As we get older and gain life experience, we also reflect upon our priorities and values. Life seems at times so uncertain and unpredictable and it seems we have little control over what really matters to us.
The yearning for control over our lives and knowing what the future holds is a basic human need. Also for those of us who live in Israel with the precarious security here in the Middle East, this desire to know what will be, is something we all yearn for.
But do we need to know what our future holds for us-both on a personal and national level, to achieve happiness, peace of mind and inner calm?
I would like to suggest that if we focus on the two main themes of Sukkot – Emunah (Faith) and Community, then we can live a perfectly happy and relaxed life, without knowing our fate and destiny.
The Rambam at the end of Hilchot Lulav describes there is a Mitzvah of ‘Simchah Yetairah’ – extra Simcha on Sukkot, based on the Simcha that existed in the Bet Mikdash over Sukkot, with all the Simchat Bet Hashoeva celebrations.
It’s ironic that of all the Chagim, Sukkot has an extra dimension to the Mitzvah of Simcha, as after all the Mishnah and Gemarah tells us we should leave our ‘Dirat Kevah’ – our permanent dwelling and move into a ‘Dirat Aray’ – a temporary dwelling, for the duration of Succot. How can we feel true Simcha, let alone ‘Simcha Yetaira’ the Rambam is talking about, whilst we are living in the flimsy and unstable Succot?
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The answer is of course that the two main themes of Sukkot – 1) Emunah and 2) Community/Family, which can lead us to feeling a true sense of Simcha and even, yes, ‘Simcha Yetairah’.
1) Emunah (Faith) :
The book of Kohelet which we read on Sukkot, takes us back to the basics of life, like many of the Tephilot of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur do. Reminding us of what is ‘Ikar’-important and significant in life, and what is ‘tefel’ – peripheral and less critical. It is through realizing and acknowledging what is ‘Ikar’ and what is ‘Tefel’ in our lives, that leads one to lead a truly happy and meaningful life.
Furthermore, the Sukkah and Schach, which reminds us of the ‘Ananei Hakavod’-the clouds of glory that Hashem protected us with in the wilderness, reminds us of the protection and care that Hashem demonstrates to us.
Another example of how Emunah is central to Sukkot, is the water which is the focus of the Simcha Bet Hashoevah. Why was water such a source of happiness? Because water represents the relationship between Hashem and Am Yisrael and our dependency on Hashem. When the rain falls in the right time, this shows that we have found favour in Hashem’s eyes, which is the ultimate source of joy.
Particularly in Israel, a Chag that makes us be outdoors and enjoy the beautiful scenery of Eretz Yisrael, is something that can only enhance our Emunah in Hashem.
2) Community and Family:
There is a beautiful minhag of each night of Sukkot welcoming in Ushpizin, again reflecting the social nature of the Chag.
Also, the Rambam in Hilchot Lulav describes how the Simchat Bet Hashoevah, was an event for everyone – men , women, children etc. Everyone was expected to join in and share their positive feeling and joy with others. The Rambam warns that anyone who does not take part and feel the joy and happiness is to be reprimanded. The whole idea of residing for the duration of Sukkot in a Succah creates a feeling of Achdut- togetherness. The Midrash describes how the Araba’at Ha’minim, represent all the different types of Jew, and when we hold the Arba’at Ha’minim together, we are demonstrating the importance communal responsibility.
Like all the other Chagim, being with one’s family is also a central element. The Ramah writes that a man should not sleep in his succah, unless his wife is with him and it is preferable for a man to sleep in his house with his wife than without her in his Sukkah. Again, showing how family life, is central to Sukkot.
So, the message of Sukkot is even though we don’t know what lies ahead of us, either on a personal or national level, if we have Emunah in Hashem and have the support of our community and family, we can live with the uncertainly that is so much part of life, and still achieve calm and inner peace, and even ‘Simcha Yetairah’.