Joy lifts us up and, enables us to remain holy the whole year
“And you shall rejoice in your Festival…and you will be only happy.”
Most people think happiness is a nice idea. What they don’t realize is that happiness on Yom Tov is a mitzvah like any other. The Vilna Gaon comments that it’s perhaps one of the hardest mitzvos to fulfill.
Tzemach Tzedek suggests one daven for simchah as Dovid Hamelech davened in Tehillim (86:4): “Bring joy to your servant’s soul.”
Furthermore, happiness is not all or nothing. Whatever level of happiness we achieve beyond our current state is valuable.
Bnei Yisaschar writes that the word ach (“only”) in the above pasuk teaches us that even a small amount of joy is commendable. (Rav Elimelech Biderman, Torah Wellsprings)
Even after I officially left the classroom, I’m still involved in adult education. Yet I’m the one who is constantly gaining, as my students are truly my teachers.
Many years ago I was giving a women’s course on Neviim Rishonim, focusing on how we could apply the text to our daily life. In one session, I asked the women to recall the happiest day of their life and explain why they’d chosen this day. The women reminisced about wedding days and births of children and grandchildren.
Going around the table, I turned to Bracha, one of the younger members of our group. “The day of my chasunah,” she said tersely, “but I’d rather not say why.”
I quickly moved on to the next woman.
Ibn Ezra teaches that the joy of the holidays extends to the future. Similarly, the Abarbanel explains that the word ach in the pasuk is giving us a guarantee: If you’re happy on Succos, you’ll be only joyous the entire year.
After the session, Bracha lingered. “I’m sorry if I came across as rude.” She shifted her bag. “I couldn’t say it in front of the group, but I want to tell you why I chose my chasunah as my happiest day.”
Sensing Bracha’s need to connect, I motioned to her to wait while I made us both coffee. We sat down on the couch.
“I got married when I was 26; my husband was 27. I know we weren’t terribly old, but still, it was a long time to wait.
“We both were thrilled that we’d found each other, and the night of our chasunah reflected our genuine hakaras hatov that we’d reached this milestone together. Not everything was perfect, of course. I remember the florist messed up my bouquet, but who cared about those small things when we had our whole life together?
“We’ve been married for eight years,” she looked down at her coffee mug, “and we’ve yet to be zocheh to children.”
I reached over and put my hand on hers.
“But don’t think of my chasunah as the happiest day of my life because everything else has been so miserable. The opposite. Whenever we feel down, my husband and I open our wedding album and remember how we both thought we’d never walk down the aisle. Seeing those pictures reminds us of our joy and our gratitude toward Hashem. That gives us strength to keep going.Hashem’s just as capable of sending us our yeshuah now.”
A few minutes later Bracha left, but not before I’d written down both her and her husband’s names to daven for.
Someone asked the Chozeh of Lublin, “Why is there a mitzvah to make a chassan and kallah happy? They’re already happy! We should focus on making sad people happy.”
He answered, “A chassan’s sins are forgiven on the day of his chasunah, leaving him pure like Adam before his sin. The chassan wants to know how to maintain this pure state for life. By bringing joy to the chassan and kallah, we’re showing them that if they build their home on a foundation of joy, they’ll always be pure and happy.”
We’ve been purified from our sins on Yom Kippur, but we worry about how to stay pure the rest of the year. We’re therefore commanded to be happy on Succos. Joy lifts us up and, enables us to remain holy the whole year.
We moved that summer, and I lost track of Bracha. But not long ago I received an incredible e-mail with a photo of Bracha with her newborn daughter.
I’m confident her recognition of Hashem’s Presence and good on the day of her wedding was part of the merit that carried her through to the next happiest day of her life.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 663)