Is This Really A Time for Happiness?
"Zman Simchateinu The Time of Our Happiness" is the way we describe the Festival of Succot in our holiday prayers.
Does the present condition of out post-9/11 world, threatened by international terror and by nuclear weapons development by the surviving members of the "axis of evil", really make this a time for happiness?
The answer, of course, lies in how we define happiness.
If happiness is only the gratification of physical appetites, then it is indeed difficult to be truly happy when the consistency of such gratification is threatened by the suicidal terrorist and the weapons of mass destruction in rogue states.
If the only synonyms for happiness in our vocabulary are "fun", "thrills" and "pleasure" then such joy is certainly overshadowed in human life by illness, grief and poverty.
What then is true happiness?
This is the question raised by the wisest of man, King Solomon, in his Divinely inspired Kohelet which we publicly read in the synagogue during this Succot "Time of Happiness". The answer is alluded to in the "bottom line" with which he concludes this monumental investigation of the meaning of life. In it he urges us to "fear G-d and observe His commandments for that is what man is all about".
Happiness, this wise man is telling us, consists of enjoyment of the greatest pleasure and can only be attained through fear and service of the Creator. Here is how the great ethicist Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto expresses it in his classical Mesillat Yesharim (Path of the Just):
"Our Sages of blessed memory have taught us that man was created for the sole purpose of rejoicing in G-d and deriving pleasure from the splendor of His Presence for this is true joy and the greatest pleasure that is possible. The place where this joy may truly be derived is the World to Come, which was expressly created to provide for it. But the path to this destination of our desires is this world Therefore man was placed in this world first so that by these means which were provided for him here (the mitzvot which G-d commanded) he would be able to reach the place which had been prepared for him the World to Come there to be sated with the goodness which he acquired through them."
Happiness in its fullest sense is attainable only in the hereafter, where there are no limitations of time or opportunity. Happiness here on earth is the knowledge that one is involved in preparing for that goal.
In His great kindness G-d has given us opportunities for happiness in material terms. The joyful harvest which took place in agricultural society at Succot time is representative of the kind of happiness which Heaven has granted us in this world as a small foretaste of the real thing. But there is perhaps a deeper meaning to singling out the harvest happiness as the "Time of Our Happiness". Man rejoices in the harvest because he sees the fruit of his labors. This reminds him that one important dimension of the happiness he will enjoy in the eternal harvest of the World to Come is the knowledge that he earned that happiness through his efforts in this world and is not receiving a simple handout. Just as we were instructed to do mitzvot on Succot with agricultural products such as the Four Species and the covering of our Succah so that our harvest happiness will be channeled towards the service of G-d, so too should our reflection on this earthly "Time of Happiness" lead us to directing our lives towards the ultimate Time of Happiness which will last forever.