As we just finished Yom Kippur and have hopefully established a much stronger connection with Hashem, we are immediately asked to change our focus to simchah, happiness, related to the celebration of Sukkos. As I will try to illustrate, happiness means many things to different people.
Rabbi Benjamin Blech, in an article on happiness, quoted a study that tells us that if you were offered the choice of earning $100,000 when everyone around you is making $50,000 or $200,000 when everyone around you makes $400,000, rationally most would choose the second option, where he makes more money but less than people around him. That way he would have twice as much to spend. In reality most people picked the first option. The most important consideration was simply being richer than other people!
That is why there is a multibillion-dollar industry in the world today whose purpose is the systematic propagation of envy, the acceptance of the new tenth commandment, which now reads, “You shall covet.” Its goal, as frankly admitted by advertising guru B. Earl Puckett, is this: “It is our job to make men and women unhappy with what they have.”
Every few months, fashions change. What is “in” one month is “out” the next. Why must you constantly have something else? Because big business needs consumers. So consumers have to be taught what they need rather than to have their real needs met. It’s no big secret which emotion Madison Avenue wants to appeal to most. Gucci was brave enough to admit it when it called a new perfume it was trying to popularize “Envy.” Remarkable, isn’t it, that this is what the Torah has identified as the basic cause of human suffering – the sin of envy. Thomas Clapp Patton, in his book Envy Politics, states: Whether you really need it or not, don’t be without what other people have.
If the desire for something is based on need, then fulfillment brings contentment. If the goal, however, is to overcome the need to covet the acquisitions of others, then we are doomed to disappointment and to ever-greater dissatisfaction. There’s always somebody who has a little bit more – enough at least to stir up within us sufficient envy to prevent us from being content with what is ours.
A study published this past June in Psychological Science confirmed what we should have intuitively recognized: “The things we are trained to think make us happy, like having a new car every couple of years and buying the latest fashions, don’t make us happy. Buying luxury goods, conversely, tends to be an endless cycle of one-upmanship, in which the neighbors have a fancy new car and – bingo! – now you want one, too.”
So what really gives us true happiness? Faith in a higher power is high up on the list. Optimism based on belief in G-d is worth more than $1 million in the bank. A feeling of self-worth rooted in a commitment to a life lived with values provides far more satisfaction than unlimited amounts of stuff and more stuff to fill our closets.
Yom Kippur rearranged our priorities. It is a day when we demonstrate that we can master our physical needs, where we choose prayer over food and communion with G-d over making more money. We concentrate not on the things we covet that don’t belong to us but on the blessings G-d has already granted to us that could give us so much joy if we only fully appreciated them. And that’s why, ironically enough, the day of Yom Kippur, with all of its deprivations, helps to teach us the real meaning of happiness and contentment. I am proud to be a part of a community that places an emphasis on spirituality as opposed to materialistic gain. Sukkos offers us the opportunity to leave the comforts of our home and to welcome Hashem into our dirah batachtonim, earthly home, and to welcome the Ushpizin into our Sukkah.
Best wishes for a good Yom Tov,
Rabbi Peretz Scheinerman