In Deuteronomy 16:14, the Torah tells us: "V'samachta b'chagecha ....You shall rejoice on your festival". Thus we are commanded by G-d to be happy on our holidays, which include Passover, Shavuos, and Succos. This is one of the 613 commandments.
Hmmm, isn’t that strange ... a commandment to be happy ... sort of like G-d’s telling us "Smile, or I'll kill you"! How does the Torah legislate emotions such as happiness and joy?
The truth is that this mitzvah is not fulfilled through emotion but through action. As the Sages clarified for us (see the Talmud in Pesachim 109a), we fulfill the mitzvah to be joyous on the festivals by eating meat, drinking wine and wearing festive holiday clothing.
Now I don’t know about you, but this is still very difficult to understand. I mean, is anyone going to tell me that eating a good brisket or drinking a fine Merlot or wearing a nice Armani outfit is the Torah's idea of true happiness?
Is that what makes a Jew truly happy on Succos - a little good food and drink? Surely, there's got to be more to it than that! After all, these are holidays that represent such lofty and spiritual events as the Exodus from Egypt, the Revelation at Mount Sinai, and the Clouds of Glory that enveloped the Jews in the Desert for forty years.
What is the real intent of the Torah's commandment to be happy on the Festivals by involving ourselves in such seemingly mundane activities as eating and drinking and wearing fancy clothing?
The Dubno Maggid explains the essence of this commandment to be happy on the holidays with the following parable:
There was once a lame man who greatly resented being unable to leave his home. Now this man had a friend who, though strong and able otherwise, was quite deaf. One day it occurred to the lame man that if he and his friend would do certain things together, it would be of advantage to both of them, one making up for the physical shortcomings of the other. And so it was agreed that the deaf man would be at his friend's disposal all day and carry him through the town on his shoulders, while the lame man would act as a guide. One day, when they were out together, they passed a place where there was delightful music and dancing. Now the lame man was very fond of music and he wanted to stop for a while to enjoy the wonderful tunes to which he himself could not dance. But how could he make his friend, who hadn’t heard anything, stand still for a few moments? Suddenly he knew what he had to do. In his pocket he happened to have a small bottle of gin with a tiny cup. He took out the bottle, filled the little cup and offered it to the deaf man who was carrying him. The latter then stopped long enough to finish the cup, and before he could walk on, the lame man on his shoulders offered him a second drink, and then a third. By this time the deaf man had become somewhat tipsy and began to dance and to enjoy himself. And the lame man, too, benefited, for not only could he stop at his place and listen to the beautiful music but even dance on the shoulders of his partner, who by now had become quite nimble and lively. In this way, each of the partners was happy and content.
So, too, said the Dubno Maggid, it is with the neshamah, the soul, and the guf, the body. The soul seeks spirituality and elevation on the holidays. This is the “beautiful music” that the soul craves and what makes it really happy. And our main task on the Festivals is to elevate ourselves through our reliving and re-experiencing the lofty and spiritual events that our ancestors once experienced at these times of year.
But the soul becomes truly joyous and happy only if the body, too, cooperates; therefore it is necessary to gladden the body with good food, drink and clothing to achieve that true harmony of pleasure and rejoicing that is expected of us on our festivals. And that is why we are “commanded” to eat and drink on the Festivals, thereby inducing a state of happiness for our bodies and enabling our souls to soar.
This Succos, as we sit together eating and drinking and rejoicing with family and friends in our thatched huts, let us not forget the true joy that comes from realizing that G-d enveloped our ancestors with His wondrous Clouds of Glory for forty years in the desert, and that their descendants – all of us - are constantly under His loving protection and care.
CHAG SAMEACH! HAPPY HOLIDAYS!
[Sources: The Maggid of Dubno and his parables by Benno Heinemann Feldheim Publishers]