The Real Simcha of Sukkot by Ely Winkler

(2004/5764) On Shabbat Chol Hamoed, we have the custom to
read Megillat Kohelet, said to be written by Shlomo
Hamelech. The choice to read this Megillah on this
holiday full of happiness stirs up many mixed emotions.
There are four other Megillot in Tanach to read, but we
choose this one. The central element is found in the
Pasuk which asks, “Mah Yitron Leadam Bechol Amalo
Sheyaamol Tachat Hashemesh,“ (Kohelet 12:13) what is
man’s purpose in this world? The Pasuk then answers,
“Sof Davar Hakol Nishma; Et Haelokim Yirah Veet
Mitzvotav Shmor Ke Zeh Kol Haadam,” (ibid.) that our
purpose is to fear God and keep his Mitzvot. However,
this is a seemingly contradictory theme to the Simcha
we’re supposed to feel on Sukkot. Why do we choose to
read this very intense, almost depressing Megillah on this
joyous holiday?
The tension between the commandment of
happiness and Kohelet’s negative evaluation of rejoicing is
also seen in a bitter exchange between David Hamelech
and his wife Michal in Shmuel II 6:16. The queen criticizes
David’s dancing as the Aron Kodesh was being brought to
Jerusalem, comparing it to the behavior of the servants.
David responds that since he was rejoicing “before
Hashem” not only was the way he conducted himself
appropriate, but that he felt compelled to even go further in
the future. Was David or Michal correct? Should the king
have held back from his Simcha or continued to dance
because this was accepted appropriate before Hashem?
Are the words of Kohelet meant to limit our happiness on
Yom Tov or should we continue to rejoice before Hashem?
An explanation was offered by R’ Aryeh Leb from
the Pasuk of “Vihayita Ach Sameach,” “and you will be
only joyous” (Devarim 16:15), in order to show that there is
no real conflict between the Torah and the Simcha of
Sukkot. He suggests that the word “Ach“, “only,” implies
to a limitation in one’s happiness on the holiday of Sukkot,
to hold one back for overindulging in the obligation to be
joyous on this holiday. Sefer Kohelet works together with
the word “Ach” to serve as a reminder that we have the
obligation to be happy, while still observing Torah and
Mitzvot. It would appear that Simchat Yom Tov is a
symbol of the two dimensions of the human being, the
spiritual and the physical. While separating these areas
might not be what we want, when we do that, at least there
are times when we can be assured that we are engaged in
the proper spiritual pursuits. Chag “Ach” Sameach!

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