit a short-term change in a person’s happiness, but after a while the person reverts to his “steady-state” happiness. Eudaemonic happiness is something entirely different. In the words of writer Adam Piore[3] “This is the kind of happiness that qualifies a life well-lived, time on this planet well-spent.” Eudaemonic happiness is more like “satisfaction” than “happiness”. According to Psychologist Carol Ryff, things that lead to Eudaemonic happiness include personal growth, purpose in life, and positive relationships. The truth is that I really don’t need a psychologist to tell me this, but it’s nice to hear it from people with advanced degrees in relevant fields.

Now let’s return to the Rambam. It’s clear that the happiness we are inducing in women and children is hedonic happiness. One could say the same thing about men. Years from now I’m probably not going to look back at the defining moments of my life and say “That rack of lamb with the ice cold Singha I had on Sukkot 5776 really impacted my life”. Wine and meat are seemingly also hedonic pleasures. But look back at the Rambam: the drinking of fine wine is wasted money if it is done alone in one’s dining room. On the other hand, when we eat a fine meal around a table together with our children and our grand-children, when we reminisce together a funny story that happened years ago on a crowded street in Sydney, or when we consider with our children about their future careers, or when we argue over whether or not man is smothering himself in technology, the meal takes on a different colour. We marvel at our children and we burst with satisfaction. Our happiness morphs from Hedonic to Eudaemonic. The meat and the wine are only the appetizers.

Now move the meal from the living room to the sukkah. Even with the abundance of decorations, a sukkah is still just a wooden hut. What is important is the family that sits inside that sukkah. When the Torah commands us to “rejoice in your holiday [of Sukkot]”, it is telling us to “rejoice from inside the sukkah”. Strip away the outer layer – your worldly possessions, your diplomas, your status – and what do you have left? You have your sources of Eudaemonic happiness.

Sukkot has another name. It is called “Chag Ha’Assif” – the Holiday of Gathering – when all of the farmer’s produce is gathered in from the field. After spending the past year toiling in his field, he finally reaps the fruits of his labour. He does not have to eat from his harvest for it to give him pleasure. It is enough for him to sit back in his chair and to marvel. With a huge serving of help from Above, he has so much to be happy for.

Chag Sameach,

Ari Sacher, Moreshet, 5776

Please daven for a Refu’a Shelema for Moshe Dov ben Malka, Yechiel ben Shprintza, and Shaul Chaim ben Tziviya

[1] Regarding Shavuot the Torah commands us simply [Devarim 16:11] “You shall rejoice before Hashem”. Pesach, on the other hand, contains no explicit directive to be happy. Given the copious amounts of matzo that we ingest each Pesach, this is perfectly understandable.

[2] It has always astounded me how people whom I have never met winning a football game six thousand miles away can make a tangible impact on my life. And yet a Giants loss will pretty much ruin my day.

[3][3] Piore has a great article on this topic, see http://nautil.us/issue/28/2050/what-technology-cant-change-about-happiness