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How to Access the Joy of Sukkot

September 19, 2021 | by Emuna Braverman

Joy comes from taking pleasure in the moment and not dwelling on what's missing.

The seriousness of the High Holidays has now given way to the joy of Sukkot. It’s not just a turn of phrase. The holiday is referred to as the time of our joy! The real challenge is accessing that joy, finding that positive emotion deep within us.

Some of the aspects of the holiday make it easy – we build and decorate the sukkah, we eat festive meals, we acknowledge God's omnipresence as we shake the lulav and esrog… What’s not to like?

But nevertheless, joy can remain elusive. There are still a lot of meals to cook (we are having a friendly family competition over who has made the most trips to the grocery store!) and serve and clear. There are still dishes to wash (although the pressure to use paper increases with each passing year). There are still young children to entertain; there is still a home that needs to be kept clean – scratch that, not kept clean but straightened up at the end of the day. There is still a lot of work to do.

Yet, that’s really not what interferes with the joy.

It’s an attitude. It’s what we see. It’s how we look at the world and our lives. It’s a habit – frequently one that needs to be changed. Joy comes from taking pleasure in the moment, in the situation of our lives right now – in not focusing on future goals, dreams or aspirations and especially in not dwelling on what’s missing.

This can range from the trivial – Is that bush dead? Why is that broken decoration hanging on the wall? I think the meat is too dry. Oh no, the challah is doughy. The kids are fighting again. Who set the table like that? – to the deeper and more important – I need to get a job and earn some money. I have a job but I want to earn more money. When will I have children? When will I have more children?

The list is endless and I’m only scratching the surface.

This year, I’m working on appreciating the positive and enjoying the moment, and ignoring the things that are damaged or missing.

Our challenge is to place all those “needs” (wants? desires?) in the Almighty’s hands where they belong (and where they are anyway) and focus on what we do have – all the good, all the pleasures, all the gifts. All the noise, all the chaos, all the mess…

Sometimes it’s easy – when we’re well-rested (I’m trying to imagine such a scenario), when everyone is getting along, when the house is spotless (now I’m really dreaming), when Jupiter aligns with Mars… and sometimes it’s more challenging – we’re tired, there’s cereal all over the floor, the pasta is bubbling over onto the stove, two grandsons are throwing a ball in the middle of the living room right into the …oops!, two other grandchildren were wrestling but now one is screaming…And it turns out that bush in the garden really is dead.

That’s when it’s an accomplishment. That’s when it’s meaningful. That’s when we know we’ve grown.

Sukkot, the time of our joy; it’s a real gift. It’s a real opportunity and it would be foolish to mar it by focusing on the negative, by seeing the cracks in the ceiling instead of the whole beautiful house. This year, I’m going to try to lift up, to see and appreciate the positive, to enjoy the family in the moment and to ignore all the (mostly insignificant) things that are damaged or missing. We are outside in the sukkah so we don’t have to see it all, and basking in the Almighty’s embrace and appreciating that He’s in charge of it all.

I’m asking Him to help me stay focused on the good and the joy. And I’m hiring a good floor cleaning company for when the holiday ends…

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