One of the more confusing Torah commandments is that of how we must feel. “Be Happy,” sounds more like the instructions of a bad psychotherapist than an instruction from a Divinity. But there it is. We are told:
“And you shall rejoice in your Festival: you, your son, and your daughter, and your manservant, and your maidservant, and the Levite, and the stranger, and the orphan, and the widow who are in your cities. Seven days you shall celebrate the Festival to the Lord, your God, in the place which Hashem shall choose, because the Lord, your God, will bless you in all your produce, and in all the work of your hands, and you will only be happy.”
How can we be commanded to feel? It’s one thing being told we can feel angry but we are not permitted to act on it, but to command the actual feeling? What’s that all about?
I would like to put forward 3 possible explanations. First, Succot is potentially the most Emunah-driven festival of all. We give up the protection and safety of our homes to put our trust in the One Above exclusively. While we may claim that we believe in Hashem and that He will protect us come what may, we don’t quite feel it because if we did, why lock our doors? Well, on Succot we do; Succot is the time when we have no choice but to act out our true feelings of faith in Hakadosh Baruch Hu and that – at least to my mind – is an expression of being truly happy. We literally ‘let go and let God,’ as the saying goes. It has to make us happy to give over such a tremendous responsibility entire.
My second theory is on Succot as one of life’s greatest equalizers. Rich or poor, religious or non-religious, young or old, single or familial, we unite in a hut. If it’s cold outside it’s hard to heat and if it’s hot outside it’s hard to cool down. Like I said, the equalizer.
My family and I were zocheh to experience the equalizing feeling on the first night this year. We were staying in a Jerusalem hotel when my husband was having breakfast in the succah following davening. After he used the lulav he saw a man with a couple of kids on another table. “Would you like to use the lulav?” he asked. The guy was thrilled; no weirdness of observant versus non-observance as we often see. Him and his son used it, taking pictures and smiling and then my husband asked the daughter if she wanted to as well. “Me too?” she enquired. “Of course,” Daniel replied.
That led to us talking to four other tables at the communal succah and discovering that the guy who had enjoyed our little green branch and funny lemon was a famous Israeli comedian. The others told us their stories as well (markedly different from ours), as we all sipped Elite coffee in a dining room made out of sheets and slats of wood.
And now for my third theory on the commandment to be happy. An anagram of the words חג הסוכות (the festival of the Tabernacles) is – would you believe it? – חג הכוסות (the festival of glasses). If nothing I’ve said so far has convinced you that the commandment to “be happy” makes sense during this time, raising your glasses sure should!