Shabbat Sukkot

Sermon for Shabbat Sukkot

October 14, 2011


After the seriousness of Yom Kippur, the unmitigated joy of Sukkot comes as a relief.  The Jewish calendar does a complete circle over these past two weeks.  On Rosh Hashanah, we concentrate on ourselves, family, and community.  On Yom Kippur, we stand alone before God.  On Sukkot, we are part and parcel of the entire Jewish people, those who stood at Sinai and the millions who came after, each of whom is a part of the unbroken chain of tradition.  We were all in the Wilderness, dwelling in booths, journeying together for forty years until we became resident in the Promised Land.  After we did, God commanded us to bring the produce of the harvest and rejoice before Him.  Sukkot was the festival par excellence in the Torah.  The size of the fall harvest would determine the state of the people through spring.  Would they be happy or hungry?  Would they be satisfied or starving?  The Prophet Zachariah predicted that on the great day of the messiah, the entire world would come to Jerusalem to worship God on Sukkot.  On that day, all peoples would reap the benefit of God’s harvest of love.

          Sukkot is the only festival on which we are commanded to be happy.  We call it our z’man simchateinu, our time of rejoicing.  That, however, is easier said than done.  Perhaps it was easier in earlier times to rejoice when our basic needs for food and water were met.  Today, in a much more complicated world, when all of us take our basic needs for granted, food and drink are not enough to ensure happiness.  Provided that our basic needs are met, how do we become happy?  Recent research gives us some important answers.

          While the struggling world economy, war, and environmental issues are seemingly beyond our resolution, we can take positive steps to increase our happiness.  They are relatively simple ones that can help us become happier, more satisfied human beings.  “Tal Ben-Shahar, a Harvard educated lecturer and author of Happier and the Pursuit of Perfect, wrote “In times like these, people inevitably experience fear, frustration, and anxiety.”  But while there’s not a lot we can single handedly do about the economy, war in the Middle East, or health care, there is something we can do to make our lives more rewarding- and even happier.  Cheap, easy, and environmentally friendly, it might be called a positive attitude adjustment.”[i]  Ben-Shahar’s advice is “Figure out what is fun for you, whether it’s watching movies or listening to music or going to a ball game- and then make sure you do it.”  He also advices us to concentrate on doing one thing at a time. “People who are able to focus on just one thing, even for one or two hours a day- are not only happier at their work, they’re also more productive and creative.  Less can be more.”  Research reports that multi tasking is detrimental to our happiness and causes us to be ineffective at every task in which we simultaneously engage.

          Ben-Shahar adds, “The number one predictor for general well-being is not money or prestige but the time we spend with those who are near and dear to us.  Enjoying close and intimate relationships with those we care about and who care about us is an absolute prerequisite to happiness.  But it’s precisely these relationships that suffer the most in our hectic modern lives.  The best times we have occur when we are with good friends, when we open ourselves up to new experiences and new people.  Ben-Shahar leaves us with five prescriptions for happiness:

  1.  Act Happy-even if you are not.  It will cheer you and everyone around you.
  2. Seek out positive distractions.  Think about what always gives you pleasure and do it.  Don’t wait for the activity to come to you- buy the tickets, call your friend, take a walk, and get on a bike.
  3. Do one thing at a time- at least for two hours a day.  Multi-tasking can make us feel tense.  Focusing on one activity is calming and allows us to enjoy the experience fully.
  4. Spend more time with friends and loved ones.  The number one predictor of happiness is enjoying close relationships.
  5. Take action- passivity tends to make you feel worse.  Choosing to change, even with a very small step, is itself a mood enhancer.[ii]

Let me give you an example of an activity that all of us will enjoy, one that only occurs once a year, is free, and allows us to meet new people and enjoy being with our friends.  It can definitely help us become happier human beings, at least for a day.  Come to our Sukkot barbeque this Sunday afternoon at 12 p.m. in the religious school courtyard.  Come, especially, if you have not been there before.  You will see hundreds of people, many of them new, and get a sense of the kind of congregation we have become.  The food is delicious and the company and conversation superb.  Bring a friend with you.  You will have the opportunity to fulfill the two commandments of Sukkot that are enjoined upon each of us, waving the lulav and eating an olive’s worth of food in the sukkah.  Sunday is supposed to be a beautiful day.  I personally guarantee that you will have a very good time and leave feeling happier than when you arrived.

     May this Sukkot be a z’man simchateinu for you and your loved ones.

Amen, Shabbat shalom and Chag sameach

[i] Parade Magazine, January 17, 2010, page 16.

[ii] Ibid, page 19.

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