What is Sukkot? Sukkot is known as “a time of our happiness” as stated in Jewish prayer. We are commanded in Deuteronomy 16:15, “You shall hold a festival for the L-rd your G-d seven days, in the place that the L-rd will choose; for the L-rd your G-d will bless all your crops and all your undertakings, and you shall have nothing but joy.” G-d tells us to celebrate Sukkot with the additional promise that He will take care of our crops. Not only are we commanded to celebrate this festival, but we are also commanded to do so with joy.
The definition of joy and happiness is often misconstrued. In our times, happiness is defined as possessing a lot. However, the classic Jewish ethical work, The Path of the Righteous, defines happiness not as a state of having but as a state of being. Despite what we may think, happiness is not contingent on the amount we possess, the friends we have, or the accumulation of status and prestige. Happiness is contingent on ourselves, how we think and feel, and what we communicate to those around us. It is about our state of being.
“For he who believes with a complete heart and trusts in the help of the Rock (G-d) will always be happy and bear everything — just as a sick person eats bitter medicines in order to be healed. And he who bears problems willingly is free from the worry of the world. The one who bears all things willingly is satisfied with the little he has, for he says, ‘Whatever the Creator has decreed for me is enough for me.’" (The Path of the Righteous, 9:65)
Achieving happiness, according to psychology, is also in our ability to handle life. Mental health and physical health are identified as important factors, along with social values of solidarity, tolerance, and love (Veenhoven, 2010). Veenhoven (2010) also references a higher order meaning—the author states religious affiliation and national patriotism as examples—as a factor of happiness. When we celebrate Sukkot and other Jewish holidays, we are strengthening our religious connection thereby, increasing our happiness. Not only can religious affiliation increase our level of happiness, but according to the writings of the brilliant Jewish physician and thinker, Maimonides, being in a state of happiness is so powerful, it can even cure illnesses:
“Happiness alone has cured or at least made milder many physical and psychological ailments.” (Medical Aphorisms 18:2)
This year, as we sit in our sukkot, which are defined as temporary structures with sparse roofing, we are reminded that G-d not only redeemed us from slavery in Egypt, but also chose us to receive the Torah, as a groom choses a bride. A sukkah is likened to a wedding canopy.
What is Sukkot? Sukkot is the time when we rejoice in G-d’s love for us. A sukkah (singular form of sukkot) is also a reminder to us that just like our sukkah is temporary, so too our time in this world. We are able to focus on cultivating happiness when we abandon our desire for habitual comforts which only serve to distract us from our true mission on Earth, and use this opportunity to develop our ability to truly be happy.