Sukkot and True Happiness
By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim
In our liturgy, we refer to Sukkot as the Time of Our Joy (Zman Simchateinu). It seems strange that in the time of our joy, we leave our luxurious, permanent homes and venture into less comfortable temporary structures in which we are vulnerable to external weather conditions.
I think Sukkot’s message to us is very simple. If you need to eat in your permanent, secure home to be happy, you are not truly happy. You may be temporarily enjoying yourself and comfortable, but that is not happiness. You are probably just moments away from something that will make you feel miserable. The stock market may go down, you may lose your job, your housekeeper may misplace something you are looking for, someone may say something that upsets you, and the list goes on forever. In fact, if your happiness is dependent on anything, whether internal or external, you have not achieved true happiness.
Now, according to the Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, we are obligated to constantly maintain a state of happiness. Even during the tragic month of Av, our sages do not instruct us to be unhappy—we are merely instructed to limit external expressions of extreme happiness. Our sages, in Ethics of the Fathers, state: “Who is the wealthy person? The one who is happy with their lot.” I would like to take the liberty of rephrasing this teaching as: ‘Who is the truly happy person? The one who is happy with their lot.” We are unhappy when we think that things are not how they should be, when we feel like we are lacking something, or feel insecure in some way. However, when we feel that what we have is just right for us and exactly what we need, we feel a sense of calm and true happiness.
The great ethical work ‘Orchot Tzadikim’ explains that being ‘happy with one’s lot’ is not simply about financial resources. It is about one’s entire life package: one’s relationships, friends, health, family, and financial resources. Rabbi Shalom Arush, in his commentary about Rabbi Nachman’s ‘Story of the Wise and Simple Person’, explains that one’s life package even includes one’s personal weaknesses, deficiencies, and all the consequences thereof.
How can we get to this level of being happy with one’s lot? By knowing deeply (in the depth of our beings) that our entire life circumstances, blessings, challenges, strengths, and weaknesses, are all from God and all for our good. Right now, we all have exactly what our individual souls need for our development and correction in this world. Only with this deep, internalized belief, can we be truly happy. Our current circumstances are always ideal, because they have been tailor picked for us by our Father in Heaven. We may prefer to work toward different circumstances in the future, and, in fact, God encourages us to better ourselves and the world, but we do this by accepting, embracing, and even celebrating our entire lot in life.
The Sukkah represents being surrounded by God’s presence, which manifested in the desert as the Clouds of Glory. Let us remind ourselves that the only path to true happiness is the deep realization that our loving Father is always with us, providing us with what truly is ultimately good for us. May we all merit to embrace the life-long challenge of internalizing this truth and merit a life of true happiness.