When Thomas Jefferson
was tapped to draft the Declaration of Independence, he famously included something
as an “inalienable right” that wasn’t a right or priority before in a world
that people were simply striving to survive. Every citizen of the United States
of America, Jefferson concluded, will have the right to pursue happiness.
described happiness as a pursuit, we live in a time where it has become an
expectation, an entitlement. And yet, it
remains as elusive as ever, maybe even more than ever.
Pesach is zman
cheiruseinu, the time we can achieve liberty and freedom. Shavuos is zman mattan toraseinu, a
time for a renewed commitment to Torah. And Sukkos is characterized as zman
simchaseinu, a time rich with potential for happiness. I might have assigned those designations a
On Pesach we sit at a
magnificently set table and recline as we drink four glasses of wine. Shavuos we indulge in ice cream and cheesecake,
vehicles of boundless happiness and joy for many. And then comes Sukkos, which finds us sitting
outside in a flimsy structure, eating off paper plates, fighting off bees,
flies, the cold or the heat, and minimizing the variety of food at each meal so
that we won’t have to carry out and in too many plates. Which sounds least likely to be anointed “zman
Rav Kook (Moa’dei
Ha’reiya) points out that we find the sukkah as the symbol of our yearning for
peace. Prophecies reference the day we
will sit in the great sukkah. On Shabbos
and Yom Tov evenings, we daven…
סכת שלום עלינו ועל כל עמו ישראל ועל ירושלים
“Blessed are You, God, Who spreads
the sukkah of peace upon us and upon His nation Israel and Jerusalem.” What is the connection between peace and the
Imagine you hire a contractor to
build or renovate your house. You pay to
build a house, which typically consist of rooms with walls and a roof. One day the contractor tells you he is done and
you take a look. Lo and behold on one side, the walls don’t reach all the way
to the ground and on the other they don’t extend all the way up to the
ceiling. The wall has countless holes in
it and the roof has a gap. Infuriated,
you confront the contractor. Without missing a beat, he replies, “What are you
upset about, the wall comes within 3 tefachim (9-12 inches) off the ground, so
it is as if it is connected. And the
other wall extends up 10 tefachim (30-40 inches from the ground), but because
it is aligned under the edge of the roof it is as if it extends down to meet
the wall so that is a full wall. And in
terms of the roof, the gap is less than 9 inches so I consider the roof
complete.” Would you be satisfied with
And yet, when it comes to Sukkos, we
are obligated to have walls and a roof. Nevertheless,
Hashem essentially tells us, “You know what, here are creative ways to define
walls and a roof. Use the leniencies of lavud,
gud asik mechitzta, pi tikra yoreid v’soseim, dofen akuma, and I will view
it as if the walls and roof are complete.
If your wall comes within 3 tefachim of the ground, lavud, that
is close enough. If you have a gap in the ceiling but it’s less than 3 tefachim,
I will view it as closed, etc.”
When sitting in the typical sukkah,
to see a complete structure you must employ your imagination and creativity to focus
on what is there, not what is missing.
These are the same ingredients to achieve peace, says Rav Kook. In
addition, I believe these are the critical ingredients to not only pursue
happiness, but to catch up to it.
We can focus on the details, the
minutiae, the deficiencies and shortcomings, what is missing, and the gaps in
our life, and we will be miserable. Or,
we can employ imagination and creativity and find happiness. Happiness is not the result of getting what
we are missing, but it is achieved by focusing on what is there and seeing our
lives as complete, even if it often takes imagination and creativity to do so.
Happiness doesn’t come from things,
it comes from experiences and it comes from relationships. Don’t get me wrong, things are nice, they are
good, and they are enjoyable, but we all know or have heard of plenty of people
with lots of things who are still pursuing happiness who haven’t yet found it. And there are people who lack many things,
but are very happy.
Emory University conducted a comprehensive study studying the relationship
between wedding expenses and marriage duration.
The two economics professors behind the study analyzed data from 3,000
married or once-married couples. They
found that women whose engagement rings cost over $20,000 are 3.5 times more
likely to get divorced than those in the $5,000 to $10,000 range. Men who
spent $2,000 to $4,000 on their wife’s ring got divorced 1.5 times more
than those who dropped between $500 and $2,000.
Of course, these results are much more correlation than causation. There are happily married people with
enormously expensive rings, but the study concluded that having an expensive
ring or the capacity to buy other expensive things had an inverse impact on
your having a successful marriage.
Rav Hirsch writes, “The madness with
which we cling to our worldly possessions leaves no room for our true
happiness.” Sukkos is zman
simchaseinu because we just finished standing in shul, begging for our
lives and saying the words mi yichyeh u’mi yamus, thinking about the
people who left the world this past year, and wondering and fearing who may not
be here next Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.
Look back at the year we just
experienced. Think of the people in the Bahamas whose homes right now look less
sturdy or stable than our sukkos and be happy for what you have. Think about
the Jews murdered in Pittsburgh and Poway, guilty only of the crime of coming
to davening, and channel your gratitude for being alive into happiness. Think about people in your life who would
give anything to sit in a hot, humid, buggy, uncomfortable sukkah with a loved
one who is no longer here. Consider the world around us and all that can go
wrong and choose to see what is going right in your life. Use your imagination and creativity if
necessary and see what is there, not what is missing.
The Shelah HaKadosh says there can
be absolutely no anger in the Sukkah. We
cannot and must not contaminate our holy sukkahs, designed to invoke happiness,
with impatience, anger or harsh words.
In the sukkah, don’t feel the heat
of the sun, feel the warmth of your family.
Don’t focus on who is not at the table, focus on who is there. Don’t focus on what spilled, focus on how
much is left to enjoy.
The Shem Mi’Shmuel points out this
holiday is called “Chag HaSukkos,” not “Chag HaLulav,” because immersing
ourselves in the Sukkah is the secret to finally finding happiness. Go out of your diras keva, your home
with fixed walls and a full roof and step into your diras arai, an
incomplete hut that takes creativity and imagination to see as a dwelling, and
you will experience zman simchaseinu, happiness and joy.