There was once a man, whom we will call Andy, who was diagnosed with a rare and severe illness. Unique conditions often call for unconventional treatments, and he was advised to try psycho-physical therapy: he was told to find someone who lives in complete joy with no worries, ask him for his coat, and wear that man’s coat for seven days. Hopeful that he would soon feel healthy again, Andy embarked on his mission to find such a person. He searched everywhere, asking everyone he met if they or someone they knew was completely happy without worries. Unfortunately, after many months he still hadn’t found anyone who fit the description.
Finally, with the debilitating illness still progressing, Andy was referred to a man named Sam who, he was told, was happy and had no worries at all. It was winter, yet Andy anxiously trudged through the snow to a park bench where he was told Sam could be found. Andy sat down next to Sam and began his inquiry.
“Are you Sam, the man they say is filled with joy, who has no worries?” Andy asked.
“Yes, indeed I am,” Sam replied with a smile.
“Wonderful! May I borrow your coat for seven days? It would really mean a lot to me.”
“Of course! I would love to lend you my coat, but there’s just one problem.”
“What’s that, Sam?”
“I have no coat.”
Yom Kippur has passed, and the holiday of Succos will soon be upon us. On Yom Kippur we shed physical and sensual pleasures, and immerse ourselves in prayers to G-d to erase our past and help us to forge a new relationship with Him. The result, as many can attest, is an unparalleled spiritual high and joy. This is followed immediately by the Succos holiday, which the prayers refer to as “The Time of our Joy.” During Succos the Torah tells us to leave the comfort of our homes in favor of simple huts with deliberately poor roofing. This new spiritual home, where we are told to spend much of our time – eating, studying Torah (and for many – sleeping) – then serves to inject the spiritual, genuine, joy experienced on Yom Kippur into common daily activities. The physical and sensual pleasures are not withheld, but tempered by the spartan shelter of the Sukkah.
One does not need a coat to be the happiest man alive. In fact, if we rely on non-spiritual pursuits for our joy, we’ll never be satisfied. As the Sages say, “a person does not leave this world with even half of what he wanted” (Koheles Raba, 1:34). Nothing in this world can live up to our dreams, and a non-spiritual focus ultimately ends in disappointment.
The answer is not asceticism. As one of my teachers, Rabbi Berel Wein, used to say in this context, “this is not a plea for poverty, my friends!” We do learn, however, that for any material pursuit or attainment to last, it must at least be rooted in spirituality. If we buy delicious food to share with others, buy a house to raise a family and welcome guests, or pursue a lucrative career to have money to help those in need, we’ll experience the spiritual joy along with the physical joy, and then it is guaranteed to last. (Based on Nesivos Shalom)
Good Shabbos and Happy Succos!
Rabbi Mordechai Dixler
Program Director, Project Genesis – Torah.org