After teaching a class, I stopped at the supermarket to quickly buy a carton of milk. It was already late, and I really should have just gone home, but I pushed myself, as usual. Once in the store, I saw the big bag of garbanzo beans on sale. Of course, I grabbed them. “Perfect for making hummus!” I thought to myself. Coffee was on sale in the next aisle, so I grabbed that for my husband’s morning coffee fix. With each aisle, I grabbed another item, until my arms were weighed down by way too many items. I reached for one more thing (the carton of milk that I originally wanted to buy), and A kilo of peanut butter oozed all overeverything toppled out of my hands. A peanut butter tub (which of course I had to buy, because a close friend who loves peanut butter was coming to visit) crashed to the floor, and a kilo of peanut butter oozed all over the floor and onto my shoes. The first thing that came to my mind as I frantically ran to look for the supermarket employee was a phrase from the Talmud: “If you grab a lot, you will find you have grabbed nothing; and if you grab a little, you will have truly grabbed something.”1

When I first read this phrase, I assumed that the sages were speaking about a greedy person. Someone who tries to get everything for themselves. I thought it was saying, “You want everything—well, hah! Just because you want everything, you are not going to get it!” But in the midst of my peanut-butter-crashing tale, I drew another conclusion from their wise words, more along the lines of “You think that you can do everything. Well, you can’t! You think that you are in control, and you are not!”

I’ve fallen into this trap one too many times. The I-am-invincible-and-can-do-everything trap. Every time I fall into it, I am reminded that I can’t do it alone. No one can! In fact, I can’t do anything without help from Above. And really, this understanding, this realization that you need G‑d’s help in every act that you do, is liberating. There is a genuine simchah, happiness, in knowing that G‑d is taking care of you and that you are not in control.

For seven days in the fall, we leave our homes and sit in the sukkah, or booth, which is an impermanent structure. Seven days without a real roof over your head. Seven days of eating outside and talking outside and really just living under the clouds and the skies above. The Torah tells us that during the holiday of Sukkot, we have three obligations: to dwell in the sukkah; to wave the four species (myrtle, palm, willow and citron); and to be happy and rejoice. This last one is such a strange obligation. You haveto be happy and rejoice? And you have to do it during Sukkot? Why? How?

The sukkah is a temporary, and often flimsy, structure. You have no real roof over your head! You are outside, and you realize you have no real control over your life. Life in this world is flimsy and unstable. You pile so many things into your arms, and in one moment everything topples down. Stocks go up and they go down. A Nothing is stable. No one is in controlhurricane comes and blows down everything. The ground shakes, and your home is split in two. The economy is strong, and then there is a recession. You feel healthy and strong today and, G‑d forbid, you come down with a virus tomorrow. You grab and you grab and you grab, and in the end you find yourself with nothing.

Nothing is stable. No one is in control. You sit in the sukkah and you realize, “G‑d, whatever I have, You give me. Whatever I don’t have, You don’t want me to have now.” You rejoice. You are happy. Why? Because you know that while you cannot control these things, G‑d can. You have the choice and the obligation to turn to Him and let Him help you. You have the choice and the obligation to rejoice in His Presence, to feel His closeness and to know that while you cannot hold everything in your arms, He can. This is simchah, knowing that yes, you have limits, but He doesn’t. This is the message of Sukkot, the holiday of happiness and joy.