Selected Sermon/Article
2001-10-03 Sermon Second Day Sukkos by Rav Ze'ev Smason
Sacred Simcha
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 psychiatrist.

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 wealth.

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 “Sefer Hachinuch� offers a penetrating insight into the connection between simcha and the Yom Tov of Sukkos.

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 Hachinuch’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 "high� 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 Hashem.

A lesson we can draw from this Yom Tov is how to sanctify all of the occasions of simcha in our lives — birth, marriage and happy events — 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 “fun� into sacred “simcha.�

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