Sukkot - Part 2
By Rabbi Dr. Meir Tamari
The gemara in Sukkah (48b) tells us of a discussion between two minim
concerning the difference between sasson and simcha and Rabbi Abahu who
placed that discussion in its correct perspective.
“There were once two Minnim, one named Sasson and the other Simcha. Sasson
said to Simcha, ‘ I am more important than you are, even as it is
written, “ They will obtain joy [sasson] and gladness [simcha] and sorrow
and sighing will depart” (Isaiah, 35:10). So Simcha answered, ‘ No, I am
the more important since it is written, (Esther, 8:17) “ There was light
and simcha for the Jews, gladness [sasson] and honour”. Then Sasson said
to Simcha, ‘ The day will come on which they will desert you and send you
forth as a messenger, as it is written, “ For you shall go out in simcha
and be led forth with peace” (Isaiah, 55:12); there is simcha when the
messenger goes out and leads the people’. ‘ One day they will desert you’,
said Simcha to Sasson, ‘and then they will fill you with water, since it
is written, “ Therefore, you shall draw water in joy [sasson]” (Isaiah,
12:3). [Furthermore, the Gemara continues to tells us] that Sasson said to
Rabbi Abahu, ‘In the future, you are destined to draw water for me, in the
World to Come since it is written, “Therefore, you shall draw water ‘be
sasson’”. Rabbi Abahu answered him, ‘You would have been correct had that
verse read, le sasson, however the text says, be sasson. This means that
your skin will be flayed and made into a water-flask and they will fill it
with water’ ”.
This whole discussion is a strange one. It is true that the Marshah
explains that it was all in jest. However, that makes it all the more
strange. The purpose of our holy Torah is not to record the jests of
unbelievers but rather to teach us words of wisdom and holiness. So, the
Avnei Nezer explained that the Min held that the whole purpose of Mankind
was to be in a state of joy and gladness, whereas Rabbi Abahu taught that
these were only a means to achieve proper avodah, and not an end in them-
selves. This will help us to better understand this whole discussion.
First, let us show the spiritual difference between simcha and sasson.
Simcha is the spiritual experience that comes with deliberation and after
much thought. Sasson, however, comes upon a person as an experience
without preparing for it, but rather as an outpouring of sudden ecstasy
and awe. This may be seen from the verse, “ I rejoiced at Your word, as
one who happens, ‘sas’, on great spoil” (Tehillim, 119:162). Sas, joy at
finding a lost article is something sudden, unplanned and unexpected; it
has the same root as sasson. We know that the philosophers denied the need
for and the value of practical mitzvot and instead they taught that the
whole purpose of Mankind is the acquiring of good traits and ethical
habits. The Minnim of our discussion followed their teachings. They only
differed between them-selves as to which form of spiritual experience was
to be preferred. Simcha maintained that preference should be given to that
which comes as a result of deliberation, thought and preparation, so that
the spiritual experience will be the stronger and the effect on soul will
be lasting. However, Sasson held that that spirituality which comes upon
us in ecstasy, suddenly and without forethought and preparation, is
deeper, more significant and more or moving. They both relied on the
verses to justify their approach. In Isaiah (35:10) “ They shall receive
joy [sasson is placed before] and simcha, gladness”, so that by means of
that which comes in ecstasy and wonderment it is possible to grow and
reach the experience through thought and preparation. In contrast, the
verse in Esther (8:16) speaks first of simcha, “and the Jews had
gladness”, then of joy and honor, since that which that which is brought
through preparation and forethought can grow into the sudden ecstasy of
wonder and astonishment, even at a simple and unexpected experience. When
the strengths of the nefesh become accustomed through training, thought
and preparation to expressions of love, avodah and service, then the
slightest experience becomes one of spirituality and ecstasy, just as a
lighted wick that reaches the fire.
Both of these, simcha and sasson are essential since all that is present
in the one is absent in the other. That which is gained through
preparation and forethought, is stronger and lasting, however it lacks
spiritual spontaneity and ecstasy. However, the experiences that are
sasson, come suddenly and without the labor of thought and consideration,
so there is a danger that they maybe transitory, disappearing as swiftly
as they came on us, like the gourd of Jonah, “ that came up in a night and
perished in a night”.
Because of the importance of sasson and simcha to our avodah, our Sages
brought their discussion in the Gemarah, but the primary message is in the
words of Rabbi Abahu to Sasson.
They were of the opinion that they were the purpose of human existence.
Rabbi Abahu, however, taught that if a person has a water- flask but does
not fill it with water, but only keeps the flask next to them, then that
person will surely die of thirst. The same is true when simcha and sasson
are the whole purpose in life and the nefesh remains without any other
purpose, empty and barren. Then no amount of simcha and sasson will
prevent that nefesh from withering and dieing. As Shlomo Hamelekh wrote, “
Fear G-d and keep His commandments, for this is the whole of Mankind”
Shem Mi Shmuel, Sukkot, 5672.
Text Copyright © 2004 by Rabbi Meir Tamari and Torah.org.
r. Tamari is a renowned economist, Jewish scholar, and founder of the Center For Business Ethics (www.besr.org) in Jerusalem.