Rejoice in Your Festivals

On Sukkot, it is a mitzvah to be happy. In this resource, we will learn about reasons to be happy on Sukkot and Simchat Torah, and about happiness as a Jewish value.

Resource Ages: 9-11, 12-14

Source

And you shall rejoice in your festival, you and your son and your daughter and your male servant and your maidservant, the Levite and the stranger and the orphan and the widow who are within your gates. 

…. Because Adonai your God shall bless you in all of your produce and all of the work of your hands, you shall surely rejoice.

Deuteronomy 16:14–15

וְשָׂמַחְתָּ בְּחַגֶּךָ, אַתָּה וּבִנְךָ וּבִתֶּךָ, וְעַבְדְּךָ וַאֲמָתֶךָ, וְהַלֵּוִי וְהַגֵּר וְהַיָּתוֹם וְהָאַלְמָנָה, אֲשֶׁר בִּשְׁעָרֶיךָ. 

כִּי יְבָרֶכְךָ ה’ אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ, בְּכֹל תְּבוּאָתְךָ וּבְכֹל מַעֲשֵׂה יָדֶיךָ. וְהָיִיתָ אַךְ שָׂמֵחַ.

Rejoice and be happy on Simchat Torah

and pay respect to the Torah

for its goods are greater than all other goods

better than gold or precious pearls.

We will rejoice and be happy with this Torah

for it is strength and light for us.

Piyyut (prayer-song) for Simchat Torah

שִׂישוּ וְשִׂמְחוּ בְּשִׂמְחַת תּוֹרָה,

וּתְנוּ כָבוֹד לַתּוֹרָה.

כִּי טוֹב סַחְרָהּ מִכָּל סְחוֹרָה,

מִפָּז וּמִפְּנִינִים יְקָרָה.

נָגִיל וְנָשִׂישׂ בְּזֹאת הַתּוֹרָה.

כִּי הִיא לָנוּ עֹז וְאוֹרָה.

It is a great mitzvah to always be happy

and to work with all one’s strength to overcome and distance oneself from sadness and bitter-darkness.

All of the sicknesses that afflict people come from the disruption of happiness […].

Therefore, one must push one’s self very hard to always be happy

and to rejoice in whatever one can

even by acting in a silly and funny way.

Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav, Likutei Moharan, Part 2, Torah 24

מִצְוָה גְּדוֹלָה לִהְיוֹת בְּשִׂמְחָה תָּמִיד […]

Foundations for Planning

Essential Questions

  • How do Jewish practices reflect Jewish values?
  • How does Judaism shape or define our understanding of happiness?

Content Questions Related to the Essential Questions

  • What is the importance of happiness in Judaism?
  • What is the importance of happiness on holidays?
  • What is the connection between happiness and the Torah?
  • Is it possible to command someone to be happy?

Background for Teacher

On the three pilgrimage festivals (Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot), it is a mitzvah to be happy. During Temple times, the happiness of these festivals was expressed by traveling to Jerusalem, bringing sacrifices to the Temple and then eating those sacrifices. On Sukkot, people also...

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On the three pilgrimage festivals (Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot), it is a mitzvah to be happy. During Temple times, the happiness of these festivals was expressed by traveling to Jerusalem, bringing sacrifices to the Temple and then eating those sacrifices. On Sukkot, people also gathered for Simchat Beit HaShoeva celebrations, in which they pumped water from the Gichon spring and poured it out in the Temple. The pumping was accompanied by musicians, singing and wise men juggling torches.

After the destruction of the Temple, the Sages decided that the joy of the holiday would be expressed through the drinking of wine. However, there are those who claim that the drinking of wine is only for the happiness of men and that women should celebrate with new clothing (Pesachim 109a). Today, the happiness of these festivals can be expressed in different ways, such as a family meal, a hike, wearing nice clothes, etc. Some people commemorate Simchat Beit HaShoeva in a symbolic manner, with parties and dancing over chol ha-moed (the days in the middle of the holiday).

Sukkot is unique in that the commandment to be happy on this festival is stated three different times in the Torah (as compared to twice for Shavuot and never for Passover). Therefore, Sukkot is known as Zman Simchateinu, the time of our rejoicing, and is referred to that way in the prayer service. 

 

The Midrash Pesikta D’Rav Kahana explains the extra happiness of Sukkot as a result of the completion of the High Holiday period and having received the forgiveness of Yom Kippur, alongside the completion of the agricultural season and the harvesting of crops from the field to fill the storehouses. The following proof text is brought from Deuteronomy: “Because the Lord your God shall bless you in all of your produce and all of the work of your hands, you shall surely rejoice.” It appears that the blessing of agricultural produce is the main reason for the happiness of the holiday. 

The Torah draws a connection between the happiness of the holiday and the treatment of those in need within society and states that the festival should be celebrated not only with one’s own immediate family, but also with the servants, those who do not have a portion in the land (the Levites) and those experiencing emotional and physical hardship, such as the stranger, the orphan and the widow.

According to Rashi, the Torah’s words “You shall surely rejoice” are not a commandment, but a promise that we will be only happy on the holiday. In contrast, ibn Ezra argues that this verse does include a commandment to be happy. The mitzvah to rejoice raises the question of how a person can be obligated to feel happy and whether it is possible to be happy in all of life’s circumstances. One way of responding to this difficulty is through gratitude: the ability to be happy with what we have.

Right after Sukkot, we celebrate Simchat Torah, which marks the end of the cycle of reading the Five Books of the Torah and the beginning of a new cycle. On Simchat Torah, we celebrate and rejoice with the Torah. This happiness is expressed through dancing, circling the bimah of the synagogue while carrying the Torah scrolls with flags, and singing.

Optional Hooks
In-Depth Discussion
Suggested Activities
Further Study
  • Ask the students to make a list of things that make them happy. Divide the students into groups and have them discuss the question: What makes me happy? As a class, discuss the different answers given. Are there things that make some students happy, but make other students uncomfortable? Why is happiness even important to us? What is the significance of happiness in our lives?
  • While learning about Sukkot, play Simon Says. After a number of regular commands, say “Simon says: Be happy.” As a class, discuss how the students responded. Did they smile? Did they use other body language to indicate happiness? Did they really feel happy? Discuss the commandment to be happy on Sukkot. Can we feel things on command?

Click here to view our consolidated list of suggested interactive pedagogies for classroom discussion.

Sukkot

  1. The holiday of Sukkot is also called Chag Ha-Asif (the harvest festival) and Zman Simchateinu (the time of our rejoicing). What is the connection between these two names? In what verses can we find this connection?
  2. According to the Torah, who is included in the holiday celebrations? Why do you think the Torah goes into such detail, naming all of the different people instead of speaking in more general language?
  3. What parts of Sukkot make you happy?

Simchat Torah

  1. On Simchat Torah, what are we happy about? What makes us happy?
  2. “Greater than gold and precious pearls”: Why is the Torah considered to be more valuable than any other thing, including gold and pearls?
  3. Have you ever been happy to learn something new? Tell about that experience.

Happiness

  1. The Torah says, “You will rejoice in your festival … you shall surely rejoice.” In your opinion, is it possible to be only happy? Explain. What can make it harder for us to feel happy? What can help us to feel happy?
  2. What do you think about the commandment to be happy? What could be problematic about this mitzvah? In light of the possible problems associated with this commandment, how do you understand the verse? What can we do if it is hard for us to feel happy on a holiday, but we still want to fulfill the mitzvah?
  3. Tell about situations in which you felt obligated to be happy or to act happy. What were the reasons for that? Was it an issue of social pressure or expectations of parents or friends? How do we act in situations in which we are expected to feel something that does not reflect how we really feel?
  4. Is happiness a central issue in our lives or a less-important issue? Is happiness a goal or value on its own or something that just happens and has no inherent importance of its own?
  5. In Jewish tradition, we can find happiness presented as an important value. Where do you encounter happiness in Jewish life (over the course of the year, in ceremonies, in family traditions, etc.)? How does it affect you?

For Older Students: After studying the text from R. Nachman

  1. Is it right to always be happy or should we also allocate space for other, more uncomfortable feelings?
  2. In your opinion, what “sicknesses” or difficulties come from a lack of happiness?
  3. What do you think about R. Nachman’s method for amusing oneself? Do you have other methods?
  • Have the students make paper chains with which to decorate the sukkah or chains of flags (you can cut paper or pieces of fabric into triangles). Have each student make a small chain. On each link in the chain or flag, have them write something that makes them happy or words they associate with happiness. Join all of the small chains together in one long chain and use it to decorate the school’s sukkah.
  • Encourage the students to organize an event in honor of Sukkot that will make other people happy (in the community, at an institution for people with special needs, at a nursery school, etc.).
  • Listen to the song “Sisu V’Simchu B’Simchat Torah” and learn the words to that song. While playing the song, dance around the classroom with chumashim.
  • Watch this video (until 1:10) of songs for Sukkot and Simchat Torah. Discuss the relationship between music and happiness in general, and with regard to Chassidic music, in particular. You can also have the students match a happy tune that they know with the words “V’samachta b’hagecha v’hayeeta af sameach.” They can sing these lyrics to their tune and add dance moves.
  • Learn about the importance of Torah in the resource The Torah is Better than Any Merchandise. Draw a connection between the story presented in that resource and the words from the song “Sisu V’Simchu”: “For its goods are greater than all other goods.”