The Hebrew word for joy is Simchah and Sukkot, more than any other Jewish holiday, is known in Jewish tradition as the holiday most associated with joy. It is called Zman Simchateinu, season of our joy. After the intensity of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, with a fresh new year begun, Sukkot is the time to have some fun, appreciate and enjoy. Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg in his book The Eternal Journey: Meditations on the Jewish Year, describes four different types of joy that are connected with Sukkot but really apply to our lives throughout the year.
- The first he calls Simchah Shel Mitzvah– the joy of the commandment. There is joy in the practicality of fulfilling the commandments of singing, baking, building. It is fun to build a sukkah, shake the lulav. When we celebrate Jewish life there is much joy that can be had in these activities.
- The second he calls Simchah Shel Re’iah. The joy of coming before God. Originally, when the temple existed in Jerusalem, this joy referred to actually making the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, but now this joy is in the joy of gathering as a community at Temple of Synagogue, of feeling God’s spiritual presence in communal worship and communal gatherings.
- The third joy I call Simchah shel bayit – the joy of having a home, belonging to a family and to a people with a history. On Sukkot we leave our permanent homes to eat and pray to reflect on our good fortune of having shelter. Ultimately, we feel joy in having a home and family and to help those who don’t have as much joy in this regard.
- Lastly, is Simchat halev– experiencing a joyful heart. Sukkot is a time when we think of God’s love and divine protection. The sukkah represents God’ protective presence, which was spread of the Israelites in the wilderness like a canopy or cloud of glory. This represents an inner joy of being in touch with oneself and in touch with others. This joy can come through prayer and study as well as compassion, beauty and love.
It is a shame that so many Jews who celebrate Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, miss out on the opportunity when it comes to Sukkot. I encourage all to have some fun, for after all this is the season of our joy! Chag Sameach Happy Sukkot Holiday!