Celebrating SUKKOT 5780

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By: Rabbi Yehonasan Gefen

What is so special about Sukkot that it is described as “the time of our joy”? Aren't all Jewish holidays supposed to be joyful?

All the festivals in the Jewish calendar are joyous occasions. However, only one is actually described as “the time of our joy”– Sukkot. Why is Sukkot associated with happiness more than any other holiday? To answer this question, we must first understand why we celebrate Sukkot at all. In fact, this is not as straightforward as it seems, because Sukkot is unlike Pesach and Shavuot in one significant way. On both of these other two festivals major events occurred. On Pesach the Jews left Egypt and on Shavuot the Torah was given. However, there was no single event that happened at the time of year that we celebrate Sukkot. Rather Sukkot is a remembrance of how the Jews lived in huts throughout the forty years that they were in the desert, which is why we build sukkot and dwell in them for the duration of the festival. This begs the question: why is this a cause for such major festivity?! Moreover, the focus of a festival is normally connected with Hashem’s greatness, such as His awesome power and His overwhelming kindness. This is not immediately apparent in the fact that the Jewish people dwelled in huts in the desert.

Divine Protection

To solve these questions, we must first try to imagine what living in a desert must have been like. The desert is an extremely inhospitable place. It is unbearably hot in the daytime and freezing at night. There are often very strong winds that cause devastating sandstorms, and there are dangerous animals such as snakes and scorpions. With these things in mind, it is hard to understand how simple wooden huts could offer the Jews even the scantest protection from this hostile environment. Indeed, this is the key to a genuine understanding of what Sukkot commemorates. The huts did, indeed, offer almost no protection of the Jews inthe desert. So why were the Jews not swiftly obliterated by the perils of the desert? The answer is that Hashem protected them. Their physical shelter was a mere façade. Ultimately, it was very clear to them that their survival in the desert was beyond the laws of nature. We, too, build huts for the week of Sukkot. The halacha requires that they must be made in a temporary manner, with a weak roof that does not fully shelter its inhabitants from the sun and rain. This is to remind us of the fact that all the security that we enjoy throughout the year in our strong homes with sturdy roofs is also really a façade. It is only Hashem that can offer true protection.

Constant Joy

It is this awareness that we are constantly being looked after that is the source of the joy of Sukkot. But why is this joy considered more significant to that of the other holidays to the extent that only Sukkot is called “the time of our joy”? It seems that there are two basic types of joy. There is the joy of a
one-off event, and there is the joy of a more constant kind.
Pesach and Shavuot represent major events that were cause of great happiness. However, the impact of such events, no matter how momentous, inevitably wears out. Sukkot, however, represents a happiness of an ongoing kind, where was no particular event that symbolized Sukkot. Rather, Sukkot is a remembrance of how Hashem provided the Jews with long-lasting, consistent protection. This teaches us that He is also constantly doing the same for us. The happiness that comesfrom Hashem’s constant overseeing is not dependent upon any external events, rather it simply requires an internal recognition that whatever happens is under Hashem’s benevolent supervision.

A key to attaining such an awareness is realizing that whatever a person has is exactly what he needs. This is expressed in Pirke Avot: “Who is rich? He who is happy with his portion.” Each person is allotted a “portion” in life. This entails exactly what is best for him in his situation in life. And this portion is perfectly measured to enable him to achieve his fullest potential. With this recognition one is saved from the feeling that life would be so much better if he had more money, a bigger house, or a nicer car. The very fact that we do not have more shows that Hashem has deemed that it is better for us that way. We often think that if only we were millionaires then everything in life would be rosy.

Sukkot teaches us that Hashem is constantly overseeing us and providing us with exactly what we need to live a successful life. If we can internalize this idea then we can begin to understand how wonderful true happiness is.