“Celebrate the Festival of Ingathering at the end of the year” Exodus 34:22
THE Declaration of Independence of the United States promotes “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. Succot, referred to in the Torah reading for Chol Hamo’ed as a harvest festival, the Festival of Ingathering, is called zmansimchateinu in our liturgy, the time of our happiness. More happiness than at any other time, says Maimonides.
So what is simchah? An absence of pain? If so, heroin should do the trick, yet it does not. Perhaps sitting by a white beach on a tropical island with a single malt scotch, the waves tickling your feet, followed by an Indian head massage, Beatles music playing in the background, then off to a sauna/steam room and a tub of chocolate-chip cookie-dough Ben and Jerry’s ice-cream before taking a tour of the island in a new Ferrari 458 Spider? Physical pleasure yes. Simchah? No.
Simchah is made of two elements: appreciation and growth. Dr James Clark, is an American entrepreneurial genius and a self-made billionaire. In 1999, his company Netscape raised his net worth to $2 billion. Despite his wealth, he once admitted it still was not enough. As he put it, “Once I have more than Larry Ellison, I’ll be satisfied.” If you’re not happy with what you have, you’ll never be happy with what you get.
Simchah is related to another Hebrew word, tzmichah, to sprout, spring up, or grow. This is a similar pattern to the English word “elated”, which means both “happy” and “raised up”. The root, tzemach, spelt backwards is chametz, the leaven we avoid during Passover because it represents spiritual decay. Succot is celebrated using natural plant life in the form of the four species and teaches us that true simchah is all about growth.
The Jewish notion of happiness, of simchah, is appreciating what we have and living a life of personal development, to be on a journey where we are elevated to become better people – kinder, wiser, more patient.