By: Alina Sterenfeld (12th Grade)
Referenced countless times within the multitude of Jewish texts, Sukkot often acquires the name “Z'man Simchateinu'' or “time of our happiness.” This name marks an appropriate transition between the Yamim Noraim, the High Holidays, and the festival of Sukkot. The seriousness of Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur, evident by our fasting and atonement, shifts into Sukkot, where we are actually commanded to rejoice throughout its duration. However, two major questions arise: What is the significance of this juxtaposition and how can we be commanded to “be happy?"
The juxtaposition between the days of solemnity in the Yamim Noraim and the days of joyful celebration in Sukkot is no coincidence. On the Yamim Noraim, we come to Hashem, begging for forgiveness, as we recount our sins when we fell victim to the Yetzer Hara and prioritized earthly matters over G-dly matters. We promise Hashem that if He grants us life this next year, we will follow Torah and Mitzvot, and truly live better lives. On Sukkot, we are given the opportunity to actualize this promise, and “walk the walk” and not just “talk the talk.” As we remove ourselves from our homes, filled with the luxuries of air conditioning and electricity, and enter into simple huts, we enter a world of spirituality. We extricate ourselves from the safety of our homes, and become vulnerable, forcing us to rely solely on Hashem as our protector. In essence, we affirm that this year, we will live with the foundational understanding that the true meaning of life remains not in Olam Hazeh, this World, but rather, in Olam Habah, the World to Come.
The Torah states in D’varim 16:13, “You shall observe the Feast of Sukkot seven days, after you have gathered in your grain and your wine.” The significance of celebrating Sukkot during the harvest season is particular: as we sit in our huts and eat from the bounty which we have harvested, we recognize that our harvest, our wealth, our success, is all from Hashem. This explanation of why Sukkot is celebrated during the harvest season is actually the answer to the classic question of “how can we be commanded to feel happy?” The message from Sukkot is that if one has gratitude, and the understanding that everything comes from Hashem, the feeling of simcha, happiness, is inevitable. The foundational notion is that gratitude is the gateway to happiness.