On Shabbat Chol Hamoed we have two major readings: Parshat Ki Tisa, where the Yamim Tovim (High Holy Days) are mentioned and also Megillat Kohelet, which features King Solomon’s lengthy discussions about the meaning of life. At first, the two readings seem contradictory. The Yamim Tovim in particular, and Succot specifically, are times of unbridled rejoicing.
Succot is referred to as Chag HaAsif, the harvest festival, and is an opportunity to rejoice in our physical achievements. It is also time to take pleasure in the spiritual achievements of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and to start to bring the inspiration down to our daily lives.
Wonderful as this is, simcha or rejoicing can be a double-edged sword. There is a slippery slope to escaping from the reality to life and losing ourselves in the thrill of the moment, which in turn can lead to us doing things we will regret later.
Kohelet tells us to take life seriously; our days in this world are limited and we can’t take our physical or financial achievements with us when our time comes.
The challenge of Shabbat Chol Hamoed Succot is to be able to strike a healthy balance between the two. Realising none of us will live forever ought to motivate not to put off until tomorrow that which can be done today. At the same time, Simcha, rejoicing, is a vital ingredient in life as we need to be able to take pleasure in what we have done.
Judaism provides us with many milestones combining both ideas, enabling us to reflect and motivating us to achieve more.
- Rabbi Naftali Schiff is founder and chief executive of Jewish Futures