In my career as a counselor, I meet many people. Common to all is a feeling that the “bags” of problems they carry are heavy, even very heavy.
What induces such a feeling? Why are so many so unhappy? The causes are probably several. But here is one:
Our generation suffers from overabundance. While not ready to eschew it, we know deep down that it doesn’t serve us well. For there are always things that will remain inaccessible, things we won’t be able to afford or acquire. And we feel miserable as a result.
When I grew up in Antwerp, Belgium, goodies with a hechsher were unheard of. As a result, we children grew up largely nosh-free. The local rabbinical authority did approve one kind of chocolate, and that is what we occasionally munched on. But we weren’t very sad on days we didn’t receive a goodie because abstaining from something as minor as a piece of chocolate isn’t a big deal.
What, in contrast, is available to a modern child? Tons of goodies at “Dreamland,” “Sweetland,” “Wonderland,” or some other magical store. And the choice in these establishments is breathtaking. Confections appears in all sorts of colors, tastes, and sizes. A child’s brain can go wild from the variety. To top it off, the mirrored walls at the back of these stores create the illusion of twice as large a selection.
Being denied such endless pleasure understandably causes a kid to feel sad. It is not just a piece of chocolate; it is a “world” of sweets he is being deprived of.
Adults suffer from the same over-abundance of “goodies” – grown-up candies, if you will. No wonder, then, that they feel deeply stressed and dissatisfied, experiencing a constant nagging feeling of “missing out.” Knowing there is so much on display and living in a fantasy of lack is more than some people can handle and they descend into melancholy.
The month of Tishre, though, offers a solution to this modern-day problem. After weeks of mourning (Av), introspection (Elul), and repentance (beginning of Tishre), we celebrate Sukkot. On this yom tov, we are commanded to be joyous, “vesamachta.” Before returning to our conventional routines, we are offered a full week whose purpose is to fill our tanks with simcha so that, bit by bit, over the ensuing months, we can draw from that reservoir.
The Torah tells us, “Vehayita ach same’ach – And you should only be joyous” (Devarim 16:15). On the word “ach – only,” Rashi comments: “lerabos – to include” (the simcha should also continue on Simchas Torah). “Ach,” however, generally excludes items in accordance to the well-known rule, “Achin v’rakin mi’utin.” Why, then, does “ach” include an item in “vehayita ach same’ach“?
Perhaps because the Torah is trying to teach us that to increase simcha, one must exclude items. To enjoy life, one must say “Stop” to the excess. Saying “No” to desires is saying “Yes” to needs. Applying moderation gives us the luxury of satisfaction and pleasure. Only when we are able to limit the overflow are we be able to sip from the elixir of simcha and fill our lungs with joy.