Although we may think that Judaism is full of does and don’ts, it actually encourages us to be happy, as the Psalmist tells us: “Serve God with joy and come before Him with singing” (Psalm 100.2). And one of the happiest festivals in the Jewish calendar is Succot. It celebrates when Jewish farmers would come to the Temple in Jerusalem to give thanks to God for having been able to harvest his fields.
What is intriguing is that we are not commanded to show our joy by having a lavish and expensive parties. But rather we celebrate by leaving the comfort of our homes and move into the Succah, which is a flimsy structure of leaves. And we also take and shake a bouquet of four species – the Lulav (palm leaf), Hadas (branch of myrtle), Aravah (willow branch) and Etrog. This teaches us that happiness does not necessarily come with the accumulation of material wealth. It comes from trusting in God and being joyous with the blessings He gives us, and by being satisfied with those blessings.
Alas all too often we only turn to God when we are faced with a crisis, but forget God when we are successful, thinking good fortune comes to us only through our own efforts. Succot teaches us to really appreciate and thank God, and to understand that material gains are only as flimsy as the Succah, and that our good fortune does not only come because of our own efforts. Succot also teaches us that we should look on life as a glass that is half full rather than half empty.