In Dvarim 16:13-15 we read: “You shall make a festival of Sukkot for a seven day period, when you gather in from your threshing floor and from your wine cellar. You shall rejoice on your festival (visamachta bichagecha)- you, your son, your daughter, your slave, your maidservant, the Levite, the convert, the orphan and the widow who are in your cities. A seven day period shall you celebrate to Hashem, your God, in the place that Hashem your God will choose, for Hashem will have blessed you in all your crop and in all your handiwork and you will be completely joyous (vihayita ach sameach).”
Rashbam explains that the reason the word “ach” is used is to contrast Sukkot with the holidays that came before it: “Although Rosh HaShana is a day of remembrance and Yom Kippur a day of atonement, Sukkot is a feast of joy and thanksgiving for the bountiful crops God has blessed the people with.”
The Baalei HaTosafot add: “At Sukkot, when all has already been gathered in and the sins had been forgiven on Yom Kippur, rejoicing is mentioned three times: once in Vayikra 23:40 ‘You shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of a citron tree, the branches of date palms, twigs of a plaited tree and brook willows and you shall rejoice (visamachtem) before HaShem, your God, for a seven-day period’ and twice in Dvarim: ‘You shall rejoice on your festival’ and ‘you will be completely joyous’. You should be rejoicing for the produce of the earth, for the fruits of the tree and for the forgiving of the sins. Rejoicing should be your exclusive concern.”
Rabbi Naphtali Hirz Wessely (1725-1805, Hamburg) explains that we should be happy on Sukkot. However, the word “ach” limits us and tells us not to get carried away, it is a warning against frivolity and folly.
Nehama Leibowitz adds that the word “ach” limits the rejoicing which is to be a festive one, in the spirit of the commandment, with no alien motives which are apt to emerge at this season when the sight of plenty may go to one’s head and joy may turn into riot.
Although we are commanded to be happy, we can’t just do what we want all week as if we are on vacation. We move out of our comfortable homes into sukkot (booths) which must be built in a specific manner. We must buy kosher four species that are prescribed by the Torah which can often be very expensive. We have restrictions over Yom Tov as well as over Chol HaMoed.
Despite all of the laws and restrictions, when we are sitting outside this evening in our Sukkot under the full moon, there is no question that this is the holiday where we can really feel God’s presence. It is also a happy time to be in Israel as we only have one day of Yom Tov, you can find a sukka almost everywhere including on the beach and they have really good deals on Lulav and Etrog sets!
Wishing you a Chag Sameach from Yerushalayim!