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When the Bible asks us to celebrate the holiday of Sukkot, it specifically tells us the following in the book of Devarim, (Deuteronomy: 16, 13-15):

“You shall make the festival of Sukkot for a seven-day period, when you gather in from your threshing floor and from your wine cellar. You shall rejoice on your festival…A seven-day period shall you celebrate to Hashem, your G-d…for Hashem will have blessed you in all your crop and in all your handiwork, and you will be completely [or, exclusively] joyous (ach sameach).”

Although we are expected to be joyous on every holiday, on Sukkot, we are reminded not once, but three times to be happy and joyous. What is the significance of being happy on the holidays and in particular, to be completely joyous on Sukkot? The simple answer is that we are happy that we have passed the Day of Judgment and are optimistic that we have been given one more year of life and health. We are fortunate that we have plenty of food, and opportunities to share with others more needy.

On a deeper level, however, we are being instructed not just to be happy, but to think about what happiness truly means. We need to consider the relationship between our happiness and our goals for the year. We need to also reflect upon the balance between our spiritual selves and our material selves. In Judaism, we never deny the goodness of the material world. Instead, we strive to elevate the physical to a spiritual level . On Sukkot we do this by going into a temporary dwelling, where we are reminded to appreciate the simpler things in life. When we live in the sukkah, we allow ourselves to be free of material influences in order to contemplate what is truly meaningful and what actually makes us happy.

If you look at the current psychological research which has been done on achieving happiness, you should not be surprised to learn that having more does not equal feeling happier. In her book, The How of Happiness, psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky, states the following:

“50 percent of individual differences in happiness are governed by genes, 10 percent by life circumstances, and the remaining 40 percent by what we do and how we think-that is, our intentional activities and strategies. The secret of course lies in that 40 percent. If we observe genuinely happy people, we shall find that they do not just sit around being contented. They make things happen. They pursue new understandings, seek new achievements, and control their thoughts and feelings. In sum, our intentional, effortful activities have a powerful effect on how happy we are, over and above the effects of our set points and the circumstances in which we find ourselves. If an unhappy person wants to experience interest, enthusiasm, contentment, peace, and joy, he or she can make it happen by learning the habits of a happy person.” (www.thehowofhappiness.com).

Sometimes the only way that we can reflect on our own personal goals and future achievements, is by removing ourselves from everyday comforts and looking at ourselves from the outside. This is why we go out of our houses and into the sukkah. In the sukkah, we can not only experience a joy which is complete, but we can also look at ourselves in a different way in order to see what makes us truly happy. Together with the celebration of the physical world through the lulav and etrog, and the spiritual world of the sukkah, we can hope to achieve a level of unbridled happiness to carry throughout the year.

Chag sameach.
Lisa Steinmetz