Learn Jewish Songs of Sukkot, the Festival of Happiness (and booths).
A Sukkot Dvar Torah - Happiness is...
The Festival of Sukkot is also known as the Festival of Happiness. Indeed, it is a time of great rejoicing, song and dance, festive meals and good spirits. Throughout the holiday people go to parties known as " smachot beit hashoeva," or, the rejoicing of the water pouring. This refers to a ceremony which took place in the Temple, where a water libation would be poured on the altar. The culmination of the Sukkot Festival is the holiday of Simchat Torah, or, the Rejoicing of the Law. All of this happiness makes us ask what, exactly, is happiness?
The other happy holiday in the Jewish year is the holiday of Purim. The main ingredient in Purim celebration, however, is absent from Sukkot and Simchat Torah. I refer to alcohol. On Purim, we have a festive meal where wine is a requirement. On Sukkot, we commemorate the pouring of water in the Temple. If the priests would have poured wine instead, they would have violated the law. Now, if we are going to celebrate, wine certainly doesn't hurt! Water, on the other hand, only can bring out celebration in those who have returned from a long trek across the desert. So why not use wine on Sukkot?
My teacher, Rabbi Aaron Soloveitchik, of blessed memory, offers a profound insight into the true meaning of happiness. He does so by examining the seemingly completely inappropriate statement of the great sage Hillel, of 2000 years ago. Hillel said, " if I am here, everything is here. If I am not here, who is here?" This seems like an arrogant thing to say, and especially out of place for a humble person such as Hillel! What did he mean?
Hillel was teaching us about ourselves. We all have a true identity, deep down inside us. No two human beings are alike. Often, though, we do not know ourselves. At the times when our true identity seeks to make itself known to us, we drown it out through escapism or other means. Alcoholism, drug use, all kinds of addictions have as their purpose to distract us from our true identity. If we were in touch with our true identity, we would be interviewed with a sense of purpose which would make us recoil at the thought of escaping into a mind altered state. We would love ourselves too much to do that.
Now Hillel's statement makes sense. The " I" he refers to is our true identity. If we are in touch with our true identity, we have everything we will ever need to be successful, truly happy human beings. If we have lost touch with our true identity, then we engage in a futile struggle to fill our consciousness with something else. On Sukkot, after we have reconnected with our true identities over the course of the high holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, all we need is water. Keep the Chardonnay in the refrigerator. We don't need anything else besides the basic requirements of life to be truly rich. And, I might add, water is symbolic of Torah. The more we connect with our spirituality, the more happiness is our lot.