Sukkot: The Time of Our Happiness

By Professor Elhanan Marvit, Director of Administrative Services of the Touro Graduate School of Social Work

September 25, 2015

My son-in-law and I spend an autumn afternoon schlepping , measuring, cutting  and hammering wood and bonding while we build a Sukkah. This Sukkah will be our families’ temporary dwelling place while we celebrate Sukkot. As we step out of the comfort zones of our routines and our homes and into a holiday and an outdoor temporary dwelling, I am reminded that “no one likes change except a wet baby.”

Yet, as I sit in my Sukkah and change my regular routine, I find a seemingly counter-intuitive commandment: I am commanded to be happy during this holiday. Virtually each time I pray and recall Sukkot, the appellation “the time of our happiness” is appended to this holiday’s name. None of the other “physical” commandments appear to play as significant role as does this commandment to be happy.

Can a person be commanded to be happy? What if I had a personal or professional reason to be less than happy?  Does merely following the dictates of the button or bumper sticker which directs us “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” actually work?

Happiness is not a single destination. It is a journey. Like any journey, it is fraught with obstacles. And yet, during this holiday we are obligated to transcend these obstacles and to pursue happiness. Our sages offered us one possible way to pursue that true happiness. They stated that sharing with those who are unable to partake in the bounties of this season is the beginning of true happiness. In fact, they stated that we are doing God’s work by working towards a socially caring  culture and sharing with the most vulnerable members of our society.

There is an abundance of social science research that substantiates this idea that caring and giving to others increases our own happiness. When I give charity or demonstrate my caring for others, I am feeling the essential happiness of the holiday—performing something for another’s benefit.

Ironically, we need to break our routine and step out of our comfort zones to recognize and to realize what true happiness is.