Succos is called by Chazal zman simchoseinu, the time of our
simcha. We are obligated to experience simcha, and the
Torah summarizes the reason for the horrible punishments in parshas
Ki Sovo, as due to a lack of simcha in our worship of
There are many different types of simcha. In a famous incident
in which he was visited by a maskil, the Vilna Gaon enumerates
six different terms that are applied to simcha in Tanach:
sosson, simcha, giloh, rinoh, ditzoh and chedvoh. Surely
Succos is meant as our time of simcha in an inclusive sense,
that we can fulfill the general mitzva of simcha through any of
the various nuances. To be sure there are specific directives as to
how to fulfill the mitzva -- eating meat, drinking wine, buying and
wearing new clothes for the women and treats for the children -- but
it is very instructive to consider the ideas themselves, especially
for our time.
The Vilna Gaon (in Mishlei 23,24, quoted in the Machzor
HaGra on Rosh Hashanah) explains that the difference between
giloh and simcha is that giloh is something that
comes from a steady source, while simcha is the result of
something new. The example that he gives is important in itself. The
Gaon says that we see this when someone has a son. At the birth he
feels simcha since the son is newly born. "And after that, all
the son's life there is giloh for his father."
In these days in which children are unfashionable, it is easy to point
out that by discouraging having children, the world is missing a major
source of happiness in life. Yet there is a deeper and a broader
problem of perspective.
Modern life in the West puts a premium on intense experiences to the
virtual exclusion of the steady feelings that are truly no less
important. Examples of this are in the fact that so much is reduced to
mere sound bites in the electronic media, and even the "long" stories
they tell condense years of events into some 20 or 40 minutes, or a
long presentation of maybe 90 minutes, of largely intense scenes that
may capture some highlights but will necessarily ignore the bulk of
any real world event.
Children are encouraged (by society) to go to things like amusement
parks with thrill rides that also whip up intense emotions for seconds
or maybe minutes, and this we consider a day well spent.
But all this ignores an important part of what life should be all
about. It smothers the very real possibilities of day-in- day-out joy
and happiness that are the result of living a properly balanced life
as the Torah teaches. In stressing a few intense seconds of heightened
emotion, the West can empty our lives of the true components of
simcha that can fill them so well. There is an obvious reason
for this: the little steady things that give joy cannot easily be
packaged and sold. There is no money in them, as there is in the
intense experiences that are sold everywhere.
Buffeted by the temptations of Madison Avenue, there is no better use
that we can make of Succos than to emphasize and to remind ourselves
of the small things that bring us giloh throughout the year.