The Be’er Yosef (Parshas Emor, 23:42) points out that there seem to be two opposing running themes of Succos. On the one hand, we deliberately leave the comfort of our homes to dwell in the Sukkah, a temporary, flimsy structure, lacking our usual conveniences. On the other hand, there is great emphasis on happiness and having pleasure during this holiday, more so than other times. It would seem to be counterproductive to purposely placing ourselves in a less comfortable setting while we are working simultaneously to enjoy ourselves and raise our levels of happiness.
The Be’er Yosef resolves this difficulty with a beautiful insight: Both themes are one and the same. On Succos, we celebrate how God cared for us in the desert on our way from Egypt to the Promised Land, in a most marvelous fashion. Usually, when people are fleeing and traveling to a new place, their comfort is greatly compromised and it is expected that they will endure difficulties and suffering along the way. God, however, provided us with safety, food and water in a miraculous way, and we had all our needs attended to in wonderous ways for forty years while away from civilization.
This is the intention of us going out into the Sukkah. Leaving our homes to enter the Sukkah resembles the Jews leaving their homes in Egypt. This is when we can truly celebrate the good God has bestowed upon us. When we go into the Sukkah, we remember how despite leaving our homes in Egypt and entering the wilderness, a place expected to be lacking basic necessities, God provided us with everything we needed in a most glorious manner.
Real appreciation of what we have is what induces true pleasure and happiness. It is precisely the act of leaving the comfort of our homes which promotes greater pleasure and happiness. With proper focus, sitting in the Sukkah aids us in refreshing our perspective in gaining greater appreciation of all the good that we had then and we have now as well. It is the feeling of appreciation for all the blessings we were granted which has the potential to give us the most pleasure and raise our spirits above all.
This concept is reflected in a verse in Proverbs (15:15) as well, and stands as a lesson for life in procuring happiness. The verse says, “All the days of the poor are bad, and one with a good heart always has a party.” The Gra explains the verse as follows: One who is always longing to attain more is considered poor and is always unhappy, for he will never succeed in getting everything he wishes to have. On the other hand, one who has a good heart and is satisfied with what he has is always happy, like a person indulging in good drinks at a party. However, unlike a party which comes to an end, this person’s happiness never ends.
We all possess much potential for happiness which we fail to utilize. We
have so much we can enjoy and draw happiness from if we would put our minds
to appreciating what we have. As the Chovos Halevavos expresses (in the
introduction to Gate of Contemplation), there is so much happiness people
are deprived of for lack of recognition and appreciation for
things they have already. Once they learn to appreciate what they have, they
will derive so much more pleasure, both in this world and in the Next World.
Rabbi Avigdor Miller promoted this idea repeatedly in teaching others to
enjoy life. Someone once criticized his approach as being in pursuit of
materialism. Rabbi Miller looked at him and said, “I see you’re wearing a
wristwatch. I don’t own a wristwatch. You drive a car while I walk. So, who is the
one running after materialism here? While you are pursuing pleasure, you never
have it. I on the other hand have so much pleasure from what I already have. I
got here with my ‘Rolls Royce.’ My shoes are my ‘Rolls Royce.’ There are places
in the world where people don’t have shoes. Having shoes is such a pleasure!”
The Sukkah sets an example for us in how to live a life full of happiness. In
every situation there are conveniences and blessings we enjoy which we can
became elated from. By contemplating the benefit that we have from various
items we own and conveniences we enjoy, we can become happier than ever.
The more we learn to appreciate the simple things in life that we take for
granted, the more we will truly enjoy life.
By Rabbi Yitzchok Aryeh Strimber (firstname.lastname@example.org)