It is joy that we are commanded to feel throughout the week of Sukkot. (See Deuteronomy Chapter 16, verse15) Sometimes, though, it is a challenge to feel that joy.
Several years ago I found myself going to a funeral of a good friend Erev Sukkot. This friend had been diagnosed with cancer some ten years earlier and had done a valiant job of dealing with it. Complications had sent her to the hospital in Elul but she was scheduled to be released before Rosh Hashanah. Excitedly her other friends and I organized meals to be sent in for the Yom Tov. Suddenly, though, she took a turn for the worse. Instead of preparing food we began reciting Tehillim. And then the evening before Sukkot we received the bitter news she had died.
She was a remarkable woman. As I stood in the cemetery the following day and listened to the eulogies I wondered how I was going to be able to enter the Sukkah with joy at sundown. How would I be able to recite Hallel with joy the following day? Where would I get the strength to have joy the entire week of Sukkot?Chazal teach us that HaShem does not give us a commandment that is impossible to fulfill. Therefore I knew I had the ability, as hard as it might seem, to have a joyous Sukkot. So, although it was a trifle forced, I expressed joy at being inside the sukkah that evening.
The following morning was more of a challenge when I saw my friend’s vacant seat in the synagogue. Still, I was able to concentrate on my prayers. Then the time for Hallel arrived. The blessing was recited. Songs of praise and thanksgiving were sung. The lulav and etrog were held. Praise to G-d because He is good, His kindness exists forever was recited a total of seven times. With the first recitation the words seemed stuck in my throat. By the seventh I was able to say them wholeheartedly. Yes, G-d was good to my friend. He caused her to be born. Praise to G-d because He is good, His kindness exists forever. He saved her from Hitler and then from the Communists. Praise to G-d because He is good, His kindness exists forever. He brought her to Eretz Yisroel. Praise to G-d because He is good, His kindness exists forever. He allowed her to find her husband. Praise to G-d because He is good, His kindness exists forever. He gave her beautiful children and grandchildren. Praise to G-d because He is good, His kindness exists forever. He made sure she survived a terror attack. Praise to G-d because He is good, His kindness exists forever. Finally, he let her have an additional ten years after she was sick. Praise to G-d because He is good, His kindness exists forever.
By admitting that HaShem does not owe me anything I can then be thankful for every single thing he does give me. Then it is easy to feel joy. Praise to G-d because He is good, His kindness exists forever.
Hallel: prayers of praise to HaShem
Rosh Chodesh: first day or two of a Hebrew month
Lulav: a combination of myrtle, palm, and willow branches that are bound together to shake with a blessing on SukkotEtrog; A yellow fruit similar to a lemon which is held with the lulav
Erev: eveYom Tov: literarily good day, it implies a holy day
Tehillim: psalmsSukkah: special temporary dwelling for the holiday of Sukkot
Chazal: learned rabbis