The Pursuit of Happiness
Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah Morning, 2019
At Jewish Newport
Edited by Beth Ginsburg Levine
On Shemini Atzeret we had many visitors. Many were from Israel. In Israel many Jewish holidays are a day shorter than in the diaspora. I think this has something to do with Google Calendar. When traveling, he custom is that the rules at home prevail; for our Israeli visitors Shemini Atzeret was the last day of Sukkot, and the following day was a regular day. For the rest of us, including a couple of medical students visiting from Westchester County, the next day was Simchat Torah.
Rabbi Marc Mandel of Newport’s Touro Synagogue introduced Yizkor on Shemini Atzeret with a short Torah message. He observed that, “In the diaspora, dukhanen (the priestly blessing given by the cohenim from a platform) only takes place during holidays, while in Israel it is done daily, sometimes more than once a day. Rabbi Moses Isserles said that the Cohanim must be happy when they give the blessing, and they can only be truly happy on a holiday. Sukkot is called z’man simchateinu, the season of our joy. All festivals have nicknames; Passover is the season of our freedom, and Shavuot is the season of the giving of our Torah.”
Dukhanen comes from the Hebrew word dukhan, which means platform.
In Israel, said Rabbi Doron Perez, there is something special that increases our joy. That, of course, is not to say that Israelis are happy. They have many reasons not to be. But there is still some special sauce in Israel.
Rabbi Mandel introduced Yizkor by saying that, “Our ancestors looked to a future where we would be happy.”
I’ve recently been reading “On Communism” by historian Richard Pipes. Ancient Greece was “the first country to recognize private property.” It did not take long for Greek thinkers to blame the desire for property for the destruction of a mythical Golden Age where everyone shared their possessions, things were peaceful and people were happy. Plato envisioned what a perfect society looked like, which not only included sharing possessions, but wives and children. Karl Marx added that not only was a perfect society possible, but that we know how to do it. Putting this into effect has caused a lot of unhappiness.
On Simchat Torah morning, we happily had a minyan with the help of the visitors from Westchester County (Many of the Israelis flew home.) At a breakneck pace we joyously made the hakafot with the Torahs and proceeded to transition from the end to the beginning of the five Books of Moses. We were out of breath at the end, but happy.