The joy of celebration
“You shall observe the festival of Sukkot seven days after you have gathered in your grain and your wine; and you shall rejoice in your festival, you, and your son, and your daughter, and your manservant, and your maidservant, and the Levite, the stranger, and the orphan, and the widow, who are inside your gates. Seven days you should hold a festival for G-d … and you will have nothing but joy.” (Deuteronomy 16: 13-15)
Happiness is an attitude to life as a whole, while joy lives in the moment. As American author JD Salinger once said, “Happiness is a solid, joy is a liquid.” Happiness is something you pursue, but joy isn’t. It discovers you. It has to do with a sense of connection to other people or to G-d. It comes from a different realm than happiness. It’s a social emotion.
A long time ago, I read a beautiful explanation by Rabbi Ruttenberg of the verses from our portion Re’eh. The commandment to be joyful is really a commandment to throw a party, to have a celebration, to bring people together, all the while making sure that even those most on the margins of society are included. Because our joy isn’t really joy if it’s available only for the privileged. That’s not holy rejoicing.
This commandment isn’t to feel joyful, but rather to get out into the community, and celebrate. It suggests that acts of celebration will lead to feelings of joy. As a consequence of doing a good thing, “You will have nothing but joy.”
I’m sure that you have experienced the feeling of being miserable, and all you want is to get under the blanket and hide from the world. But sometimes the doing leads to the feeling, sometimes when we drag ourselves out, put on some special clothing, and go to the dinner or party or other social event, we discover that being out and being together with others in a loving space filled with good cheer does, in fact, raise our spirits. Sometimes getting out in the world and enjoying what the world has to offer can bring us to this feeling of exaltation.
We should embrace the Jewish practice of humility in happy occasions, and we should equally place importance on embracing the moment of great love and happiness, and taking that moment to give thanks for the blessings that surround us.
Judaism has joy in sounds and tastes, smells, dancing, laughing, hugging, and connecting. It’s about being part of the world, being with the world, and knowing that all of it is a blessing.
Let’s dance into the high holidays and rejoice, but let’s remember to take the time to go inward, to be humble.