Thankful for the Basics

The joyous Holy Days of Sukkot are characterized by abundance. It is the time of ingathering of the season’s crop — that, in itself, a time of rejoicing. It is a time when we have exited the courtroom of Hashem and celebrate what we assume to be a good verdict. We take the Four Species and wave them in all directions to signify Hashem’s control of everything for our benefit and as protection from our enemies.

Foremost amongst the mitzvot of the week is the commandment to dwell in the sukkah. With all the convenient modular sukkot on the market, it is important that one not forget that the symbol of Hashem’s Divine Protection is really nothing more than a minimum of three or four makeshift walls with some sticks or branches on top. One might think that one should build a fortress to symbolize Hashem’s mighty shield.

In the times of the Temple, the time of Sukkot was a time of national rejoicing unparalleled the rest of the year. In the Mikdash, water was poured as a libation on the altar. Although this was a change in Temple procedure from meat, flour, wine and oil normally brought on the altar, one can assume the reason was that we pray for a good rainy season during this week preceding the winter planting. Yet it is a contradiction to the feelings of gratitude one should demonstrate in the season of ingathering of the bountiful crops that Hashem provided. Wouldn’t meat, wine and oil represent a more substantial “thank you” than mere water?

One could answer that the Torah wants us to learn the secret of happiness. The command of “v’samachta b’chagecha — and you shall be happy on your holiday” is repeated three times in the instructions for celebrating Sukkot. Happiness is the essence of this holiday. The way to achieve the elusive goal is to appreciate the blessing of simple things. Learn to thank G-d for the basic necessities and then you will have mastered the ability to enjoy the luxuries.

It is not uncommon for one to lose one’s temper because a modern convenience develops a malfunction or is not as nice or new as the item one’s neighbor has. If you can appreciate the one-room shack called a sukkah and you can feel it contains what you need, then you will have no problem appreciating and enjoying anything else that Hashem has provided — over and above your basic necessities.

Shelomoh Hamelech advised: “Don’t overindulge in honey; perhaps you will vomit” (Mishlei 25:16). Too much sweet is not healthy for the body nor is it beneficial for the soul. One might think that since Americans today have more conveniences, comforts and pleasures available to them than to any generation in history, we are the happiest people that ever inhabited the Earth. However, tranquilizers and anti-depressants are common in today’s society to compensate for the emptiness the gadgets provide.

Sukkot is a time for happiness. The secret is to focus on the good that one has — the simple necessities that G-d has provided — and to leave our fancy dwellings to internalize the message for one more year. May Hashem open our eyes and hearts to the message of the sukkah and grant us satisfaction and good throughout the coming year.

Chag samayach!