Of all the festivals in our calendar, it is Sukkot that is known in Jewish sources as heChag – “THE festival.” Why Sukkot? What is so special about Sukkot?
In addition to all its unique symbols and observances, the centrality of Sukkot in the calendar is highlighted by its designation as z’man simchateinu – the “time of our happiness.” In fact, we are commanded on this holiday of Sukkot: V’samachta b’chagecha v’hayita ach sameiach – be happy on this holiday, and be only happy!
In other words, Sukkot is unusual in that it commands a particular mood – happiness!
So what is the happiness of Sukkot? Certainly it is beyond the superficial, fleeting, and material happiness with which we come into and out of contact myriad times during each day, week, and year.
Perhaps this blessed happiness is an appreciation of our painstaking efforts of reflection and atonement just experienced, and therein we find solace, encouragement, and joy.
Perhaps the meaning of this happiness – a sacred happiness – is alluded to in the verse found in the Biblical Book of Kohelet – Ecclesiastes (the m’gillah read on Sukkot) – "When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider: God has made the one as well as the other.” In other words, this Sukkot happiness is not dependent upon externalities and circumstances – remember that we dwell in a frail and vulnerable hut for the course of this holiday – but rather this is a lasting, soulful, spiritual, overriding happiness of wholeness, which finds its perfect expression through the holiday of Sukkot.
As the uplifting backdrop of observance and celebration – of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot – is upon us, this time of year resonates with the spirit of new beginnings, fresh starts and hopes, and wishes for a good, healthy, productive, successful, fulfilling – and happy – year ahead.
Rabbi Jonathan Pearl, Ph.D.