When I googled Happiness is… it garnered over 16 million hits. Statistics reported by Boston University state that over 30% of all Americans have had a bout with depression. During and since the COVID-19 pandemic, an upsurge of depression and all mental illness has been diagnosed. Is there a cure for sadness? Could the holiday and mitzvah of Sukkah be of help?
Of all the commandments in the Torah, the one most associated with happiness is the holiday and Mitzvah of Sukkot. “Thou shalt be happy in your Sukkah” is stated three times in the Torah –- Deuteronomy 16:11, 16:14 and Leviticus 23:40. It’s a mitzvah to dwell in a Sukkah: by eating, studying, socializing, and some even sleep in their Sukkah. How does this engender happiness?
The American Psychological Association defines happiness as “an emotion of joy, gladness, satisfaction, and well-being.” Experts say that people also use the term to describe a deeper sense of fulfillment, satisfaction, or contentment.
The question comes back: How does dwelling in a Sukkah advance feelings of joy, gladness, satisfaction, fulfillment and contentment?
I’d like to propose three answers:
In Israel, the Harvest Season is in the summer and concludes around the time of the holidays. Therefore, with the storehouses full after harvesting the crops, there is a feeling of happiness for the landowners who are well-stocked for the coming rainy season.
After the High Holidays of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur when we pray for life and sustenance, as we enter the Sukkah we feel hopeful and grateful that G-d will gift us with a year of life, health, and blessings.
The third answer can best be described by sharing a short story that took place here in Southern New Jersey. A family was erecting their Sukkah on their back porch by putting up the walls, the lighting, the Schach (Thatched Roof), and the decorations when their landscaper came by and asked curiously, “ What is this structure you are putting up?” They responded as the Torah teaches: For seven days each year in the fall Jews around the world literally live in this temporary dwelling. The landscaper looked in wonder and stated: “You know, I think everyone should do this, it would certainly create more appreciation and gratitude for the good we have in our lives the rest of the year.”
The landscaper said it well. When we remove ourselves from the heated or air conditioned, carpeted, insulated walls of our home and into a frail roofed Sukkah it indeed brings forth some happiness. As we gaze up towards the stars we remember G-d, who is the force behind all the good in our lives all year long. This can bring us towards some happiness.
Although I don’t think the APA will start clinically prescribing Sukkah Dwelling for illness, we the Jewish Nation are tasked with this beautiful and meaningful Mitzvah seven days a year on the holiday of Sukkot.
Here’s wishing you and yours a joyous and happy Sukkot filled with celebrations and goodness.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Samaech,
Community Scholar in Residence