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Sukkot/Shmini Atzeret/Simchat Torah

HOW CAN WE BE HAPPY NOW?

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

The past six months have been tumultuous. We have watched the coronavirus wreak havoc throughout the world. As we feel things are getting better, an outbreak of the virus appears somewhere else. Eretz Yisrael (Israel), in particular, enters the Sukkot holiday in a severe lockdown due to the increased morbidity of coronavirus. May Hashem remove this plague speedily from his inheritance. In the meanwhile, we are all faced with uncertainty and insecurity. The enemy is invisible and not fully understood, and we find ourselves hoping and praying for a vaccine to stop the virus in its tracks. As we approach Sukkot (Z’man Simchateinu or The Time of Our Joy), we wonder how we can be happy at this timea time filled with so much insecurity and instability.

On Sukkot (Z’man Simchateinu), we leave our secure permanent homes and dwell in temporary dwellings exposed to the elements. Would we not be more joyous in the setting of the security of our permanent homes?

It seems that the message of Sukkot is that, while financial security and stability certainly contribute to one’s contentment, true happiness does not result from physical protection or financial stability. Indeed, it is possible to be happy and joyous while facing uncertainty and insecurity. How is this possible? How can one be happy while vulnerable to the elements?

When one breaks it down, one realizes that our vulnerability and insecurity stem from the fear that something adverse/bad will happen to us.  In our permanent homes, this fear largely dissipates and we feel safe and secure. However, even this safety and security is not absolute. Unfortunately, disease and illness pierces through the solid walls of homes as well. There are individuals who never left their homes during the lockdown who still contracted COVID-19. There is no absolute security and guarantee of anything in life. If security and certainty are pre-requisites for happiness, then true happiness is largely unattainable. There will always be a background fear of something adverse/ bad happening to us or our close ones.

The goal of the High Holy Days is to empower us with the knowledge that, ultimately, we are completely in God’s hands. Nothing adverse/bad can happen to us without God’s will. God is good and, therefore, all of our challenges, trials and tribulations do not randomly happen to us—they are divinely decreed by God (who has our best interests at heart). God is the cause of everything and the answer to everything. We turn to Him for assistance in alleviating difficult circumstances and for protection. We can always turn to the source of everything for strength and support. We are commanded by God to take natural steps to protect ourselves from harm. We must wear masks and social distance as advised by scientists, because it is a Divine command to do so. However, ultimately, true security is not attained through these natural measures. True security and happiness stem from completely accepting our vulnerable and insecure lives, armed with the knowledge that we are in the hands of an accessible Father and King. In our times, where our human insecurity and vulnerability have been brought to the fore, let this be our source of joy on this Sukkot holiday.  

Fri, September 17 2021 11 Tishrei 5782