Ha’Azinu & Sukkot/Shmini Atzeret/Simchat Torah

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The Time of Our Joy

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

The Talmud states: “A person is obligated to make a blessing when a bad thing happens in the same way that they are obligated to make a blessing when something good happens.” The Talmud understands that this means that as one says a blessing when something good happens with happiness, one should say a blessing when something bad happens with happiness. A student of the Maggid of Mezrech once asked him how this could be possible? How could someone who has just experienced loss or hardship recite a blessing with happiness?

The Maggid told his student that this was, indeed, a very difficult Talmudic passage, and that to understand this passage, his student needed to go observe Reb Zusha of Anipoli (another disciple of the Maggid). The student then travelled to observe Reb Zusha in order to understand the answer to his question. Reb Zusha received the student warmly and invited him into his home. The student discovered Rev Zusha’s terrible life circumstances. Rev Zusha was poor, hardly had anything to eat, and his family suffered from afflictions and illnesses. To his astonishment, the student noticed that Reb Zusha was happy and cheerful. He then proceeded to explain to Reb Zusha his question and that the Maggid had sent him to find the answer. Reb Zusha responded: “That is indeed a very interesting question. But why did our holy Rebbe send you to me? How would I know? He should have sent you to someone who has experienced suffering.”

Reb Zusha reached the unbelievable level of perfect faith and was, thus, truly able to internalize that all his trials and tribulations were from God for his good. While it is extremely difficult for us to grasp this level of faith, there is a profound message for all of us; Our life circumstances do not necessarily have to dictate our level of happiness or unhappiness. Our attitude, thoughts, mindset, interpretation of events, faith, and decisions are largely what determine our happiness.

On Sukkot, we leave our permanent homes (and luxuries) and enter temporary, vulnerable structures. Nonetheless, we declare that we are happy to simply reside in the sukkah under God’s watchful protection. Perhaps this is one of the reasons we refer to Sukkot as zman simchateinu (the time of our happiness). On Sukkot, we reach the realization that true happiness does not come from possessions and circumstances, but, rather, from our connection to spirituality and closeness to God! May we merit and work towards this realization. Chag Sameach!