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Sukkot: The Secret of Infinite Happiness

Published on Sunday November 21th, 2021

The following story tells of a great Rabbi, who served as the Royal court treasurer in a foreign nation. Morning, afternoon and evening, his predecessor occupied his time spreading false rumors about the Rabbi, claiming and blaspheming to the King that the Jewish minister was stealing from the King's treasury to benefit of his personal fortune.  The King decided to verify the facts. One day, the sovereign summoned the Jewish minister and addressed him in these terms:

"You are forbidden to leave before making a list of all your personal belongings!" In other words, the King demanded an income tax return to check the origin of the Rabbi's fortune. To his surprise, the Rabbi answered: "I do not need to prepare it, it is written in my notebook". He pulled a notebook out of his coat pocket and read several columns of numbers aloud, exclaiming: "In total, my personal fortune amounts to: $27,000." Upon hearing these words, the King's wrath flared up. The Rabbi's house alone was worth more. Was the Rabbi trying to trick him? He therefore concluded that the Rabbi's predecessor was right. The monarch immediately ordered the Rabbi's imprisonment and signed a decree transferring the Rabbi's property to the royal treasury.

Once his anger subsided, the king began to search his soul: "I know that the Rabbi is a brilliant man. Thus, I dismissed the previous treasurer to upgrade him to this elevated position. He managed to stabilize the economy of the Kingdom. I doubt a man of his stature would lie about something which can be so easily discovered. Probably something is not quite right. He then summoned the Rabbi again.

At the king's questioning, the Rabbi answered with a serene smile: "Your majesty wanted to know the total amount of my personal fortune. According to the Jewish perspective, we are temporary dwellers in this world and thus, what we think we own is not our "private" property. As proof, you have transferred all my property to the benefit of the treasury with the power of a single signature. Could I name a property, which can be annulled and taken away from me in a moment, my private property? Look, this notebook that I showed you records the charity "tzedakah" I gave. This is all the private property I own! Nobody can take it away from me! This is the sum I can take with me to eternal life! "

We discover that the Rabbi's perspective on material possessions leads him to joy, gratitude and acceptance of any disturbing situation, according to the saying: "Who is rich? He who is happy with his lot." And the same applies to a different situation: "Who is happy? He who feels the abundance of his lot; the man who understands that the part he has received in this world, large or small, is precisely what defines him as a rich man. This is the secret of authentic joy and happiness.

The Feast of Temporality

Considering this explanation, we may thoroughly understand why the feast of Sukkot, which symbolizes temporality is called "the feast of our utmost joy," and the Torah stresses the command to rejoice in it. Superficially, it seems that two elements specific to Sukkot: its ephemeral character and its utmost joy are two distinct aspects that mingle together during this feast. But truly, they are one and the same. Throughout the year, man lives in a permanent and solid house. And suddenly, this fortunate man leaves his secure dwelling to take shelter under makeshift branches, like a destitute person.  During Sukkot, all men and women are called to reflect and perceive that the lower world is provisional. When we pass on, all our worldly acquisitions remain in it. Only a man's acts of kindness accompany him to his permanent abode in the future, eternal life. Indeed, we all live under a roof made of feeble branches, and the cycle of life goes around.

In fact, the days of Sukkot are transformed into days of joy. Every man recognizes that the aspects of everyday life, which sometimes lead him to sadness, are only provisional delusions of his imagination. So why spend time feeling sad about them, when, in any case, they have no long-term impact?

This teaches us that by becoming aware of the world's fleetingness, every man may choose to manifest authentic joy in every situation. He will be able to discern between what's essential and what's futile and internalize that the pain and difficulties he experiences are good for him, even when he cannot fathom the underlying reason for the trials and obstacles he encounters.  

Simultaneously, the richest men in the world doggedly amass properties and belongings. We may look at them as eager children playing a game of Monopoly. When one of the children loses his "goods", he is saddened. But his father, a mature and seasoned man, smiles when he loses his property in the game. He knows perfectly well that any property amassed in this world is provisional and valueless. And his wealth is manifested in a continuous and overflowing joy, illuminating his path.

Let us conclude with two cents of advice on how to acquire boundless joy.

We must thank the Creator for the beauty of His spectacular Creation and the kindness that He bestows upon us, as expressed by King David in the psalm "Barchi nafshi" and "Hashem roei" etc. He who practices gratitude gains a fair and healthy vision of the truth of any situation and does not get encapsulated in sadness if he is deprived of the abundance of beauty around him, nor if the material goods he possesses are taken away. This is a golden rule in every prayer addressed to God: to thank Him for past blessings and beg Him for future blessings. Thus, one becomes fit to receive renewed abundance, while bathing in a blessed life overflowing with joy.

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