I have such wonderful memories and warm feelings for the Yom Tov of Sukkos. I remember the solid wood, green-painted Sukkah of my grandparents in Boston. I can vividly picture the Sukkah of my parents in Monsey. And today, I can’t wait to reconnect with my Sukkah here in Passaic. The wind, the cold that blows through sometimes-it doesn’t matter. It’s quite strange how this small, flimsy shack conjures up such warm feelings. Practically speaking, it’s a hut that pales in size, comfort, aesthetics and luxury to our homes, yet it creates for us such beautiful memories.
We are instructed to leave our solid homes to live in a Sukkah (a temporary structure) for seven days. Paradoxically, the Torah calls Sukkos the holiday of happiness: “Vehayisa Ach Somayach” (you shall be completely happy). Further, the Torah calls it “chag ha’asif” – the holiday of gathering – since it’s the time to harvest and gather all the produce from the past year. At this time of plenty, we celebrate by moving into a flimsy shack with a roof that will let in the rain. As we rejoice over Hashem’s gifts to us, shouldn’t we be sitting in our comfortable dining room to eat the festive meals?
The Chidushei Harim enlightens us that every holiday is endowed with a special attribute that we develop. In Shema, we list three areas in which we must dedicate ourselves entirely to Hashem: our heart, our life and our money. The Chidushei Harim aligns these three with the three major holidays of Pesach – all our heart; Shavuos – all our life; and Sukkos – all our money. Conversely, there are three primary evil character traits: jealousy, lust and the pursuit of honor (Pirkei Avos), which are offset by dedicating ourselves entirely to Hashem with the three positive areas listed in Shema: “All our heart” counters jealousy; “all our life” counters lust and “all our money” counters pursuit of honor.
The focus of Sukkos is serving Hashem with “all our money” by actually foregoing our monetary possessions. Even though we adorn and decorate our Sukkah, few among us would be comfortable welcoming guests into their Sukkah all year round. This helps us mitigate our pursuit of honor. Instead, we focus on simcha – a pure sense of spiritual happiness where we joyfully honor Hashem instead of being concerned with our personal possessions.
A simple story helps to illustrate. Mr. James had purchased a rare Bordeaux at an auction for $7,800. He invited a few good friends to join him for a fancy dinner celebrating his 60th birthday at a country club. The friends arrived dressed in their finest. All were eagerly awaiting the opening of the prestigious bottle which was scheduled after the appetizer. The moment came and the white-gloved waiter walked in with the bottle balanced on a silver platter. You could hear a pin drop. Just as the waiter reached the table, he slipped! The bottle sailed through the air and shattered on the floor! All the guests, fully attired in tuxedos and custom gowns dived to the floor and began to lick up the wine. That night, a taste of the luxurious wine was worth more than their dignity and honor.
This story demonstrates that when something is truly valuable to us, we don’t care about our personal honor. We now understand why sitting in a Sukkah is so meaningful. The Chovos Halevavos tells us that true happiness comes from placing our entire reliance on Hashem. Each Sukkos, we show this to be true by leaving our secure and comfortable homes to live in a hut for seven days, as Hashem commands us.
It’s true that financial security may help a person feel happier. However, the federal government only guarantees about $100,000 – $250,000 in a bank account. Mutual funds, real estate and stocks may suddenly sink in value. You can literally be rich one day and poor the next. Only Hashem can truly guarantee financial security.
True simcha – happiness – comes from something that has real value. Our relationship with Hashem, as we demonstrate by performing mitzvos, is priceless. It helps guarantee both our spiritual and physical happiness. This explains why Sukkos is truly a time for happiness.
Sometimes we are concerned about what others will think, so we hesitate to perform certain mitzvos, such as wearing a yarmulke or wearing tzitzis in public, stopping lashon hara in a conversation, or praying in a public area. Sitting outdoors in our simple Sukkah, putting aside our own possessions and sense of importance – orients our values and priorities for the entire year. It shows our trust in Hashem and empowers us to embrace all our mitzvos…with joy and without hesitation.