For a seven-day period you will celebrate before Hashem, your G-d… for Hashem, your G-d, will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands, and you will have nothing but joy. (Deut. 6:15)
Are the words “you will have nothing but joy” a commandment? Rashi says no, rather they are a promise for those who have observed the festival of Sukkot. It is important to note that this promise was not said by any other festival. Sukkot is when we are humbled by leaving the comfort of our homes when we sleep and eat in the Sukkah. No matter how magnificent a mansion you have, you must leave it and live in the simple booth created for the festival. The Jerusalem Talmud (Brachos 9:7) observes that whenever the Hebrew word “nothing” (ach) is used in scripture, it has the effect of limiting or diminishing the message being communicated. How do we apply this rule to the verse (“and you will have nothing but joy”); will we experience a limitation of joy?
Rabbi Chaim Meir Hagar (1887-1972), 4th Rebbi of the Vizhnitz Chasidic dynasty, was a Holocaust survivor who spent his life after the war providing material and spiritual support to thousands of broken survivors as well as many others. He gave a homiletical answer to the question by explaining that if you want to be happy, you need to learn to live with diminishing yourself. That doesn’t mean having low self-esteem, it means that you don’t have to be the center of life. When I diminish myself, I listen to others because I don’t feel I’m too great to learn from them. When I amplify myself, my ego swells up, which means I will not have compassion for where others are coming from. My ego will cause me to get angry, have stress, and mistreat people—even the people I love. When looking back at life, the common denominator of the foolish or impulsive decisions we later regret are usually due to allowing our ego to be the motivation for those decisions. If I must have something the way I want it, when I want it, without listening to the person or people who will be affected by my want, then I know ego is the stimulus for my behavior.
Imagine a man carrying a hundred-pound barbell weight wherever he goes. Whether it’s shopping, having coffee with friends, or going to work, he is schlepping the weight everywhere. At the end of each day, he is exhausted but continues this depleting behavior. One day while boating, he falls overboard with the weight and starts to go under; someone from the boat yells.“Drop the weight!” “But it’s my weight.”“Drop the weight!”“I can’t; it’s my weight. It’s been with me for as long as I can remember; I can’t live without it.”“Drop the weight or you will drown.”“I don’t want to drop the weight. It’s mine; I need it.”Finally, some wise person dives into the water, distracts the man and pushes the weight into the water.“What will I do now; how will I live without my weight?” Then, something incredible happens. “Wow, I can’t believe this. I feel so light. I can swim and actually enjoy the water. I can’t imagine how great I will feel when I get back to dry land. I can go to the store or out for coffee and don’t have to lug around that heavy weight. I would never have believed that life could be so “light” and manageable.
The weight is our ego. It takes a lot of emotional energy to always have things our way. It’s exhausting to have to be worried about what others will think of me or go to great lengths to make them like me. It’s exhausting to get angry with someone for not treating me properly and it’s even more draining to harbor resentment. The more things have to revolve around me, the more stressed and unhappy I am.
The reason the ‘weight’ is so difficult to drop is because it’s my weight. When I speak with people about challenges they are having, in so many instances they are carrying around their weight and can’t think of dropping it. Although they can intellectually understand how much ‘lighter’ their lives would be, almost like walking on air, they can’t think outside of their domain, which means carrying a heavy weight–ego, fears and resentment–everywhere. By refusing to drop it, they are denying others the possibility of helping them.The way to happiness is to diminish our ego. The more we come out of our selfish comfort zone, the lighter we feel. The natural outcome will be meaningful friendships, love, and connecting to others. If you want to do something great for yourself, drop the weight and begin living. May we all have the inner strength to do so.