From HaGaon Rav Zevadia HaCohen Shlit”a, The Head of the Batei Din in Tel Aviv
(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)
We are required to engage in a unique mitzvah of simchah during Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, as the Torah states, “And you shall rejoice before Hashem your G-d for seven days (Vayikra 23:40), and it likewise further states, “And you shall rejoice in your Festival, you, your son, your daughter etc. and you shall be only happy” (Devarim 16:14-15).
Our teacher the Rambam z”l writes (Laws of Lulav 8:12-15), “Even though it is a mitzvah to rejoice on all the Chagim, there was an additional celebration in the Temple on the festival of Sukkot, as it states: "And you shall rejoice before Hashem, your G-d, for seven days etc.” (Vayikra 32:40).
What was the nature of this celebration? The flute would be sounded, and songs played on the harp, lute, and cymbals. [In addition,] each person would play on the instrument which he knew. Those who could sing, would sing. They would dance and clap their hands, letting loose and whistling, each individual in the manner which he knew. Words of song and praise were recited.
It is a great mitzvah to maximize this celebration. The common people and anyone who desired would not perform [in these celebrations]; only the greatest of Israel's wise men: the Rashei Yeshivot, the members of the high court, the pious, the elders, and the men of stature. They were the ones who would dance, clap their hands, sing, and rejoice in the Bet HaMikdash on the days of the festival of Sukkot.
The happiness with which a person should rejoice in the fulfilment of the mitzvot and the love of Hashem who commanded them is a great form of worship. Whoever holds himself back from this rejoicing is worthy of retribution, as it states, ‘...because you did not serve Hashem, your G-d, with happiness and a glad heart’ (Devarim 28:47).”
We see from the Rambam the requirement to rejoice on Sukkot, a joy that engulfed also the great and wise sages of the generation. And in contrast, the punishment for one who refrains from engaging in this joy.
The question is asked how may a person be commanded to rejoice? Surely joy is something that is connected to the inner feelings of a person. Sometimes it is good for him and so he is able to rejoice, other times it isn’t good for him and he cannot find joy. It isn’t the same as other practical mitzvot such as sukkah, tefillin, mezuzah and the like, that aren’t linked to a person’s mood but are simply actions of the mitzvah.
In order to answer this let us quote by way of introduction the Talmud (Makkot 10a), Rabbi Yehoshau ben Levi said, it states in Tehillim (122) “The song of ascents to David when they say to me let us go to the House of Hashem”, but the House of Hashem was not yet built in David’s time! If so, what was David rejoicing about? But rather David said before Hashem, I have heard people saying when will this old man (King David) die so that his son Shlomoh may come and build the Bet HaMikdash and we may go up for the Chag. And I rejoiced. That means that David heard them anticipating his death but from a good intention, to go to the Bet HaMikdash, so he did not get angry but rather rejoiced. For he perceived the obligation that they wanted to ascend the mountain of Hashem - their intention was for the sake of Heaven - and so he was not offended, on the contrary, he rejoiced and furthermore composed a chapter in Tehillim for future generations.
And so we see in Tehillim (4:8), King David said says, “You put gladness in my heart that is greater than theirs, at the time that their grain and wine abound.”
Rashi explains, I (King David) am not jealous of my enemies, even when I see that their grain and wine increase, but rather I rejoice in this, for I am confident that if for those who anger Him it is so, than all the more so for those who fulfil His wish.
Also, at the times that King David heard that they anticipate his death, or he saw his enemies succeed financially, he did not enter into a state of gloom but rather increased in joy. For he saw this from a positive angle. They are doing it for the sake of Heaven [so that the Bet HaMikdash be built] or that he too may anticipate Hashem’s abundant blessings.
As a rule a person is led to sadness due to jealousy or anger, which is aimed at others, whether this is a pathological or financial issue, an issue of a person’s standing, and so he then argues, “I just cannot be happy!”
But if we learn from King David that even when he finds himself in a situation that should dictate sadness and says, “I am happy” or, “I will encourage joy to enter my heart”, joy that is motivated by a belief that this is the will of Hashem, and that this situation is just a passing moment and he anticipates and prayers for much better times, or considers the other kindnesses from Hashem to him, then a person may be in a constant state of joy thanking Hashem for every single breath throughout the year [see Bereishit Rabba 14:9]. All the mores so during Sukkot where there is a clear mitzvah to rejoice, a person must remove any feelings of sadness, rising above any feelings of jealousy or anger, to contemplate the other aspects of kindness, which Hashem has bestowed upon him. In order to remove any obstacles that prevent true joy and to fulfil the mitzvah “and you shall rejoice in your Festival” in the true vein of the halacha.