o the uninitiated, an encounter designated “zeman simchaseinu” conjures halcyon images of relaxation in a cushy, temperature-controlled residence, with plenty of personal space for everyone’s elbows.

The reality of Succos, our zeman simchaseinu, bears scarce resemblance. Packed in a small hut, beside a table so narrow I don’t know where my plate ends and the next begins, I am either sweating out a heat wave or performing the in-and-out-of-the-succah-rain dance of an early autumn shower.

 Comparatively speaking, even from a spiritual perspective, the simchah of sitting in desert booths doesn’t quite hold a candle to the exultation of finding freedom after generations of slavery, or the bliss of being crowned Am Hashem. Why then, did the Anshei Knesses Hagedolah confer the title of “zeman simchaseinu” specifically on Succos? What is the simchah element that is unique to Succos?

Chag HaAsif, another name for Succos, references the season in which Klal Yisrael quite literally harvested the fruits of their yearlong labor. After many months of tefillah, hope, and toil, these industrious farmers joyfully gathered their fields’ bounty, sustenance to tide them over until the coming spring. Analogous to payday or to collecting a significant bonus, Succos coincides with a time of year primed for simchah, a concurrence intentionally designed by Hashem.

“Because it is a time of gathering the grain and the fruit of the trees into the home, man rejoices with overwhelming gladness…Hashem decreed upon His nation to make this a holiday for Him, specifically at this time, so they may merit directing their joyfulness primarily toward Him” (Sefer Hachinuch, Emor).


Fickle Feelings

Emotion is notoriously fickle. People we once detested can miraculously become part of our inner circle with a few niceties or well-placed words. Places we abhorred may join our list of favorites when revisited under different circumstances, or in diverse company. But sometimes, despite our sincerest efforts, feelings remain stubbornly embedded in our psyche, at odds with our logical self. How many times have we coaxed our recalcitrant emotions to reconcile with the directives of the Torah? Frustratingly, all too often. But the very fact that Hashem commands us in areas of feelings and sentiment is proof that emotions are fluid and subject to change.

Hashem knows how we struggle in molding our emotional highs and lows to conform to His will. Therefore, He paired the harvest season, a time that naturally engenders joy, with the mitzvah of Succos, so we could channel that natural joy toward Him. No longer would the harvest season generate only the physical, hedonistic pleasure of amassing wealth. When merged with the mitzvah of Succos, its inherent simchah is elevated to a spiritual plane, a means of drawing ever closer to Hashem. This is zeman simchaseinu.


Emotion, Rerouted

One of the most poignant accounts in Sefer Bereishis is the reunion of Yaakov and Yosef after 22 years of separation. A father, still deeply mourning two decades after his favorite son has been assumed dead, is finally reunited with him. But somehow, despite his fierce love and longing for Yosef, Yaakov exhibits remarkable restraint when they are first reunited. “Vayipol al tzavarav, vayevk al tzavarav od — he fell on his neck, and he wept on his neck for a long time” (Bereishis 46:29).

Only one half of the father-son pair weeps, and according to Rashi (ibid), it was Yosef who responded with passionate tears. Why did Yaakov not react? Rashi continues: “v’amru Rabboseinu shehayah korei es Shema.” Yaakov was fulfilling his obligation to say Shema and could not interrupt his devotions to greet his long-lost son.

Shema? Now? Yaakov spent nearly a quarter of his life yearning for this moment; could he not have anticipated a more opportune time to discharge his Divine obligations?

Yaakov’s behavior imparts a crucial message in avodas Hashem: I am not obliged by the caprice of emotion. I can redirect my emotions to better serve Hashem.

The Gur Aryeh explains: “This is the attribute of the righteous: When good occurs, they ascribe that good and truth to Hashem…”

Overwhelmed with love, Yaakov finally meets his cherished son. Now he has a choice: Will he direct his ardent love only toward his beloved son, or can he reroute it to convey love to Hashem as well?

Yaakov chose to include Hashem. Thus, at the time when he experiences the deepest of love for his son, we find him saying Shema, an affirmation of love for Hashem.

This is the instruction of Succos: Emotions are not absolute expressions of my inner world; they can be rerouted to refine my relationship with Hashem. 

Feelings of love can be redirected to embrace Hashem, Who provided me with all the objects of my love. Intense disappointment and sadness can be channeled to yearn for the Geulah, when pain will be a relic of the past. And deep, abiding happiness can be repurposed to express the simchah shel mitzvah of sitting in the succah.

The flimsy walls of my succah support the sechach, an allusion to the Ananei Hakavod that cushioned and protected our nation in the desert. They remind us that Hashem is our ultimate Protector, His guiding hand is the force that cushions and protects. This is infinitely more valuable than the sturdy walls of my permanent abode, the storehouse full of crops, or the bonus tucked away in my savings account.

Thus, leaving the substantial security of my permanent abode engenders sublime simchah; I am now embraced by the most capable Hands in the universe, sheltered by Hashem. Succos brings us to reroute our feelings of security in the physical to reliance on the Infinite.

That is zeman simchaseinu.


Source of Joy?

Perhaps another reason we question the correlation between Succos and simchah is that our understanding of happiness is flawed. What inspires simchah? Well, it all depends on who you are. A young child will experience simchah from something as mundane as an ice cream cone. A teenager will thrill when presented with the latest technologic gadgetry. A young adult will experience profound joy when finally meeting her destined mate.

But what happens when we give a child an ice cream cone… while he is finishing his first one? What if we present our teenage child with a new gadget… right after she bought the exact same one? And what if we offer a fabulous shidduch… to someone who is happily married? A gift that should have engendered happiness becomes at best redundant, at worst deeply insulting. What changed?

The Maharal in Derech Chaim explains: “Ki hasimchah mitzad hashleimus.” Simchah, true happiness, stems from achieving wholeness and completion. When we fill a deficit, the ensuing experience of wholeness generates simchah. That is why a gift that fills a lack, like giving an ice cream cone to a hungry child, brings happiness. But when the same gift is given again and it no longer fills an existing deficit, there is no longer a basis for happiness.


Real Rejoicing

We first encountered Elul spiritually enfeebled by the missteps and mistakes of the previous 11 months. We spent a month slowly mending the gashes and tears we had accumulated, all the while leaning heavily on His outstretched hand of rachamim v’ratzon. Rosh Hashanah heralded the coronation of Hashem as our King, and the sovereignty we had appropriated for ourselves reverted to its rightful Owner. On Yom Kippur we fasted, desperate for forgiveness, yearning to complete the reparative process we started 40 days ago. Indeed, on Motzaei Yom Kippur we are different people; we are repaired, rebuilt, restored. We are whole again.

Ki hasimchah mitzad hashleimus.

Five days later, we sit in our succah and reap the fruits of our hard-won teshuvah. Whether we have taken small baby steps or undergone a major spiritual overhaul, the afterglow of the Yamim Noraim finds us undeniably more shaleim than we were before. And it is not the transient wholeness felt in gathering a year’s worth of crops, soon to be devoured. Nor is it the fleeting feelings of wholeness we experience when our bank account expands with a paycheck or a bonus, soon to be spent.

It is the authentic shleimus of a spiritual windfall: A middah tweaked, a part of tefillah strengthened, a relationship improved. It is a shleimus that can neither be spent nor devoured. Succos is a celebration of all I have achieved over the past month, a time to rejoice in the person I have become through the change I have wrought. It is a celebration of the aspects of shleimus I have personally achieved.

And that is real occasion for simchah. 

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 610)