The Siddur describes the holiday of Sukkos as “Our time of happiness.” After the intense and cleansing High Holy Days, we can now rejoice with our Creator, celebrating our renewed relationship. Also, if we consider the agricultural cycle in Israel (or most anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere), this is the time when crops are gathered after a summer’s labor — so farmers would have good reason to celebrate at this time.
Part of our celebration, however, seems incongruous with Sukkos as a time of happiness: why are we commanded to leave our homes, to live in a temporary hut, with a roof that offers minimal protection from the elements?
Children often receive incentives in school for good behavior or hard work. Candy and soda are best for the dentist, so often a teacher will offer a small toy as a reward. These spinning tops or pieces of costume jewelry don’t usually last very long, but they’re enough to motivate the students.
While having a proper roof over our heads is hardly a luxury today, it is symbolic of the many other comforts to which we’re accustomed. And those comforts never end: advertisements assure us that the next new gadget, car, or vacation will bring us true bliss.
This blinds us to a simple truth: indeed, the comforts never end, and will always leave us wanting more. In the grand scheme of things, the joy my son gets from a plastic jumping frog lasts about as long as my neighbor’s joy after purchasing a riding lawn mower — the one I, the adult, am wishing I had too.
During this “time of our happiness,” we dim the allure of physical comforts by spending time in the Sukkah. The simplicity of the structure helps us appreciate what we already know — that genuine happiness is a spiritual experience, something toys and gadgets can’t provide. After seven days of living in the Sukkah, enjoying time with family, time in Torah study, and simply observing G-d’s commandments, we are best prepared to live the meaningful and joyous life that we all pray for in the coming year.
May we have a year of blessing, health and happiness!