This Sukkot was harder for me than most. Something about the Monday-Tuesday holiday calendar maybe, with its accompanying brutal schedule of meal cooking, holiday, Shabbat, day off, and holiday again, several times over. I didn’t have much joy in Sukkot at the beginning, which is called by the rabbis of the Talmud “zman simchateinu,” the time of our joy. It’s connected to the joyful abundance of bringing in the harvest and the knowledge of having been forgiven by God.
As a parent of two small children, with two full-time working spouses, work stress, the worry of whether we’ll ever be able to afford a house in Toronto, the concern about the end of Western democracy, etc., I’ve honestly been low on joy for a few months now. Maybe I’m not alone: Just because a holiday is called joyous, doesn’t mean I can automatically conjure the feeling.
I found myself in a friend’s Sukkah on the Saturday night of Sukkot. I had to drag myself out of the house, because sometimes folding laundry and watching television seems more tenable than conversing with strangers. I was glad I went. Someone started singing in Hebrew the Rebbe Nachman teaching, “It is a great mitzvah to be in joy always.” And all of a sudden I remembered joy. I made a commitment to seek out joy and build gratitude, to try to shift my perspective.
In this week’s Torah portion, Lech Lecha, God tells Abraham that he will have a son even though he’s 100 years old and Sarah is 90. Abraham falls on the floor laughing. Our commentators have puzzled over his laugh, and Sarah’s later laugh, at length. This year, the reason for Abraham’s laugh feels clear: When we’ve been plodding along in the same way, a sudden miraculous shift for the better produces joyful shock. For those of us with less miraculous lives, the change may be internal. Might I look at these next weeks, the month of Cheshvan, as a chance to try my hand at joy?
Originally published in the Canadian Jewish News.