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What Happened on Sukkot?

What Happened on Sukkot?


More than anything else, we seek happiness in life. "Eternal youth" is nice, but what is it worth if it isn't accompanied by happiness…? Yet, no matter how much we accomplish in life – materially or spiritually – for many of us happiness seems to be an elusive quality. There always seems to be one more thing we need to accomplish before we can be truly happy. In truth, however, trying to achieve happiness via personal accomplishments or successes is akin to trying to gain wealth through frequenting casinos—you're always "oh so close" to winning the jackpot! Let us examine the nature of the holiday of Sukkot, and thus solve the mystery of happiness.

On its surface, the holiday of Sukkot is quite bizarre. Every other holiday on the Jewish calendar commemorates an event which occurred on that particular date; but nothing happened on the 15th of Tishrei which would explain the establishment of a holiday on this date. Every other holiday celebrates a major event which saved the Jewish Trying to achieve happiness via personal accomplishments is akin to trying to gain wealth through frequenting casinospeople from grave danger (such as Passover, Chanukah, or Purim), or changed the course of Jewish history (such as the forgiveness G‑d granted the Israelites on Yom Kippur or the giving of the Torah on Shavuot), but Sukkot celebrates a relatively "minor" miracle—the Clouds of Glory which miraculously surrounded the Jews for the forty years they spent in the desert. During this same period, the Jews were also the beneficiaries of another two miracles, the Manna and the waters which were produced by the rock—the "Well of Miriam." Yet these two miracles, which seem to be of vastly greater import than the Heavenly Clouds – the Jews could not survive without food and water, but they certainly had the means to erect tents to protect themselves from the elements – did not spawn any holidays.

And Sukkot isn't "just another holiday"; it is the most joyous of the three Biblically mandated festivals. In the holiday prayers, each festival is given a short description: Passover is the "Season of our Liberation," Shavuot is the "Season of the Giving of our Torah," but Sukkot is simply described as the "Season of our Rejoicing"! Indeed, the Talmud states that "one who has not witnessed the Festival of the Water Drawing (held on the nights of Sukkot in the Holy Temple) has not seen joy in his lifetime!" Today, too, it is customary to assemble on the nights of Sukkot; to sing, dance, say "l'chaim," and be merry (be sure to find the celebration in your area). But why? What is the reason for the tremendous joy on this holiday?

Incredibly, the secret of Sukkot seems to be its lack of any great miracle. All miracles (or personal achievements) are limited in some way, causing the resulting joy to also be limited. The joy is limited by the scope of the benefit which the miracle or achievement produced; and when the effects of the miracle or accomplishment wear off, the joy becomes passé. Furthermore, there is a Mishnaic dictum: "He who has one hundred desires two hundred, and he who possesses two hundred craves four hundred." It is impossible for one to be ecstatic about a certain achievement when there is always so much more that can be accomplished.

For example: On Passover we celebrate our liberty. Yes we were liberated, but so many of us are still horribly enslaved—to our jobs, to peer pressure, and (most importantly) to our impulses and whims. Shavuot is about Torah, but have we taken full advantage of this magnificent gift which G‑d gave us?

The secret of Sukkot seems to be its lack of any great miracleTrue happiness comes from that which each and every Jew intrinsically has; a personal relationship with G‑d. This relationship derives from the Divine Soul which every Jew possesses and which was hopefully uncovered during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The awareness that no matter what a Jew's personal spiritual state may be, this relationship is always there – after all, a son or daughter continues to be a son and daughter even if they do not exactly follow the parents' wishes – triggers incredible joy. No matter what, you are connected to G‑d, and He really cares about you!

So on Sukkot we leave the security and comfort of our homes, recognizing that true happiness does not come from our beautifully decorated homes, our designer furniture, or any of our other belongings or achievements. We venture out into the Sukkah, which the Zohar dubs "The Shade of Faith," and focus on our most important asset—our G‑dly soul and our special relationship with G‑d.

Rabbi Naftali Silberberg is a writer, editor and director of the curriculum department at the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute. Rabbi Silberberg resides in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife, Chaya Mushka, and their three children.
Artwork by David Brook. David lives in Sydney, Australia, and has been selling his art since he was in high school. He is currently painting and doing web illustrations.
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HR Hollywood, Florida via September 17, 2013

Sukkot Beautiful article. thank you. Reply

Lily USA!, USA! March 8, 2012

Lily says Great article thanks it has helped a lot. I needed it for my homework so thank you again Reply

Leroy October 17, 2011

Leroy The GRA says the mishkan was started on the 15th of Tishrei and the clouds of glory returned Reply

Fred October 16, 2011

Not true the Mishkan was made on the 15th of Tishrei Reply

Michael Feldman Miami, FL September 28, 2010

Mitzvah Great article!
I would like to share my view on the Jewish holidays. I am Israeli currently live in the US. May be it sounds strange but for me in all Jewish holidays the most important part is not what each holiday means (this is a second and also very important part), but just a great day to remind me a very simple fact that I am a Jew, and all what connected for this: love to be a Jew, remembering our roots, do a Mitzvah for family, friends or neighbor. Doing a Mitzvah not because you have to and look good in somebody’s or G-d’s yeas, but because it gives light and warm for your loved one or just for strange. Form me the holidays are tools that help me to disconnect from the busy life and from routine. Reply

Anonymous Alexandria, Va September 24, 2010

G-d send Dear Rabbi Silberberg,
Thank you for your clear, poignant explanation of Sukkot. Here I was feeling like a total loser, unable to pull Shabbot together, complete my recent move, make peace with my adult daughters, etc. And, I must admit, I have next to no pursuits of (fun) happiness, other than to complete the expected day to day requirements. It sounds worse than it really is; every day, I find I thank G-d for some specific, of all that which we have. Still, this evening, after a blow-up over a lack of communication in our new living situation, I was feeling a bit beat-up (by myself most of all). Your article clarifying the importance of Sukkot was a G-d send. Thank you! Thank you! I always know that visiting Chabad's website will provide guidance, and yet I am always amazed by just how relevant its insight is! Reply

Thomas Karp New Haven, Ct. September 23, 2010

What happened on the 15th. of Tishrei? I was born.

What would explain the establishment of a Jewish holiday on my birthday? Reply

Anonymous Kanata, ON September 22, 2010

So then why the 15th of Tishrei? to anon: it really is hard to face- the north here is icy cold, with real frost or forst warnings, sudden ice-cold rain, and millions of woodticks or voles looking for the warn shelter of your body or bedding.
Here, raising water springs is a no-no. Ther are places where you just don't fool around. Palm leaves are too expensive, bu there are corn leavings, if we don't mind buying 50$ worth of decorations.
I leave the time of our joy to the balmy summer days, when I can escape local terrorism and camp somewhere calm, or to the fine enjoyment of handing out sweets to the kiddies on halloween. Being an older person, the idea of attracting the kind of ghouls that hang around our area is just too terrifying. Perhaps people forget that Jews travelling form town to town in a cloud were on swinging or railing land arms, and were secure from invaders.
Tradition has it that the time of our joy is a warm harvest time, but in the middle east. We frozen north types can't exactly enthuse. Reply

Naftali Silberberg (Author) September 22, 2010

To Anonymous from Givatayim Because it's an extension of the High Holidays.

"True happiness comes from that which each and every Jew intrinsically has; a personal relationship with G‑d. This relationship derives from the Divine Soul which every Jew possesses and which was hopefully uncovered during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. " Reply

Anonymous Givatayim September 22, 2010

So then why the 15th of Tishrei? Reply

Mark Alcock. Durban, SA September 21, 2010

Sukkot Wonderfully written, ending in a resounding & reminding crescendo,suggesting that all Holidays draw us nearer to the well of faith; wherein we develop our everlasting relationship with G-d. For the non-holidays, this is time to reflect & learn; aiming to improve and elevate others. This miracle happens when we joyously abide according to Torah. Reply

moshe September 26, 2007

Great Piece Always wondered what happened on sukkos. Reply

john September 25, 2007

Unexplainable Joy People who know their Creator - I mean know Him, not just about him, have an everlasting joy that takes root in their spirits, that even when times are tough, and there is not much to smile about, they have this knowledge that He knows all things and will see us through.

We can also be encouraged that there is a promised Messiah. Reply

Alexandra New York, NY September 24, 2007

To Ari and Anonymous The answer can be found on this website: The full moon of each month represents the full extent of the quality of the month. Since the month of Tishrei is dedicated to our re-connection with the Creator, the 15th represents the highest moment of this connection. May the joy and praise of it be in the hearts and on the lips of all beings. Reply

Anonymous September 23, 2007

thats why!!! i always felt a certain joy on sukkot that was different than the other holidays, and i think it has to do with the fact that it celebrates our general connection to G-d.
Thanks for this article! But I share the same question, why was the 15th of Tishrei chosen? Reply

Ari Edson thornhill, Ontario September 23, 2007

Teacher, my hand is raised for a question. But why was Sukkos chosen to be on the fifteenth of Tishrei? Reply

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