||Sermon Second Day Sukkos
||by Rav Ze'ev Smason
|Sermon Sukkos Second Day 10/03/01 'Sacred Simcha'
There once was a man named Joe, who was quite unhappy about being
drafted into the army. From his first day in boot camp Joe developed a very
bothersome habit; as he walked along each day, he kept picking up pieces of
paper saying to himself aloud, "That's not it, that's not it!" This went on
for about six months. Finally, the soldier's bizarre behavior was brought to
the attention of his superiors, and Joe was ordered to report to the base
The psychiatrist said, "Well, there's a problem here, soldier. It's
been reported to me that you walk all over this base picking up pieces of
paper and saying, 'That's not it! That's not it!' Now tell me, just what is
it that you're looking for? Joe said, "I don't know. I just don't seem to be
able to find it."
The psychiatrist then said to Joe, "I think your problem is very
serious, and I'm going to have to give you a medical discharge from the
service." When the psychiatrist handed the discharge papers to him, Joe
shouted excitedly, "This is it! This is it!"
Something that every human being is looking for -- us, and drafted
soldiers in the army -- is happiness. Aren't we all looking for happiness
and deep, meaningful pleasures for ourselves and our children?
Sukkos is referred to in our tefilos (prayers) as 'Z'man Simchasaynu' --
our time of simcha, or rejoicing. While there's an obligation for every Jew
to be joyous on Pesach and Shevous, there's a special emphasis on the simcha
of Sukkos. What obstacles are there that prevent us from being able to access
simcha? Why does it seem that for many of us, the more we have, the less
happy we are?
If you asked the man on the street what it would take to make him happy,
chances are that he'd answer with one word; 'Powerball.' Though the economy
was sluggish this past summer, Powerball Fever gripped Americans with a
passion. In the frenzy leading up to the $300 million jackpot, more than 600
million ticket were sold.
I find it of interest to note how lottery organizers have learned to
exploit the weaknesses of their clientele. Over time, they found that reducing the chance of winning actually boosts ticket sales. How so?
The lower the odds of winning, the more the jackpots go unclaimed and
roll over into a bigger grand prize. And a few big jackpots sell many more
tickets than weeks' worth of small jackpots. Powerball recently lowered the
odds of winning its jackpot from 1 in 55 million to 1 in 80 million in hopes
of luring even more 'happiness seekers' with the promise of unimaginable
Many people mistakenly believe that 'things make us happy.' While it's
certainly true that 'whether you're rich or poor, it's nice to have money,'
the Torah tells us that real happiness comes from within. If we can focus on
the blessings that we already have and control our desire to overindulge in
excess pleasures, we'll be able to attain the 'simcha' that sometimes seems
so elusive. How, then, does the Yom Tov of Sukkos help us to reach this goal?
Rabbi Aharon Halevi in his classic â€œSefer Hachinuchâ€? offers a
penetrating insight into the connection between simcha and the Yom Tov of
The early fall, he says, is naturally a time of rejoicing. There's a
feeling of joy in the air when the time comes to gather produce that has been
growing all spring and summer. Hashem therefore commanded us to celebrate a
festival precisely at this time so that we could channel that simcha to His
service. Human celebrations are prone to excess -- as anyone who has ever
attended a fraternity party can testify. Sitting in the Sukkah and taking
the Four Species simultaneously focuses our attention on the blessings we
have, but channels in a directed disciplined way those feelings of simcha
towards HaShem. Without restraint and guidelines, any happy occasion is
subject to getting out of hand.
An interesting parallel to this observation can be drawn by looking at a
study of alcoholism made almost 50 years ago in New York State. Researchers
were surprised to find that in a state with such a large population of Jews,
there was a surprisingly small number of Jewish alcoholics. This startling
discovery led the researchers to make a second study as to why Jews don't get
drunk (Purim withstanding!).
What they finally decided upon as the only reasonable explanation sounds
like an echo of the Sefer Hachinuchâ€™s comments on simcha. From the earliest moments in his life the Jew associates drinking with mitzvos. Wine appears at the bris of a baby boy or the kiddush celebrating the birth of a baby girl. We welcome Shabbos and Yom Tov with wine, researchers noted -- and add a special dimension to wedding ceremonies through wine. When we use drinking for reaching greater heights in our service of Hashem, we don't become "highâ€? in the vulgar sense, but experience the full depth and range of the emotion of true simcha.
Our simcha at this time of year without the Beis HaMikdash is far from
complete. However, if we observe Sukkos thoughtfully, we'll be able to link
our simcha that comes naturally at this time of year, to our service of
A lesson we can draw from this Yom Tov is how to sanctify all of the
occasions of simcha in our lives â€” birth, marriage and happy events â€” by
channeling them into opportunities for recognizing that HaShem is the source
of our blessings. In this way, not only do we learn to discipline our
celebrations, but also to elevate them from ordinary â€œfunâ€? into sacred
A popular Hebrew song says; "Mitzvah g'dolah lee'yos b'simcha" -- it's a
great mitzvah to be b'simcha. When sung a slightly different way, the song
says; 'Simcha g'dolah lee'yos b'mitzvah" -- it's a great simcha to be
engaged in mitzvahs. May this be a true 'Zman simchasaynu' -- a time of
rejoicing -- for us, our families, and for Klal Yisrael.
Good Yom Tov