Only Happy


Dear Rabbi,

There is a Yiddish expression that has been disclosed to me since I first began to comprehend what was being told to me. Phonetically it goes like this: Siz shvare siz zon a Yid. Loosely translated it means "it's tough to be a Jew." Maybe this expression comes from the Fifth Aliyah in this weeks portion of the Torah when it says the following:

Fifth Aliyah: The reading concludes with a discussion regarding the festival of Sukkot, during which we are commanded to rejoice for seven days and be "only happy." All males must be in attendance in the Holy Temple during these afore-detailed holidays.

Earlier in the Third Aliyah we are told not to rejoice during Passover, then in the Fourth Aliyah we are told how to calculate when our next holiday beings and then says that we are to celebrate the holiday of Shavuot.

So we go from not rejoicing during the Holiday of Passover, to "celebrating" the holiday of Shavuot, to being "commanded" to rejoice and be "only happy" during the holiday of Sukkot.

It is a mizvot in the Torah to be "only happy" during the holiday of Sukkot, which leads me to think G-d knows that what he wanted from the Jewish people would be hard and tough, but we are ordered to take a break from our burden during the holiday of Sukkot. I anticipate that you will come back with each and every Shabbat and our commandment to rest and not do any work, but some people only take enjoyment from their work, so for them they may not happy in not working one day during a week.



Dear Mordecai,

There’s a lot in what you say: the difficulty being a Jew, a commandment to feel joy, and what the sources of our joy are and how they may conflict with the traditional lifestyle of the Jew.

To be clear, living life with joy all the time is an imperative among the Hasidim. Many people see themselves as neo-Hasidim today precisely because of this message of being joyful all the time. One of the questions that arises among the rabbis is why Shemini Atzeret is associated with joy, in particular. The answer is that Shemini Atzeret is a day when Jews get to be alone with our G-d. On Sukkot, the nations of the world are invited to the celebration.

I wonder how you’re using the phrase “only happy.” I think what that means is that one should feel no other emotion except for happiness on Shemini Atzeret. What it doesn’t mean is this is the only day one should feel happy in our calendar.

The difficulty being a Jew is mostly because of our experience in history. Whereas, the joy is in the nature of our relationship to G-d.

For those who don’t find joy in resting but find it rather in work, then they should seek to find other aspects of Judaism to connect to. As long as they know the option of rest once a week exists, perhaps in the future they will reconsider their lifestyle.