Joy is… an Open Roof, an Open Door, an Open Heart
A thought for Succot / Shemini Atzeret 5772
I don’t know about you, but when I sit in a succah I think to myself: that’s how our ancestors lived. Not just in the desert in the days of Moses, but for most of twenty centuries of exile, not knowing from one year to the next whether they’d still be there, or be forced to move on, as Jews were forced to leave England in 1290, Spain in 1492, and in the years between from almost everywhere in Europe. For all that time, Jews knew what it was like to have no fixed home, to know that the place where you are living is just a “dirat arai” – a temporary dwelling – which is what a succah is.
Yet what did they call Succot? That’s the strange thing. They called it z’man simchateinu – the season of our rejoicing. Somehow Succot decodes for us the secret of joy. Joy doesn’t come from great buildings of brick and stone – it doesn’t come from what we shut out – but from what we let in. Joy comes from a roof open to heaven, a door open to guests, and a heart open to thanksgiving.
Ben Zoma was right when he said: Who is rich? Not one who has everything he wants, but one who celebrates everything he has. Succot is one of the world’s great seminars in happiness, because it shows us that you can sit in a shack with only leaves for a roof, exposed to all the hazards of the cold, the wind, and the rain, and yet still rejoice, when you are surrounded by God and the people you love. Have that, and you have everything.